Adafruit Holiday Gift Guide 2013: Cameras!


Dorothea Lange, sittin’ on a V8 Ford, rockin’ a Graflex SLR and a cool pair of shoes


It’s the Adafruit camera gift guide!

I’m going to detail the cameras we use here in the shop, and explain the differences between them. People are always asking us what equipment we use to take pictures, so we figured this would be a good place to put that information down on record.


Nikon D800

This is the camera I use for shooting all of the product photos. I’ll be honest and say that it’s probably more camera than most people need, and it does have it’s flaws, but if you know how to use it, you will be rewarded with stunning photographs and incredible detail. I usually pair it with either a 60mm or 105mm macro lens for product shots, and a 50/1.4 for everything else.

The D800 is a studio camera, plain and simple. It’s autofocus system is somewhat slow and can be (sometimes bafflingly) inaccurate, though I usually focus manually so this isn’t a huge deal for me. Though the body is weather-sealed and it’s build like a tank, it’s not suited for shooting sports, action, or photojournalism — a role better-served by the flagship D4 (or the D700). However, the D800 has an incredible dynamic range — the noise performance is truly outstanding — and the 36MP resolution approaches a medium format level of detail.

The high resolution comes with a price. If you shoot RAW, you burn through a lot of harddrive real estate real fast. You also need to buy the fastest flash memory available, or you’ll often find yourself waiting as the camera buffers the data to the card. The high resolution also means that the camera tends to reveal lens flaws, such as chromatic aberration, that other cameras don’t. This is particularly true at faster apertures. Many of these problems are correctable in editing, and don’t show up in prints, so even this isn’t such a huge deal.

The main advantages of the D800 are the high dynamic range and rich level of detail. I’d say it just about matches, at ISO 800, shots I used to take with ISO 100 35mm color film. At ISO 100, it’s closer to my Mamiya 645, with slightly less depth-of-field.


  • Heavy
  • Bulky
  • Poor autofocus
  • Large file sizes
  • Revealing of lens flaws
  • It’s $3000 dollars


  • Sturdy
  • Weatherproof
  • High resolution
  • Very low noise
  • Large, full-frame viewfinder
  • Uncompressed HDMI 1080 video output
  • Not $6000 (like the D4) 🙂


d5100Nikon D5100

This is the camera Ladyada and Becky use for their tutorial photos. Becky also uses hers for shooting video. Ladyada uses the kit lens — an 18-55mm/3.5-5.6 zoom — which allows her some flexibility when composing her shot. Becky uses either a 35mm/1.8 prime or a 40mm/2.8 prime macro for her photos and videos.

The main advantage of the D5100 (and it’s successor(s), the D5200 and D5300) is that it’s compact and lightweight, easy to handle, and has a flip-out LCD screen which makes composing at extreme angles or shooting selfie videos easy. The 16 megapixel resolution (24MP on the D5300) is more than adequate for making 11×14 prints, or cropping to smaller details for web images.

The D5x00’s all have DX sensors, which means they have increased depth-of-field relative to their FX counterparts for the equivalent field of view. This means it’s harder to isolate subjects from the background, particularly with wide-angle shots. However, this can also be an advantage when shooting macro stuff, where shallow DoF is a significant challenge. These cameras can all provide RAW output, and all of them can do video. The D5300 can shoot 1080 at 60fps, which means it can do slow-motion as well.

The biggest downside, if this is one of your requirements, is that the D5100/5200/5300 is not as sturdy as larger cameras, and isn’t weatherized. It’s also rather wee, which means it’s better suited to smaller fingers, and it doesn’t have as many knobs and buttons available for quick changing of various parameters such as white balance, ISO and whatnot. These are all buried in menus.


  • Compact
  • Lightweight
  • Articulated LCD
  • 16MP resolution
  • Ability to shoot video (and output HDMI video)
  • Inexpensive (<$1000, even with a decent lens)


  • Plastic body (as opposed to metal)
  • Less direct control of shooting parameters
  • Harder to isolate subjects from background
  • Not weatherized
  • Smaller control surfaces



Panasonic DMC-GH3

The last camera we use around here is the Panasonic DMC-GH3. The GH3 is a mirrorless camera, rather than an SLR. It also uses the micro four-thirds lens system, which means it’s not directly compatible with our Nikon lenses (though you can mount the Nikon lenses to it with an adapter).

