Camera buyer’s guide – Part 2: Real cameras with real lenses

Last week we published the first part of our Camera Buyer’s Guide, wherein we listed the top compact cameras for various tasks. Compact cameras were defined as any camera that doesn’t have a removable lens, that way making it easier to have distinct sections for our guides. In this second installment we’ll cover cameras that do have removable lenses.

Even here, the choices aren’t simple. The market for removable-lens cameras has grown over the last few years, mostly thanks to the addition of affordable mirrorless cameras. These powerful cameras have the small form factor of compacts, but the manual controls and lens-swapping abilities of digital SLR cameras. Of course, some people feel more comfortable an actual SLR camera, which have a larger selection of lenses since they use more popular mounts.

Even SLR cameras are divided into two segments. There are SLRs with sensors in the APS-C size, and then there are SLRs with the larger, full-frame sensors. This doesn’t have anything to do with their megapixel counts, it’s just that physically large sensors yield far better image quality. You do pay for the privilege, though, as the prices for the full-frame SLRs reflect.

And in case buying one of these cameras seems like a daunting exercise, don’t fear. We’ll follow up next week with a lens and accessories buyer’s guide, to help you fill that camera bag.

Mirrorless marvels


The new era of amateur photography is here, thanks to compact mirrorless cameras – so called, because they lack the flapping mirror seen on digital SLR cameras. These are small enough to be used everyday and taken on holiday, but also have manual controls, interchangeable lenses, and APS-C sized sensors that deliver great image quality.

1) Sony NEX-6 (kit lens included) – R8 995, at ORMS

Sony’s NEX range might be headed up by the NEX-7, but the NEX-6 is the one you want. This camera has been capturing the hearts of many die-hard DSLR fans since release thanks to its compact design and powerful features. It has Sony’s fastest auto-focus system (in an NEX camera) and Wi-Fi connectivity. That OLED viewfinder is also considered the best you’ll find in a similar camera.

2) Olympus OM-D E-M5 (kit lens included) – R13 190, at CameraWarehouse

Olympus, which was one of the first to market with a compact mirrorless camera back in 2009, has steadily been improving its offerings. The range-topping E-M5 is dust- and moisture-sealed, and easily competes with digital SLR cameras in terms of speed and build quality. Even its autofocus compares favourably with bigger, more expensive cameras. Pick the right lenses for this and you’ll be very happy.

3) Samsung’s NX1000 (kit lens included) – R3 766 at Kalahari

Just because the first two cameras are a little pricey doesn’t mean that mirrorless cameras are all expensive. Samsung proves this with the excellent NX1000. It shares the same 20-megapixel sensor as the flagship NX300 and is also equipped with Wi-Fi. If you’re lucky, you can find a bundle with an Android tablet, to increase the fun factor.

Smashing SLRs


SLRs are the cameras that everybody think of when they want a “proper camera”. They’re also the ones most commonly mistaken as professional cameras, simply because they look big and fancy. That’s not necessarily the case, though. SLRs can be affordable (and have been, since Canon introduced the 300D about a decade ago). The mainstream SLRs have APS-C sensors, which are far larger than the sensors in compact cameras. This means that they benefit from the use of bigger lenses, and overall image quality is much better – but talent is not included.

1) Nikon D3200 (kit lens included) – R6 995, at ORMS

Nikon’s entry-level SLR has a whopping 24-megapixel sensor, full HD video capabilities, and can be used with all of Nikon’s modern lenses. At around R7 000 for a body with a lens you’re getting a good starter kit, and the body will last you a good few years while you build your collection of lenses and skill set.

2) Sony Alpha A58 (kit lens included) – R6 295, at ORMS

Sony’s Alpha series are newcomers in the SLR playing field, but just as capable as the competition. The Alpha A58 accepts older Konica-Minolta lenses as well as Sony’s A-mount lenses, and it boasts the fastest frame-rate for high-speed photography at this price point. Also does full HD video and has mega fast autofocus, thanks to Sony’s SLT mirror.

3) Canon EOS 1100D (kit lens included) – R3 695, at ORMS

Looking for the cheapest possible way to get an SLR? The Canon EOS 1100D has you covered. It costs less than some powerful compact cameras, and gives users far more control over their photos. It can be used with any of Canon’s existing lenses – and boy, are there some Canon lenses worth owning. The cheapest way to get started with real photography concepts.

4) Nikon D7000 (body only) – R9 959, at SAPhotoQuip

While Nikon might have a D7100 on the market, the cheaper (and older) D7000 is no less capable. It might only have a 16-megapixel sensor, but some have said the image quality from this chip is just as good (if not better) than the newer camera. It’s fast, accepts all Nikon lenses – including the old ones – and will be a perfect upgrade for those who already have an older Nikon SLR.

5) Canon EOS 7D (body only)– R13 559, at SAPhotoquip

Canon’s stalwart 7D is so accomplished that it’s not been replaced in four years – and it’s still good enough to compete with the new heavy-hitters. Inside sits an 18-megapixel sensor, and if you hold down the shutter it’ll whirr away at 8 frames per second. It’s so loved, Canon even gave it a major firmware overhaul in 2012, to add a bunch of new features its users requested.

Full-frame fanciness


If you thought that R10 000 for a camera is a lot of money, full-frame SLRs will recalibrate your definition of expensive. These are professional cameras, designed to be dragged through war zones, rainy days on the rugby field, and even the odd wedding – all while capturing thousands of photos a month. Their image sensors are large, measuring 36mm x 24mm – the same format as the old 35mm film SLRs used back in the day.

1) Canon EOS 6D (body only) – R18 795, at SA Camera

The “baby” of Canon’s full-frame range offers almost everything that can be found in the 5D MkIII, for a lot less money. It has an ISO range (max ISO 102 400) that allows for nearly the worst lighting imaginable, and a more compact body than its bigger brother.

2) Nikon D600 (body only) – R21 595, at SAPhotoQuip

The cheapest full-frame camera from Nikon is anything but cheap. Its 24-megapixel sensor is capable of operating between ISO 50 and ISO 25 600. Nikon’s EXPEED processor allows a frame rate of 5.5fps, which is not to be sneezed at when you’re recording full-frame images.

3) Sony Alpha A99 (body only) – R25 995, at ORMS

Professional full-frame cameras aren’t limited to Canon and Nikon, as Sony proves with the A99. It’s got a very respectable 6fps burst mode, a 24-megapixel sensor, built-in image stabilisation, built-in GPS, and an extremely fast dual-mode auto focus system.

4) Canon EOS 5D MK III (body only) – R27 988, at Kalahari

The grand daddy of “affordable” full-frame cameras is the EOS 5D. It’s so revered, film makers are using the 5D for actual work – TV shows and movies have been filmed on these, such is the quality of their video footage. Then there is the camera’s extremely solid build, with dust and moisture-proof seals, a programmable auto-focus system for different scenes, and dual memory card slots so you never have to stop shooting. (Please note that this Kalahari price might be available for a limited time – most other shops have the 5D for around R35 000, and these are sensitive to the rand/dollar exchange rate).


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