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10 Recommended Cameras for Photography Classes

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Mason Resnick is the editor of the Adorama Learning Center and a lifetime photography enthusiast.

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10 Recommended Cameras for Photography Classes

Film and Digital Cameras That Let You Shoot and Learn in Manual

Heading back to school? Here are ten suggested cameras that are well suited for students taking high school, college or non-credited photography classes. Shoot and learn!


photo © chaoss/iStockphoto.com


While more casual photographers might be happy with a camera that they can set to auto, if you are a student going back to school to take photography classes, the best way to learn is with a camera that can be operated manually. This is how you'll learn the basics of exposure and put concepts such as the exposure triangle to practice.

While you might not want to use your camera in manual mode all the time, most instructors will expect you to use them manually as part of your coursework. You'll learn not only how to get the technically "correct" exposure, but will also learn and understand how and why to deliberately over- or under-expose a scene for a more creative effect or because the "correct" exposure may not actually work for a particular scene.

Here are a dozen cameras that have manual exposure options. While they might not all be designed with students in mind, they are all ideally suited not just as learning tools, but as outstanding picture-taking devices and for photography students, they are all photography class acts.

Good luck as you begin your journey and adventure in seeing the world in an entirely new way!

Film Cameras

Film lives! For many photography students, there's no better learning experience than putting a roll of film in a camera, taking pictures with no preview screen, then processing the film and printing it by hand. Besides, some photography courses require that you shoot film. While there is an amazingly wide variety of fully functioning SLRs and rangefinder cameras available at the Adorama Used department at remarkably affordable prices, here are three new film cameras that are geared towards students.


Vivitar V3800N
$199.95
With its bare-bones layout, manual exposure control and simple 50mm lens, the Vivitar V300N is a great learning tool. Get to know a single focal length and learn exposure with its simple center-weighted metering system. Since the camera uses a Pentax K mount, you can easily swap out the 50mm for any lens K-mount lens ever made,a nd there are a lot of them. This is a good budget-friendly camera with room to grow.

Nikon FM-10 with 35-70mm kit lens 
$319.95
Created with students in mind, the Nikon FM-10 gives you all the basics you need to learn about focus and exposure. It has a center-weighted light meter, manual focus with depth-of-field preview. While 35-70mm f/3.5-4.8 kit lens provides adequate coverage for a beginner, the FM-10 is part of the vast Nikon system and accepts any Nikon F-mount lens, so you can go to the Adorama Used Nikon Manual Focus department to add to your optical reach as you grow.

 

Lomography Belair X 6-12 Jetsetter Folding Camera 
$299
Wanna be the coolest kid in your class? The Lomography Belair is a retro-styled medium-format film camera with a folding front, just like in the olden days. It offers both autoexposure and manual control, and comes with a standard 90mm and wide-angle 58mm lens. This camera takes 120 rollfilm, and is a great way to learn to work within your camera's limitations.



APS DSLRs

Most students will be expected to use a digital camera, and for learning photography, an APS sensor DSLR offers the best combination of capability and affordability. They're a good point of entry into the world of interchangeable-lens photography and the basis of a system that you can grow with and expand as you learn more about photography. The cameras listed here are lower-cost models that are designed primarily for first-time DSLR users, and are also well-suited for budget-conscious students. All have manual overrides of their automatic exposure and focus functions and will fulfil your course requirements for a camera.  While I've chosen specific kits that might be well suited for students, you can always get the body and lens separately based on your needs.

Nikon D3200 kit with 18-55mm & 85mm f/3.5G lens
$976.95
Designed for beginners, the Nikon D3200 is a reasonably priced camera that is ideal for students thanks to its Guide Mode—on-screen text that describes the mode or feature you're using—as well as its light weight and range of features from manual to full auto and compatibility with a wide line of Nikon lenses and accessories. It has plenty of scene modes and auto-everything settings, but you can turn those off and fly in manual, which is what your teacher will want. In addition to the kit lens, the 85mm that's included in this kit is an outstanding choice for portrait photography.

 

Canon T5i with 18-135mm lens
$1,049
The latest budget-priced Canon DSLR, the T5i offers outstanding image quality, low noise in low light, a tiltable touchscreen LCD, and a plethora of auto and intelligent scene modes that you will be asked to turn off. Manual exposure and focus is easy to find and use, and that makes this camera—along with its very versatile long-range zoom lens—a great toool for learning.

 

Pentax K-500 with 18-55, 50-200mm lens
$696.96
If you are on a tight budget, consider the Pentax K-500, which is technically an entry-level camera, but it offers a top-notch 16MP sensor, an action-stopping top shutter speed of 1/6000, and of course, manual control over shutter speed, aperture and focus (by default it's auto everything but it's easy enough to switch to manual.) This camera has a pentaprism viewfinder which means the viewing images is bright and clear. The K-500 is compatible with over 25 million Pentax lenses so you have room to grow if the two included lenses don't give you enough range.

MILCs

Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Compact (MILC) cameras are the hottest new category of digital cameras. Most lack eye-level viewfinders, which are important (some might say, required) aspects of learning photography. The four models listed below are higher-end models that have built-in eye-level electronic viewfinders, as well as easy access to manual focus and exposure modes. They are all part of new but growing ecosystems of lenses and fashes. These cameras are smaller and lighter than their DSLR counterparts, but can produce DSLR-quality images.

