Which Camera Should I Buy?
How to Choose the Best Camera If You’re Just Starting Out
Full discloser for readers looking for the magical unicorn: There is none. For such a simple question, the answer is surprisingly complex. Asking which camera to buy is like asking which house you should buy. (You’re already mulling over more questions, I can tell.)
Before I get into gear talk, let’s start at the very beginning — where most photographers (me included) make their mistakes.
Start with Education
Owning an expensive, high-end camera doesn’t fix a lack of how to fully utilize it. It’s not the camera that makes photographers good, although it can help. It’s knowing how to tell the camera what it’s supposed to do that makes photographers great. That and a grasp of good lighting, composition and personal style. Education + practice is what ultimately makes you a good photographer.
For moms who want to take great photos of their children, ClicknMoms offers wonderful education.
You’ll take 10,000 crappy images before you take great photos. Even then you’ll experience learning curves as you tackle more advanced concepts. Don’t be discouraged and blame your gear until you’re fully sure you need an upgrade. Make your mistakes and learn from them. There are no shortcuts to mastering photography, but hungry learners will benefit from self-investment in education.
YouTube has dozens of willing educators who provide wonderful info, if you’re willing to take the time to learn. THEN, you can reward yourself with a better camera only WHEN you need it.
Camera Gear: Don’t Overbuy
If you’re very serious about capturing better images and investing in equipment, skip the point-and-shoot and choose an entry-level DSLR or mirrorless camera model, but don’t jump to the high end.
Stop focusing on megapixels as the single criteria for a camera. That’s soooo early 2000’s, even if it does carry some weight for pros today. Cameras have come a long way, but unless you’re a photographer for Nike and expect your images blown up to a building-size mural, focus on photographing well with what you have.
Start with an Entry Level Camera Body
No matter what your photography aspirations are, start simple.
I love mirrorless cameras, and still rock my Fujifilm XT-1 (even years after its original launch) because it’s portable for travel and fits pretty well in a large purse. Start with a less expensive model in the Fuji series. The interchangeable lenses are tack sharp, and although I meter all my images, I like that I can visually assess whether my image is under-or over-exposed in my viewfinder. Some purists call it cheating. I call it brilliant.
For a great beginner DSLR model, the Canon Rebel DSLR is an excellent choice and also boasts interchangeable lenses. It’s the model that parents who want to take better photos of their children tend to buy, and it’s usually on sale before Christmas.
Do your research and trust camera reviews that look legit. “The box was bent when it arrived so I’m giving this one star” is not a legit product review.
Test Drive your camera gear
With so many options and the price of good camera bodies and lenses, I don’t blame shutter shy prospects. I’ve used Borrow Lenses several times to rent camera gear when I wasn’t sure buying was the best option or when I wanted to get a feel for the user experience. If renting a camera body for $50 saves you thousands of dollars in making the wrong decision, it’s worth it.
Invest in Good Lenses
Good “glass” is where you want to invest your dollars early in the game. Faster lenses that allow more light and more responsive action (think: kids and sports) are worth the money. You’ll know when your camera body holds you back and when to upgrade. When I needed something more than the lens could provide — more focal points, Wifi/FTP capabilities and other features to better serve clients and charge a higher rate, I knew I had to make the plunge in a better camera body. Lenses, if well cared for, will serve you well and last for years.
You can also use adaptor rings to retrofit most lenses onto most camera bodies, which helps to stretch the use and life of existing gear.
A Winning Lens and Camera Body Combo for Beginner Photographers
A kit lens may come standard with your purchase, but if I had to pick a winning combo, skip the kit lens and get a camera body + a 50mm lens and practice, practice, practice. Zoom with your feet. Challenge yourself to graduate from auto settings and into full manual control. If you know how to shoot using the best combo of aperture, ISO and shutter speed, and get a beautiful shot straight out of camera, you’re a rock star.
Once you feel you’re limited with your camera gear — whether needing more zoom range (lens upgrade), more focal points, or more control over specific settings in-camera then you should upgrade. Even then, don’t go big. Upgrade based on the features you need, now.
Where to Buy Camera Gear
I will always tell readers to support local shops like Dodd Camera (if you’re in Cleveland) or your local camera store. They will guide you through your purchase decisions and questions, but try to have a sense of your end goal before going in. Personally, I need a human being to bounce my ideas and concerns off of and have a recourse in the event of product issues. Local shops will typically price match larger brick-and-mortar chains.
Don’t have a local shop? I’ve had great luck with B&H Photo and their “Top Seller” items, which have been reviewed by users like me.
Here’s the thing about camera gear: You can always sell it. I have great success using Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. In a sense, selling older equipment is like renting gear long-term. Don’t consider your purchases or outdated gear as a sunk cost. Consider it an investment in your memories or in your business.
Michelle Loufman is a photographer, visual storyteller and artist residing in Cleveland, Ohio. Learn more about her work or book a session.