Potentially the question I get asked the most as a photographer by the general public, friends, clients and followers is; "what camera should I buy?". Sometimes it's people wanting to get a versatile camera for their up-coming travelling. Other times it's just someone with an interest in photography that wants a good camera to have a go with.
It's funny how people assume that being a photographer means I probably know heaps about cameras, when in reality I only know my own cameras well. Put another brand or model of camera in my hand and I still have to sit down and take some time to learn how to drive it.
Because of how often I get asked about cameras, it got me thinking that while I'm not a camera expert there are definitely some tips I can share to help with choosing the right camera.
FIGURE OUT YOUR PRIORITIES.
Knowing whether you want something compact, lightweight, weather-proof, good for video, upgradeable, cheap, expensive, versatile, durable or even whether you want the ability to buy additional lenses is all important stuff to consider. There is such a huge range of cameras on the market today that it can be overwhelming, but if you have a specific purpose, idea or use for your camera in mind, from there you can narrow down which cameras are going to suit your priorities.
For example if someone comes to me asking about a good camera for travelling - the first questions I ask in return is what they really want to photograph on their travels (landscapes, buildings, street photos, portraits or perhaps a mixture of everything?), do they plan to carry a camera bag everywhere or would they prefer a smaller camera that can be popped in their day bag and also I ask about their budget. Immediately if they say they don't want to carry a bulky camera and multiple lenses around then I suggest looking at mirrorless cameras. If they say that the trip will be centred around taking photos and they need versatility, then an DSLR set up with a couple of good quality lenses and a tripod might be a good option. If they want to do some street photography and get amongst the action either a DSLR or mirrorless camera paired with a wide angle lens will suit them well.
Once you figure out your priorities you can confidently talk to a camera shop about good options or start researching online for good camera models & setups to suit your needs.
INVEST IN THE LENS.
I always say at our photography workshops that if you're going to spend money on camera gear spend it on good lenses. A high quality lens will last longer than your lifetime if cared for well and a good lens goes a long way towards getting higher quality photographs. Usually when you buy a camera they come with one or two 'kit' lenses - which I call 'plastic fantastics' and they're actually not very fantastic at all. While kit lenses do the trick of getting you going, they are limited and lack in sharpness & quality that you see with higher spec lenses.
I often suggest to people that are interested in taking portraits to buy a camera body and a reasonably priced 50mm prime lens rather than worrying about the kit lens package deal. The 50mm is a great lens for portrait photography and if you're a Canon shooter they have an incredibly priced 50mm f1.8 lens which is superb value for money. For those wanting to shoot sports games or wildlife then investing in a good quality telephoto lens is more appropriate such as a 70-200mm zoom lens. Travel photographers might enjoy a versatile 24-70mm zoom lens.
Knowing about focal length and the different specifications of lenses is important. Each photographer has their own unique preferences. If you're not sure where to start ask fellow photographers their opinions and do some research; Google provides a wealth of information on lenses for different applications, lens brand & model reviews and comparisons.
DIFFERENT CAMERA TYPES.
When people ask me about what sort of camera to buy I usually point them in one of two directions depending on their priorities. Either towards a DSLR camera or a mirrorless camera. Here I'm going to outline the pros & cons of each.
DSLR (stands for digital single-lens reflex) cameras are the digital versions of the old 35mm film cameras. The most common brands are Canon & Nikon, coming in a wide range of models ranging in specs. DSLR cameras are bigger and heavier than mirrorless cameras because they require the optics & mechanism of a mirror setup (not going into detail about this, as google will explain it much better than me!). A huge advantage to DSLR is the range of lenses you can get for them because DSLR's have been around for so much longer than mirrorless cameras. They also sometimes have larger sensors (although mirrorless systems are catching up) which means better image quality and better performance in low light situations.
Mirrorless cameras are a relatively new technology and because they don't have the traditional mirror set-up DSLRs have, they are made a lot more compact and lightweight. While I know Canon has a good line up of mirrorless cameras now, brands such as Sony, Fujifilm and Olympus have been leading the way with mirrorless technology. I guess because it is newer technology and also because there are many brands & models of mirrorless with differentiating setups there are less lenses available for them, but this is changing rapidly as the mirrorless market grows. Mirrorless cameras boast good video capability and fast shooting speeds due to their simpler build. One disadvantage with mirrorless, that DSLR shooters often miss, is the lack of an optical viewfinder - but this is a personal preference.
You might think that because I have professional camera gear that I would naturally use it for everything including personal holidays, trips and events. But I've actually just acquired a mirrorless camera in the hopes that a smaller, lightweight camera will come with me everywhere when I can't be bothered lugging my kilo's of DSLR gear around! I've realised my work gear, while it's highly spec'd & comprehensive, isn't the right camera setup for the photos I want to take everyday & while travelling.
A GREAT CAMERA DOESN'T EQUATE TO GREAT PHOTOS.
Unfortunately there isn't a magic button on cameras for taking the perfect photo every time and I know from experience that it can be hugely disappointing when you spend a lot of money on a camera and you still can't create the photos you're dreaming of. I remind my workshop attendees that it is not all about the gear you own. You are the one that sees, not the camera. The camera is just a tool.
While shooting on Auto modes will get the photo taken, you do really need to become familiar with your camera and how to take control of the exposure settings to consistently be able to create great photographs and get creative with your photography. Knowing the characteristics of different lenses is important too, as well as understanding compositional elements.
If you've got a good camera but you're not getting the results from it that you want, take a look at our photography workshops here - these beginner workshops are designed to get you taking control of your camera and give you the tools to get creative with your photography.
Please note this blog post is based purely on my opinions and photography is such a subjective artistry which in itself is a beautiful thing. This blog post is aimed at beginners and those interested in pursuing photography as a hobby, rather than those who are already in the photographic industry. If you have any questions, get in touch! x