In search of the best amateur cameras, F&W went straight to the pros. Here are recommendations from some of our favorite shooters.

Manual Focus
"I talked to my son about the Eiffel Tower for weeks. But when we got there, we were too scared to go to the top. So we bought a souvenir and walked around below."

Expert: Robert Frumkin, F&W copy chief
Camera: Nikon FM2
Price: $400 plus $110 and up for lenses
Details: With manual focus, there's no delay between pressing the button and taking the picture. Autofocus cameras can take up to half a second.
Alternative: Olympus OM-2000 ($320)

"On shoots there was all this Polaroid film lying around, so I started taking pictures of friends for fun. Then I got hooked on the soft, surreal images."

Expert: Gus Butera, lifestyle photographer
Camera: Polaroid Image Pro
Price: $200
Details: Professional photographers like this model because it allows you to "flash and drag"... that is, use a slow shutter speed to blur most of the image while the flash freezes the main subject.
Alternative: Polaroid Spectra ($60)

Flea-market Find
"My boyfriend at the time (now he's my husband) found the Diana at a flea market and gave it to me for my birthday. I have a whole collection of odd, old cameras."

Expert: Miki Duisterhof, food and lifestyle photographer
Camera: Diana
Price: $60 on eBay
Details: Made only in the 1960s and '70s by the Great Wall Plastic Co. in Kowloon, Hong Kong, it's prized by photographers for its cheap plastic lens, which creates artistically blurred, low-contrast images.
Alternative: Holga ($16)

Fancy Point & Shoot
"This camera is extremely quick; so I grab it when I want to capture a moment. My tip for amateurs: Don't be afraid! Shoot a lot of film!"

Expert: Catherine Ledner, portrait photographer
Camera: Contax T-2
Price: $600
Details: The Zeiss lens (a high-quality German brand) and lightweight titanium body make this a favorite of pros.
Alternative: Leica Minilux ($650)

"When I got back from a trip to Rome, I plugged the camera into my parents' TV so they could see a little slide show of my travels."

Expert: Conrad Kiffin, digital photographer
Camera: Nikon Coolpix 950
Price: $550
Details: Nikon digital cameras have excellent lenses. And the lens on this model pivots, so you can take shots from many different angles.
Alternative: Nikon Coolpix 995 ($800)

Zoom Point & Shoot
"I carry this camera everywhere. That's how I got this shot of Paloma Picasso feeding her bulldog at Davé, a chic Chinese restaurant in Paris where all the fashion designers go."

Expert: Roxanne Lowit, society photographer
Camera: Canon Sure Shot Z135
Price: $200
Details: This is the kind of point-and-shoot most people have. The difference: Lowit uses black-and-white film with a flash for a paparazzi effect.
Alternative: Minolta Freedom Zoom 150 ($225)

Basic Point & Shoot
"The T4 doesn't have a zoom lens. You have to move toward your subject if you want a close-up, which makes portraits more intimate."

Expert: Antonis Achilleos, still-life photographer
Camera: Yashica T4
Price: $160
Details: This weatherproof camera has a viewfinder on top that lets you take pictures from a low angle. It's one of the cheapest cameras with a Zeiss lens.
Alternative: Olympus Stylus Epic ($80)