Digital Cameras 2013

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Best Cameras For Hobbyists

Last updated on 03/31/2011

Hobbyists are happy to shoot anything, anywhere, with any camera. Gear is a secondary concern for the hobbyist (leave the pixel-peeping to the enthusiasts) but a new camera with some extra power under the hood is always enticing. Below are our picks for the hobbyists out there: versatile cameras with rich feature sets, manual control, and strong image quality, but user-friendly enough to still just pick and go. If you're shopping for a loved one that loves to take pictures, start below.

Panasonic Lumix ZS5
The All-Around Performer
For hobbyists who want a camera that packs a punch but still fits in a pants pocket, a compact-zoom model is the way to go. The Panasonic ZS5 is at the top of the compact-zoom heap, featuring a big 12x optical zoom, 720p HD video, speedy performance, full manual and automatic controls, and most importantly, excellent image quality for a compact camera in this price range. Also take a look at its beefed up sibling, the Panasonic ZS7, which ships with built-in GPS, a larger screen, and a different HD video format. They're otherwise identical, and both are excellent choices for a budding hobbyist.
[Read our full Panasonic Lumix FZ100 Review] Superzooms like the Panasonic FZ100 get a lot of attention from new photographers, since they resemble more advanced digital single-lens reflex (dSLR) models. While the FZ100 is really an advanced point-and-shoot with a huge lens, its versatility out of the box is unmatched, and its sure to excite any photo hobbyist in your family with its enormous 24x zoom, 11 frame-per-second burst shooting mode, 1080i HD video, and 3-inch tilt-and-swivel LCD to name a few of the features. If the FZ100 seems like a bit much, take a look at the stripped-down FZ40.
[Read our full hands-on review] When a hobbyist is ready to start working with lenses, manual focus, and the bells and whistles of dSLRs, an entry-level model like the Canon T1i/500D is a good place to start. The interface and manual controls are definitely in the big leagues, but auto mode is simple enough for a beginner to snap some solid, fuss-free shots. The specs are impressive for a camera at this price, including a 15.1 megapixel sensor, HD video, and a 3-inch screen. The T1i's big brother, the T2i, is the more popular camera these days because it's the latest model, but the T1i has everything for a hobbyist still learning his or her way around a camera for a few hundred dollars less.
[Read our full Olympus PEN E-PL1 Review] A mirrorless camera like the Olympus PEN E-PL1 is another worthwhile option for a hobbyist ready to step from a point-and-shoot to an interchangeable-lens model. Images are nearly dSLR-quality, but the body is significantly lighter and smaller than any dSLR. The trade-off is that there's no optical viewfinder (electronic only), but for anyone who's used to a compact camera, it's a very minor distinction. What's more, the E-PL1's interface will look instantly familiar to point-and-shoot users, so it's not as intimidating as a dSLR's backside. Some dSLR purists scoff at mirrorless models like this, but new users will find a whole lot to love -- at a fair price, too.