 

 

Fujifilm X-E1 with 18mm f/2.0 lens
$1,399
If you are an aspiring street photographer, documentary shooter or photojournalist on a budget, the X-E1, with its high-quality APS sensor, is a great choice when paired with the 18mm f/2.0 lens (it provides a 27mm equivalent angle of view). As with traditional film cameras, it has direct control of shutter speed via a dial top the camera and apertures via an aperture ring on the lens. Fujifilm has a small but growing selection of lenses, including an 18-55mm as well as a 14mm and a 60mm macro. A built-in EVF projects clear, high-quality images. This camera is ideal for unobtrusive candid photography and when you need to keep your gear simple.

 

Sony NEX-7 with 18-55mm and 24mm f/1.8 lenses
$2,148
Fast becoming the camera of choice for students of street photography and documentary work, the Sony NEX-7 has easy-to-access manual control via two assignable function dials atop the camera, and offers a super-sharp 2.4 million dot resolution EVF. The design is minimalist but the features and image quality are outstanding with a high degree of customization. I've chosen a two-lens kit that includes the standard 18-55mm lens and the premium 24mm f/1.8, which is fast, offers outstanding Bokeh, and covers the equivalent of a 32mm lens. Learning the abilities and limits of a prime lens is a great idea for students.

Olympus OM-D EM-5 with 12-50mm lens
$1,299
A small, lightweight camera that looks like a shrunken DSLR, the Olympus OM-D EM-5 is actually based on the design of the classic Olympus OM line of film SLRs that was popular among students and photography hobbyists in the 70s through the 90s. It is a fast-focusing camera with easy access to manual exposure and focus controls and is well suited for a wide range of photography. The kit lens is a good place to start but Olympus has also developed several outstanding prime lenses that are great for learning, including 12mm, 35mm and 45mm models. Note that this camera uses the Four Thirds sensor (and lenses are Micro Four Thirds Mount) so in order to determine the actual angle of coverage, you need to double the lens's focal length.

 

Panasonic Lumix GX7 with 14-42mm lens
$1,099
The Panasonic Lumix GX7 is one of the smallest mirrorless cameras out there that I feel students would appreciate. It is a solidly built camera with a 2,764K high resolution elecyronic viewfinder, fingertip control of manual exposure modes (or auto by default), fast operation and access to a wide range of micro four thirds lenses. While the kit lens is a good place to start, also consider either the Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 (very fast "normal" lens) or the Panasonic 17mm f/1.7 Lumix II (small and unobtrusive, great for street photography) to complement the original kit.



What about Refurbished?

Here's a great way to find an advanced digital camera that fits your budget.

With DSLR prices starting in the high hundreds, even the least expensive budget model might be beyond the reach of a student on a tight stipend. Refurbs are a great money-saving alternative. Most are used or returned cameras that have been refurbished by the original manufacturer and are in perfect working order. They may be older and recently discontinued models but for learning they offer plenty of features and more than enough resolution for oustanding results. Here are just a few examples of currently available refurbs and their prices at Adorama:

 



That's just the tip of the iceberg: See all Refurbished DSLRs at Adorama.


 



Should you splurge on a Full-Frame DSLR?

While full-frame DSLRs may be overkill or over budget for most students, If you are ready to jump straight into 35mm format digital photography, you will be rewarded with outstanding image quality so you can shoot pro-quality images right from the beginning. If you have the resources to go full-frame, here are three models that are relatively affordable for well-heeled academics (a possible oxymoron). Keep in mind that if their prices seem kinda high, these are the least expensive full frame cameras currently available. If this is beyond your reach, go back to APS Sensor DSLRs and for something within your price range.

 

Nikon D600 with 24-85mm lens
$2,396.95

Nikon calls its full-frame sensor FX format, and its relatively low-priced FX model is the D600, featuring a 24.3MP CMOS. While it offers manual exposure, the D600 has a sophisticated 2,016-poxel RGB sensor that evaluates every scene taking brightness, contreast, subject distance and scene colors into account when automatically determining exposure. In this mode, students can concentrate on composition. If you're also planning on shooting video projects, the D600 is capable of stunning HD video quality. If the D600's price of entry is too rich for your blood, consider a refurbished model, which will save you hundreds of dollars.


Canon 6D with 24-105mm f/4 lens
$2,599
A sophisticated full-frame DSLR, the budget-priced Canon 6D is a versatile camera that produces very high-quality images in the hands of a knowledgeable photographer thanks to its 20.2MP CMOS sensor. In addition to manual exposure capabilities it has a 63-zone dual-layer metering sensor that uses AF and color information to optimize exposure and image quality. It has built-in Wi-Fi, a bonus if you end up doing photojournalism or get a gig shooting varsity sports for the school newspaper. 1080p HD video? Yeah, it has that.

Sony A99
$2,798
Among DSLRs, the Sony A99 is different. Look through the viewfinder and you'll see a digital, rather than optical, view. Rather than using moving mirrors to project the viewing image, Sony has a semi-transluscent mirror that doesn't move, and the result is faster burst rates and other significant performance improvements that make this a great camera if you are learning action photography. It has a 24.3MP 35mm-sized CMOS sensor and features the world's first dual AF system in a DSLR. It is the world's lightest body for a full-frame DSLR, and is dust- and moisture-sealed. Its video features are impressive so if you're also taking video classes, this camera is worth a close look.


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