BGB003 - What Camera Should I buy

August 04, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

What Camera Should I buy?

“What camera should I buy?”  In my role as a photography instructor I am often asked for advice in selecting a camera to purchase.  This is a very hard question to answer as it depends on many factors such as budget, seriousness of the photographer, shooting style, types of intended subjects, importance of convenience, and many other factors that are unique to each person.  So, I thought I’d jot down my thought process when I’m asked this question.

1) Brand

02 Camer Brand Logo composite02 Camer Brand Logo composite

If you are considering an interchangeable lens camera (DSLR or many Mirrorless for example), you are not just buying a camera, you are investing in a camera system.  In other words you are committing to a line of equipment that will extend well past the life expectancy of the specific camera you’re buying today.  Let’s say today you buy a camera and a lens to go with it.  6 months later you get another lens for it as a birthday present.  A few months after that you buy an external flash that “talks” to that camera.  Then you decide to take a trip to Africa and you buy two more lenses.  A few years later, you decide to get a better camera body.  In this case you can either just get a new body in the same camera system such that all your lenses and flashes still work with the new camera or you can throw all of that stuff out and start over with a new system.  Given the amount of money involved to replace everything, the odds are you will stay with your original system and just add/replace individual pieces from time to time.

Due to this, my advice is to stick to a system from a major player such as Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax or Olympus  These manufacturers are in it for the long haul, have a good record of leading the technology, tend to make reliable and high quality gear, have a history of staying current, and most 3rd party gear (e.g., lenses) is made to be compatible with these lines.


2)  Convenience

Most people taking my classes are at least a step above P&S (Point and Shoot) in their seriousness.  First of all, they have or are shopping for a DSLR or Interchangeable lens mirrorless of some sort and have decided to spend some money on learning how to use it.  But even so there is still a wide range of seriousness. 

Let’s take you as an example.  Are you someone who will stop and spend 15 to 60 minutes making photographs at a scenic overlook or do you just want to take a few shots and move on in less than 5 minutes?  Are you someone who will get up before dawn to shoot at the morning magic hour or change your normal dinner meal time so you can be in the field at the evening magic hour?  Are you willing to carry two or three extra lenses and other “stuff” when you’re out and about shooting or do you just want to have one camera/lens combo hanging from your shoulder and nothing else?   Or, more simply put, are you willing to carry a camera bag with a flash, 2 or 3 lenses and some filters in it and maybe even a tripod or even if you had all that stuff you would not be likely to have it with you when you need it?


10 Canon EOS Kit10 Canon EOS Kit

If your answers to the above questions tend to be more toward the serious or committed end of the spectrum then look for cameras that are designed with fewer “fully automated” features and gravitate toward one with more control oriented features.  In other words, having a camera with a faster burst mode shooting rate (frames per second) or more focus points is a better investment than a camera with more pre-programmed “scene” modes.  In addition, look for a camera that allows you to change settings with buttons and dials rather than requiring you to wade through menu’s or touch a screen to make changes. 

One major example of this is how many control/command dials does the camera have.  If it only has one, then that dial has to serve two or more functions (aperture vs shutter speed, or exposure shift vs compensation) and you need to press and hold a button to change its purpose from one to the other.  If, on the other hand, you have two dials then it is way more convenient to make those changes.

Still within the convenience topic is size and weight.  There is a significant size and weight difference between cameras in the entry level range and those in the pro or pro-am range.  This may be an important factor if it means the difference in taking the camera with you or leaving it in your closet.


Small, light point and shoot.  Easy on the budget.  Easy to carry.  For this it’s all that’s needed

07 7d2R02-#171807 7d2R02-#1718


Full Frame Pro DSLR, Long Fast “wildlife” lens.  Full robust tripod.  For the bird shots these guys are after they are willing to spend the $$$ and carry the load.

