There will be many times you will want to remember during your years at college, and many you will be unable to remember. In both cases you’ll be glad to have taken pictures, though you may wish to keep them off Facebook. And of course there is the whole question of what you’re going to take these pictures with. Well, there’s no shortage of cameras to choose from, but depending on budget and your photographic aspirations, we can probably narrow it down a bit.
Phone camera with a flash
This is kind of a cop-out suggestion, but if you can’t afford or don’t want a separate “real” camera, you’re actually not in a bad position. Many phones these days come with cameras better than the one I went through college with. Take a look at the selection and pick one with at least four or five megapixels and a LED flash. The iPhone 4, of course, takes pretty great pictures, and so do most of the higher-end smartphones. It’s certainly better than having nothing at all.
Any low-end Canon Powershot or Nikon Coolpix
Here’s a great thing you can do these days: pick an amount of money — any amount. Say $150. For under that price you can get a great camera that shoots HD video, takes pictures over 10 megapixels, and if you stick with the major brands, probably even has some decent glass. I don’t want to advise too much on this option; just go to your local camera store with $150 in cash, or spend a little time on Amazon or Adorama sorting through the options; a great camera will catch your eye within a few minutes and chances are it’s going to be more than you’ll ever need for snapshots, trips, and so on.
I’ve never had anything but good things to say about Casio’s versatile Exilim FC series. The FC150 is the latest in the line, though you can still find FC100s on the market. These things take great pictures, solid HD video, have a ton of interesting modes for messing around with, and most important of all, shoot amazing super-slow-motion video that you and your friends will have a blast with, guaranteed. $270 is a fair amount of money, but believe me, it’s worth it.
Yes, another Casio. No, I’m not on the take. They just have great mid-budget compact cameras. The EX-G1 was my pick for the rugged camera roundup we did a while back; its MSRP was $300 but you can get one for under $200 now. The best reason to get one of these is that it’s both compact and totally rugged. This thing will last through all the trips you take, all the parties you go to, all the times you drop your bag, and so on. It’s only about as versatile as your average camera, but it makes up for it with being reliable and cool-looking.
This monster camera was released just a few days ago, and seems to be more or less all-around superior to the similar (and even newer) Canon G12. It’s a great way to get into learning about manual settings and such, without worrying about lenses or bulky camera bodies, and of course it’ll take great pictures like any point and shoot if you want it to. $500 is a lot for a single-lens camera, but (and I’m saying this as an avid Canon man) this is probably one of the very best out there.
If you’re at all interested in getting into serious photography or video work, the T2i is a fantastic place to start. Not only is it (like many other consumer DSLRs like the K-r and D3100) a fantastic still camera with a huge selection of lenses, but it also (unlike other cameras) gives you a number of video options and, while still limited, is far more fun to use than even the best consumer camcorders out there. You’ll feel like a cinematographer in no time, and all your friends will want to borrow it. The body-only kit will run you a touch over $700, though, so you have to really want it.
Wild Card:Micro Four Thirds
This emerging standard doesn’t exactly have any stand-out cameras yet, and also no one is a clear leader in lenses. But the compact mirrorless interchangeable lens camera is a compelling and powerful alternative… if you feel like taking a leap of faith. Personally, I’d wait until CES in January, where we will almost certainly hear about some improvements to this nascent format.
The fact is, though, that you really can’t get a bad camera these days; the technology has advanced far enough in the last decade that almost every camera is far more than you need for basic stuff, and for a few dollars more you can get something that would have cost thousands back in the day.
And if your favorite camera isn’t listed, I want you to take a deep breath… in…. and now make a fist and scream as loud as you can. Doesn’t that feel good? Do you still feel the need to flame me? Oh, all right, go ahead.
See the rest of our Back To School 2010 coverage right here!