Every year at this time, I send you a camera guide for Black Friday. This is to make sure you’re prepared—and can act quickly—should you see a good deal.
Before you buy, it helps to look around and see what’s already out there.
- Prioritize. Think of what’s missing and what you wish you had. Sometimes, a new lens is a better purchase than a whole new camera.
- Know where to look for sales. Amazon’s great, but check the major brand sites themselves like Olympus and Fuji and watch B&H Photo or your local camera store, too.
- Know the value of a trade. Brands like Olympus offer up to $300 for trade-ins plus the value of whatever it is you’re trading in. Trade-ins usually have to be another DSLR (not a point-and-shoot) but they can often be from other brands like Canon or Nikon. This everyday deal might beat a Black Friday deal, so look it up ahead of time and make sure you understand. Here’s a link to the Olympus ‘Trade and Save’ site. https://www.getolympus.com/us/en/tradeup
- Don’t rule out buying used. Both B&H Photo and KEH are reputable re-sellers.
When it’s time to buy:
Never buy a new camera thinking it’s going to make you a better photographer. Amazing photos are taken with all kinds of cameras—even tiny point-and-shoots. If it were true that you always needed the latest and greatest camera to make a great photo, no good photos would exist in our past as the camera in your cell phone today is light years ahead of any camera on the market 20 years ago. Yet 20 years ago, there were still great pictures.
When you buy something new, here’s what you’re buying:
- Better image quality in low-light situations.
- Weather proofing.
- Customizable buttons that make changing your settings faster and easier.
- More reactive auto-focus for action shots.
- Better video capability.
- And if you buy a mirrorless camera, you’re buying lighter weight.
If any of these things are bothering you with your current gear, it might be time to upgrade. If they’re not, you might consider just investing in a new lens. High-quality lenses are some of the best investments you can make for your photography.
The industry seems to have stopped making cheap, entry-level mirrorless cameras. The same good-value models I mentioned last year are still the best on the market today.
But there’s been great growth on the other end of the market with more sophisticated gear at higher prices. This is awesome if you’re looking for something really professional and half the weight.
My favorite camera on the market today is the Olympus E-M1, Mark II (body only, don’t buy the kit lens).
This is the camera I just bought myself and I LOVE it! I carry it everywhere.
I upgraded because I needed a higher video quality. We shoot a lot of videos here at GEP so this is important to me.
I also wanted sharper images at high ISOs. I photograph my daughter’s swim meets in the summer and I need the high ISO to get the action shots I want.
For seven years, I shot with the same camera—the Olympus E-M5—and I’d still be shooting with it today if I didn’t need to record 4K video. It’s a great camera and I worked around its shortcomings (it doesn’t have an audio-in jack for video and there’s a slight delay on the shutter… something I learned to deal with).
If you’re looking for a good value, the E-M5 and the E-M5 Mark II can be found used on eBay for $200 – $300. The newer E-M1 is a little more—around $400 – $500—and all three are great. If you’re looking for something more pro, the E-M1 Mark II is my recommendation I paid $1,450 for mine with a trade-in.
Remember: I no longer recommend cameras that aren’t mirrorless. If you’re reading this newsletter I assume you’re shooting photos for profit AND fun and that weight is important to you for travel. If you need a big lens to “look” more professional (which is important in some photography jobs) you’ll want to look elsewhere for your reviews.
The lenses I use most often are in this order:
- Leica 25mm f/1.4 Micro 4/3 lens—for pretty much everything. I miss the zoom but find my best photos are always with this lens. Since I can’t zoom with the lens, I zoom with my feet.
- Olympus M.ZUIKO 40-150mm f/2.8—for trips to Africa where my feet can’t zoom and for kids’ sports and special events at school. You, on the other hand, might prefer this 12-40mm f/2.8 with a little less zoom for everyday use.
My second favorite camera on the market right now is the Fuji XT-2.
There are four big “pluses” in Fuji’s column:
1) They make GREAT lenses. Plain and simple.
2) They’ve created a unique, new sensor that makes colors more vibrant (just like Fuji film used to do).
3) The large viewfinder on these cameras is unsurpassed (you’ll find this a particularly great feature if your eyes aren’t getting any younger).
4) All of the dials and controls you need are on the body of the camera instead of a menu on the LCD screen.
You can find the Fuji XT-2 for $1,499. The older XT-1 is also still available from B&H for $1,270.99.
Bonnie Caton, Shelly Perry, Sarah Ehlen, and Charlie Bulla all own this camera and love it. The ONLY reason it’s not my favorite is because I prefer the skin-tone colors that come out of the Olympus.
For you, you can’t go wrong with any of these bodies—the Fuji or the Olympus. If you struggle with your eyes, maybe go Fuji. If you’re more likely to have an unsteady hand or take a lot of indoor shots, go Olympus (they’re the only brand to put image stabilization in the body of the camera and not on the lens).
For lenses consider:
Fujifilm XF 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6. I don’t always recommend kit lenses, but this is a great lens and it’s $399 cheaper when you buy it WITH the Fuji XT-2 camera and not separate. Olympus has a similar deal with some of its lenses, too, though not as good.
Otherwise, the Fujifilm XF 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 gets really good reviews and is typically $799.
And the Fujifilm XF 23mm f/2 ($449) is comparable to the one I shoot with the most and can be used for everything from portraits to landscapes.
There’s a never-ending selection of camera lenses, so ask yourself two questions to narrow down the field:
1) What focal length do you want?
These mirrorless bodies have what’s called a “crop factor” when you compare the focal length of their lenses to the old 35mm film cameras. Without getting too much into it, it basically means a 25mm lens acts a lot like an old 50mm lens.
50mm used to be the most commonly used lens. 70-200mm lenses are considered telephotos. And under 50mm is wide angle.
Typical travel photographers want something in the 70-200mm range (40-140mm on these mirrorless lenses).
Portrait photographers typically stay smaller like my standard 25mm, and landscape photographers typically like wide angle such as 14mm.
2) What aperture do you need?
Wider apertures mean lower f-stop numbers, which means more blur (bokeh) in your image. But you get what you pay for as lower numbers come with more glass and are therefore more expensive.
How to buy?
A full lens kit will include:
- A zoom lens that covers a range of focal lengths.
- A portrait or landscape lens (put your money here and get something with a really low f-stop number). Prime lenses (lenses that don’t zoom) can allow you to purchase high-quality glass with a wide aperture opening at a more affordable price.
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