Starter and Travel Camera Recommendations | Magdalena Studios

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Now that we’re all taking pictures and videos of everything, all the time, I’ve noticed an interesting–for me–trend. More people are curious about taking pictures with real cameras. You remember those–everybody’s parents had those Kodak Instamatics, and Polaroids for when you just couldn’t wait a week to see the pictures.

Now, we have the best of both worlds–digital cameras that take sophisticated photos and you edit and post on the go. Want a simple point-and-shoot that fits in a pocket? Are you constantly on the sidelines at soccer games or dance recitals and need video? Are you running a small business and need images for your website? If you’re not sure where you fall on the photo spectrum, or what you want to do with a camera (hobby, business, video, indie movies), this guide will help you choose the best camera for your wants and needs.

Compact Cameras

Panasonic Lumix ZS50 / TZ70

This nifty pocket-sized camera packs a lot into a small body. Get the hang of using a camera again with the Intelligent Auto feature, as your skills improve you can play with the Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority features. From there you can move on to Raw shooting, and manual focus and exposure. There’s a huge zoom lens for super crisp still photography, but this one doesn’t do great video.

Panasonic Lumix GX80 + Lumix G VARIO 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH. MEGA O.I.S.

This slightly larger version of the ZS50 does 4k videos well as Full HD recording. For the photography newbie, 4K is the standard horizontal pixel display for TV and other media (3840X2160=4000), Shooting in Full HD means your picture resolution on your High Definition TV will be finely detailed. If you’re traveling over the holidays or want great Christmas morning video, this is the camera for you.


These newer cameras have no optical viewfinder–instead you look at the LCD screen to compose the shot. They are basically a smaller, lighter version of a DSLR and can have interchangeable lenses–but be prepared for some sticker shock with those cameras. These are a couple of the best, but the above-mentioned Panasonic Lumix GX80 is a super option, too.

Sony A5100 + E PZ 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS

Event though this camera is a relative dinosaur–it launched in 2016–it remains one of the best mid-level cameras. It features WiFi, a flip-up touchscreen and Full HDR. The best thing about this camera is it’s autofocus, which guarantees a lot of crisp shots in rapid succession and smooth recording. The A5100 is a smart choice for short videos and still shots of babies and kids–you can upload directly to Grandma.

Panasonic Lumix G9

This is the camera for the advanced beginner, bordering on video enthusiast. It captures fast action really well, and even with bigger lenses has a good grip feel in the hand. For the money, it’s a solid option for thousands less than a comparable Canon, Fuji, or Nikon; the one drawback is that still images are not great. If you’re the unofficial team photographer, this camera will give you highlight-reel quality.


Canon EOS Rebel SL2 / EOS 200D + EF-S 18-55mm f/4-5.6 IS STM

This one’s for an enthusiastic beginner who wants a camera that can grow with them. A Guided Interface gets you started, and as your skills ramp up you move on the Standard setup. There’s also WiFi and NFC–a hot spot–and it’s strongest selling point is this: if you’ve done SLR photography in the past, this baby accepts thirty years of lenses, and not all from Canon. If you’re looking for a camera to grow with your business–or you’re upgrading and already have lenses–this is the way to go.

Nikon D5600 + AF-P 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G DX VR

If you took photography in high school and sort of know your way around a camera, this D5600 is for you–it’s a little more advanced, no interactive guide to get you started. There are full Auto, Scene, and Effective modes, with lots of manual controls for when you get more confident with your skills.


Last but not least, the iPhone X is a really great alternative for everyday and travel use. I use my iPhoneX for travel quite often and I’m always SO impressed with the quality. Recently I did a few quick portraits on portrait-mode with a friend’s family  and the photos looked like I had taken them on my camera – it was scary! But I think my favorite feature of this model is that you can bring it underwater and it even takes great photos while fully submerged. I edit photos taken on my iPhone with the Lightroom Mobile app and my custom brand presets. It’s definitely a great option for being on the go and carrying something functional and light.

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Mentoring You As A Photographer

Whichever camera you choose, what you really want is the know-how to get the most out of it. Photography is one of those hobbies that’s a journey rather than a destination, so mentorship is a better route to expertise than just taking classes. I mentor budding photographers through all the stages of their journey, both online and in-person–and, together we’ll decide how your photography reflects your business, and you as a person. As we progress, you’ll learn the techniques and tips that benefit you the most, and finally, finding your personal style.

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