The Upgrade Guide: Digital Cameras

Upgrading From Entry Level to Prosumer

Take photos often enough and eventually one day you'll wake up realizing the cheap point and shoot or tiny sensor camera phone isn't going to cut it when it comes capturing the details and colors. But taking that 2nd step from beginner to prosumer can be a daunting; here's where we'll help you make a more informed decision (with a little personal opinion thrown in)...
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Our favorite serious compact camera: Canon PowerShot S95. As noted previously by another Unplggd writer recently, this is a serious camera that will still fit in the back pocket while not making a hole in your pocket. Coming in at less than $400, this is a compact camera that performs above and beyond the needs of the average consumer, a capable model which bridges between pocketable point and shoot with the larger Micro Four Thirds format. The F2.0 aperture allows for more light to enter the lens and makes for excellent no-flash photography under low light settings, while its massive sensor will rivals its competitions in a higher class. The ability to go full-manual, shoot in RAW as well as taking 720p HD videos makes this a favorite amongst the Unplggd team.

What makes it an upgrade: The ability to customize your settings with manual adjustments using the lens mounted control ring, improved image stabilization, F2.0 aperture, two microphones for audio capture for stereo, the option to shoot in RAW as well as the biggest sensor in its class.

Alternatives:

  • Canon PowerShot G12 - The bigger and heavier brother to the S95, for those who wants a viewfinder.
  • Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 - A full feature camera that is practically a DSLR, also with practically DSLR price
  • Samsung EX1 - The F1.8 lens and the AMOLED display gives it a step up on the S95 but with a price tag to match
  • Fujifilm FinePix X100 - This is not for those with shallow pockets, us included, but we're mentioning it because of its solid build and retro look (mostly for looks). The X100 packs a APS-C sensor, like the ones that you'll find in a DSLR, into a compact body designed after old-school rangefinder camera.

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Our favorite micro 4/3rd camera: Olympus PEN E-P3. For those of you that want the ability to customize your camera but doesn't want to lose the portability of a compact camera, the relatively new class of Micro 4/3 cameras has defined a whole new category. To briefly go over the technical aspects of the Micro 4/3 format: basically these cameras have interchangeable lens like a DSLR but have eliminated the mirror element within. Therefore these models significantly smaller and slimmer compared to an average DSLR.

The Olympus E-P3 is definitely our favorite amongst the competition, slightly pricier than the competition, the E-P3 won us over in the looks department. We fell in love with the clean-lines and retro look, especially in the silver body option.

What makes it an upgrade: Full manual mode, the ability to interchange a growing catalogue of lenses.

Alternatives:

  • Panasonic GF3 - As a joint developer of the Micro 4/3 technology, Panasonic's entry in the market is no slouch. it boast a more updated look with a lower price tag and a touchscreen for controls.
  • Sony Alpha NEX-7 - The recently announced Sony is not strictly speaking a Micro 4/3 camera, but it is a beast packing a 24MP APS-C sensor (read: bigger) in a super compact package, also twice as expensive as the GF3.
  • Samsung NX11 - Samsung's entry into the class is slightly bigger than its competitions, but has a more modern look as well as more physical controls to fiddle with, for those who like to feel what they're touching.

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Our favorite entry-level DSLR: Nikon D90 and Canon Rebel T3i. With the manufacturers aiming at serious amateur photographers, there are plenty of options and choices that is affordable to those stepping up to a DSLR.

The DSLR class generally has more choices in terms of lenses as manufacturers are focused on backward compatibility. We have two favorites for this class, both from the perennial powerhouses of photography, Nikon D90 and the Canon T3i are not the cheapest DSLR that either company has but it is definitely worth the extra dough. For the Nikon D90 we're paying more for an internal autofocus motor in the camera, which means you'll be able to buy used lenses (a common practice) and still be able to get autofocus. We particularly like the swivel screen of the Canon T3i; it's something you didn't think you need, but once you have it you can't live without it. So Nikon or Canon? We'll leave this one up to you, both has extensive selection of lenses and solid build quality. (Also we're afraid of the flak we'd get if we picked sides!)

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What makes it better an upgrade: A very extensive lineup of lenses that goes back 10+ years with multiple third party brands. The speed of which it takes pictures. And that satisfying flick sound when you take a picture.

Alternatives: To step up even closer to professional territory, with both feature and material build improvements, check out the

Let us know if we missed any of your favorite cameras or your experience with our choices in the comments below!

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