10 Recommended Cameras for Photography Classes


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...barely! 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 current film cameras that are geared towards students. These may be the last film cameras in production.

Nikon FM-10 with 35-70mm kit lens 
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. It is also most likely the last film SLR that will be manufactured.

Voigtlander Bessa R4M ($799) with Voigtlander 35mm f/1.4 ($629)

There's nothing like a Leica M7 in the hands of an experienced photographer, but if you're looking for a rangefinder camera that you can learn with and takes 35mm film at a price that won't break the bank, Voigtlander's lineup of rangefinder 35mm cameras are the only game in town. The R4M has built-in parallax compensation framelines for 21, 25, 28, 35 and 50mm lenses, and accepts any M-mount lens including Voigtlander's own. The 35mm f/1.4 is a high-quality, fast general-purpose normal-wide optic that is a great first lens. It's a great camera for low light, and full manual control is at your fingertips.


Lomography Belair X 6-12 Jetsetter Folding Camera 
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.

Visit the Adorama film department to buy film and feed your camera.


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 D3300
Designed for beginners, the Nikon D3300 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. The kit lens offers a good basic range, and when you're ready to grow as a photographer, Nikon has an extensive range of DX-format lenses to choose from.


Canon T5i with 18-135mm lens
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-50
If you are on a tight budget, consider the Pentax K-50, 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. Want to bring it on rough outdoor adventures? It is sealed against rain and dust, and can be used in the winter down to 14 deg F. The K-50 is compatible with over 25 million Pentax lenses, both current and used, so you have room to grow if the kit lens doesn't give you enough range.


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-E2
If you are an aspiring street photographer, documentary shooter or photojournalist, the X-E1, with its high-quality APS sensor, is a great choice. 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 prime and zoom lenses, including the included 18-55mm as well as a 14mm, 18mm, and a 60mm macro. A built-in EVF projects clear, high-quality images, and the 16MP sensor delivers film-like results. This camera is ideal for unobtrusive candid photography and when you need to keep your gear simple.



Sony A6000
Packing a high-resolution APS sensor and a high-resolution, eye-level EVF, the Sony A600 is fast becoming the camera of choice for students who aspire to be street or documentary photographers. It is controlled via a set of customizable function dials and buttons, and can be easily set to manual everything. At a top ISO of 25,000, it can practically see in the dark. A growing line of E-mount lenses lets you expand creatively beyond the included 16-50mm kit lens.


Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II ($1,049)+ Olymmpus 25mm f/1.8 lens ($299)
A small, lightweight camera that looks like a shrunken DSLR, the Olympus OM-D EM-5 Mark II 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. You'll also need to buy a lens. Olympus has  developed several outstanding prime lenses that are great for learning, including 12mm, 35mm and 45mm models, but we recommend the outstanding Olympus Zuiko 25mm f/1.8 standard prime lens to get started. Since this camera uses a Four Thirds sensor (and lenses are Micro Four Thirds Mount) you can determine the actual angle of coverage by doubling the lens's focal length.


Panasonic Lumix GX7 with 14-42mm lens
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. The selection of refurbished cameras is constantly changing. 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 for a full-frame digital camera?

While full-frame DSLRs and interchangeable-lens compacts 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 the best image quality, and you'll be capable of shooting 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 models and for something within your price range.



Nikon D610
Nikon calls its full-frame sensor FX format, and its least expensive 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, contrast, 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 D610 is capable of stunning HD video quality. The included 24-85mm Nikon lens is an outstanding starter optic that you can grow with and even use professionally. If the D610's price of entry is too rich for your blood, consider buying the body only and supplementing with a used Nikon F-mount lens such as the 50mm f/1.8G.

Canon 6D with 24-105mm f/4 lens
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 A7

Full-frame digital cameras used to be the exclusive domain of DSLRs, but Sony's A7, a mirrorless interchangeable-lens compact, changed that. The A7 is the first of the series and, since it's a first-generation model, it has seen price drops to the point where it's the most affordable full-frame digital camera currently available, even with the included 28-70mm kit lens. Its 24.3MP sensor delivers outstanding image quality, and its autofocus system is blazingly fast. Instead of an optical finder, it has a ultra-high-resolution electronic viewfinder. It is compatible with Sony's E-mount and FF-series lenses.


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Mason Resnick is a veteran writer, photographer, and editor with a distinguished career in the photo industry spanning the 1980s through the present. He is the Senior Contributing Writer for the Adorama Learning Center, and was the Editor of the ALC from 2005-2013. Before coming to Adorama he worked from 2000-2005 as the Managing Editor for Popular Photography, and was the Associate Editor of Modern Photography in the 1980s. In between, he has worked for a variety of trade magazines and web sites, writing how-to articles, interviews with the world's top photographers, and product reviews. He is not afraid to use the Oxford comma. 

In addition to covering the world of photography, Resnick is also a free-lance photographer, specializing in event photography, street photography, portraits, and commercial work. (Warning: shameless plug ahead...) You can learn more about his photography at www.masonresnick.com (I told you!) He is married, has survived his daughters' teenage years, so far, and lives in the quaint borough of Highland Park, New Jersey.

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