4 Bird Photographers4 Bird Photographers


For most an entry or mid range DSLR or Mirrorless with a Kit lens or mid range lens is a good compromise

03 5d001-#055203 5d001-#0552


3) Budget

The general thought is to buy at the top end of what you can afford with the understanding that whatever you buy, in short order you will be salivating for a higher end model.  Having said that, remember that the camera is a tool.  A lousy photographer with a great camera will still produce lousy images and a great photographer with low end equipment can still produce great shots.  But, having better equipment gives you more flexibility and capability to realize your photographic vision.  For example, if you’re vision is a shallow depth of field image of a flower with a highly blurred nearby background, you’re not going to be able to do that with an f/5.6 lens – especially on a small sized sensor camera no matter how good you are. 

13 dollar sign13 dollar sign

Having said all of that, you may want to determine which features you are willing to pay for and which aren’t that important to you.  For example, if you don’t intend to shoot video then a lower priced camera without HD or 4k Video may be a better choice than one with it.


4) Subject Matter Matters

While pretty much all DSLR and equivalent cameras on the market are good at the full range of subject types, some cameras and lenses are better suited to certain kinds of subjects and others are better suited to other subject types.  If you’re a sports/action shooter having a faster burst rate and a fast (wide aperture) lense is more critical to you than it would be to a landscape photographer.  If you like shooting at night or indoors with ambient light, low noise levels at higher ISO’s is something to be concerned about.  If you like close up shooting spending more on lenses (e.g. macro) and less on a camera body may be a good strategy.

Canon PowersShot A720 IS (8 mega pixel) with fixed built in lens – A point and shoot from 2007

Soft Yellow roseSoft Yellow rose


Canon 7d (APS-C DSLR – Mid Level) with 28-300mm lens

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Canon 5d mark III (Full Frame – Pro Level) with 50mm f/1.8 lens

Sea Nettle JellySea Nettle Jelly

5) Body Only or Kit?

These days, most Entry Level and Pro-Am cameras can be purchased as “body only” or as part of a “kit”.  The kit form includes one or more lenses and perhaps includes other things that you don’t get in the “body only” box.  A little caution is advised here as the kit lenses are many times (but not always) from the lowest part of the manufacturer’s line of lenses.  This isn’t to say they are not decent lenses but you may be better served to buy your camera body and lenses separately where you have a wider selection of lenses to choose from rather than buying them bundled in a kit.  However, if your lens of choice happens to be the same one available in a kit then buying it bundled with the camera is a good choice.  Another ‘kit’ issue is that many times a kit includes older or discontinued models of lenses or flash units.  For example, they may include a telephoto lens that is not image stabilized as a way to sell off inventory after a newer stabilized version of that lens is announce.  You may also find that the memory card include in the kit is some off brand or small capacity or has a slow write speed.

Body Only

11 Canon Body Only11 Canon Body Only

Camera Kit

12 Canon Kit12 Canon Kit

My suggestion is this.  Pick what camera model and lens you want.  Then if you can find a kit with those two items add up the prices of all the items in the kit but for items you would have bought anyway.  So, for example, in price comparing I would not include the price of a 16gb memory card if I really wanted a 32gb card.  Then assure that all the things in the kit you care about are the current versions and models.

As you can see, there are a lot of considerations in buying a camera and lens combination to suite your needs and budget which you should think about before plunking down your hard earned money.  And, one last thing.  You can spend over $8,000 on a high end DSLR camera and several thousand more on high end lenses.  But if you only shoot on automatic don’t be surprised if your are disappointed in the images you get.  In order to get those stunning images you see in galleries you will need to learn how to shoot using the manual controls after which you can know when it’s OK to let some of the camera automation take over in certain situations.  You will also need to practice – like learning to play a musical instrument.  If it was as simple as writing a big check and just clicking the shutter button there would be no difference in what you see in galleries or National Geographic and what you see on Instagram or Facebook.  Or, put another way, if you’re interested in becoming a photographer then go for the good gear.  But, if you’re just as happy taking snapshots for your Facebook Timeline you will do very well with much less costly gear.


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