This camera is used as the main camera for the Show+Tell, Ask-an-Engineer, and Wearable Wednesday shows. It’s also our most recent purchase.

We chose this camera mainly for it’s outstanding video capabilities, rather than to shoot still photos. Specifically, whereas most still cameras are only able to shoot video for a fixed period of time (our Nikons shut down after 20 minutes), the GH3 can shoot continuously and output to HDMI for however long you need it to, as long as it’s got external power. Owing to some clever thermal management by the Panasonic engineers, the video noise performance at 400 ISO is quite good. This gives us some flexibility in lighting, allowing us to balance foreground and background to make the video look more natural.

The lens we use is an Olympus 17mm/1.8 prime. The fast aperture is helpful in letting us throw the background out of focus, even at a short 17mm focal length. The 17mm is a moderate wide angle on micro-4/3 — useful because we can cover a larger field-of-view in our small studio space without the exaggerated perspective seen with wider-angle lenses.

Like the D5100, the GH3 is lightweight and compact. Because it’s mirrorless, it’s also really quiet when shooting stills (if you turn that silly sound effect off). Also like the ‘5100, it doesn’t have a lot of externalized control functions, so you have to learn how to navigate the menu system to change certain parameters. However, it does have an easily-accessible manual exposure mode, which is where we pretty much leave it all the time. It’s a cute little camera, and when it’s not being used for the show, PT uses it as his walkaround camera.


  • Digital viewfinder/LCD instead of optical)
  • Greater overall depth-of-field than DX or FX cameras
  • Moderately expensive (>$1000 with a good lens)
  • Less resolution (16MP) than similar cameras in it’s class
  • Limited variety of lenses to choose from (compared to Canon or Nikon SLRs)


  • Compact
  • Lightweight
  • Excellent video performance
  • Quiet
  • Magnesium alloy construction



Here are your 2013 shipping deadlines for ordering from Adafruit. Please review our shipping section if you have specific questions on how and where we ship worldwide for this holiday season.

UPS ground (USA orders): Place orders by Friday 11am ET – December 13, 2013 – There is no guarantee that UPS Ground packages will arrive in time for Christmas.

UPS 3-day (USA orders): Place orders by Thursday 11am ET – December 19, 2013 – Arrive on 12/24/2013.

UPS 2-day (USA orders): Place orders by Friday 11am ET – December 20, 2013 – Arrive on 12/24/2013.

UPS overnight (USA orders): Place orders by Monday 11am ET – December 23, 2013 – Arrive on 12/24/2013.

UPS International: Place orders by Monday 11am ET – December 16, 2013. Can take up extra time due to worldwide delays and customs. Should arrive by 12/24/2013 or sooner.

Please note: We do not offer Saturday service for UPS.
Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013, Christmas, no UPS pickup or delivery service.
Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, New Year’s Day, no UPS pickup or delivery service.

United States Postal Service, First Class and Priority (USA orders): Place orders by Friday – December 13, 2013 – Arrive by 12/24/2013 or sooner.

USPS First class mail international (International orders): Place orders by Friday – November 22, 2013. Can take up to 30 days ore more with worldwide delays and customs. Should arrive by 12/24/2013 or sooner, but not a trackable service cannot be guaranteed to arrive by 12/24/13.

USPS Express mail international(International orders): Place orders by Friday – December 13, 2013. Can take up to 15 days or more with worldwide delays and customs. Should arrive by 12/24/2013 or sooner.

Gift Certificates are always available at any time.

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  1. Nice read. In your discussion on the D800 you mention the D4 and D700 as alternatives.

    If a person is considering a D700 they might want to look at the D610 as well. While it is a lower number than the D700 it is actually a much newer camera that has a number of features the D700 doesn’t.

  2. Nice summary! I use an Olympus micro-4/3s camera that uses the same lens system as the GH3, and one thing that I really enjoy (that would appeal to hackers/makers) is the fact that the micro 4/3s system’s short mount-to-sensor distance means that it is possible to make inexpensive adapters to all manner of lens types, and mount up damn near any lens made. This opens the door to all sorts of crazy russian lenses, spotting scope adapters, C-mount security camera lenses, and more. Some of it is great quality glass that can’t be used by other modern cameras, and some of it is just super funky stuff that is fun to play with and shoot with.

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