Finding the right camera for your needs
I’ll be the first to admit, photography is fun. I love being able to take decent to great photos for whatever need I might have, be it a plate of food, a scene on vacation, or even when a client needs a photo for their website.
When the desire to shoot hits a person, it can become a daunting task to pick the right camera. So many brands, sizes, functions, even colors. Simple or complicated? Removable lenses or not? The decision can get frustrating, as well as overwhelming.
Believe it or not, whenever I have had a colleague ask me advice about picking a camera, they tend to think about it all wrong. They worry that they’ll spend hundreds of dollars only to end up with poor photos because of their camera choice. You have to always remember that a camera is a tool, and it’s only by practice, experience, and ambition that you will take great photos.
I’ve seen artists take amazing photos with a cheap point-and-shoot while amateurs with $2000 DSLRs still can’t get their focus right. If you’re looking to take photos beyond the normal, then be ready to invest time and patience into this...way more than money.
Can my smartphone be enough?
It’s a good question, as many spend $300-$800 for a high-end smartphone. With every new device launch we’ll see loads of bravado on camera improvements, as well as new apps designed to make photos look better.
I would only suggest a smartphone as your primary camera if you’re not very serious about shooting photos, or you want an artistic challenge to push you to do more with less. While the newest flagship phones boast amazing new camera improvements, I’ve yet to see any smartphone, including the iPhone, go toe to toe with a full-fledged DSLR or good quality point-and-shoot.
The problem with a smartphone camera is that it’s an added item to a larger system. Your smartphone isn’t primarily a camera. Instead it’s built to conform to the device’s operating system. I’ve seen many photos even off an iPhone come out with loads of noise, poor color and white balance, and terrible focus. It’s difficult to do manual settings on a smartphone, and all the filters in the world won’t save a bad photo.
Should I just shell out for a DSLR?
If you had camera types in a line with the Smartphone camera on one end, the DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) would be on the other. These are the big, bulky cameras you’ll see professionals use. They are a world of camera bodies, interchangeable lenses, and way more functions that most people might never touch.
Way too many times I’ve encountered rank amateurs shell out $1000-$2000 for a decent DSLR and literally use it the same way they would use a simple point-and-shoot camera. They’ll stay with the kit lens, use the pop-up flash, and always stick with the automatic settings.
Now I won’t belittle someone for their choice, but I would advise you should only go DSLR when you want to go further than simple shooting. When you want to change out lenses for different uses, and when you really want to take advantage of manual settings. Don’t just buy a DSLR to have a big bulky camera to show off.
Which brand of DSLR?
I’m sure you’re wondering...Canon? Nikon? Sony? Fuji? All of them are worthy choices, but I will advise what I was told way back when I was shopping. Buying a brand means you’re buying a system. It’s similar to when you buy into iOS, Android, or Windows. You can’t easily take your apps and purchases with you to another brand.
It’s the same with cameras. You can’t just easily take Nikon lenses and use it on a Canon body, hence why you should think “long haul” if you want to invest in a DSLR. Also be cognisant of how well brands are performing. Sony just announced they’re discontinuing their DSLR division. Imagine how many photographers who bought Sony equipment are feeling bitter. It’s why I usually lean on Canon or Nikon.
Size does matter...in a different way
With a brand in mind, if you really do want a camera with interchangeable lenses, be sure to think about how big of a camera you want. If I’ve learned anything with my old Canon 400D, it’s that bigger isn’t always better. I had some colleagues show concern at my smaller camera choice, but in all honesty, it fits my needs when I travel. I needed the DSLR functionality without having to lug a massive camera all over.
This doesn’t mean you can’t buy a bigger, more expensive camera. However, I always want you to think about your needs and how you want to shoot. If you were planning on doing fashion shoots, weddings/events, or even high-end stock photography, then go for the bigger more expensive camera. If you just want to learn to take better vacation photos and have a little fun, then spend modestly and upgrade when you feel the need.
One new innovation now in those seeking less bulk is the Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Camera (MILC). As you can see in the photo, it looks like a smaller point-and-shoot camera with interchangeable lenses.
I’ve ready many great things about them in photography periodicals and blogs, but I will forewarn you be careful on how manufacturers build their MILC systems. Some are built to handle the lower-end lenses of their DSLRs, while others have their own lenses altogether. This could become a problem if a manufacturer ever decided to discontinue their line, or you want to move up to a DSLR and now have all these lenses you can’t use.
What about Point-and-Shoots?
With smartphones all over the place, I’ve seen many claim the point-and-shoot is dead. Believe it or not, they are still very much relevant, as they still can take better photos over smartphones. It all depends on the quality you pay for.
I think a point-and-shoot is the ideal choice when you need something more than what your smartphone will give you, but aren’t interested in the investment and time DSLRs and MILCs involve. It really depends on how you like to shoot photos. Do you just want to grab the camera and shoot? Or stop to check lighting, get the focus right, and then click?
If you’re looking for just simple shooting, some video, and maybe even the ability to load photos directly online, then try out many of the small, fashionable cameras at any electronics store. Do your research and read user reviews so you don’t end up with a piece of junk. I’d also still advise getting to know all the modes in said camera, as they will surprise you with great results.
For those seeking some DSLR functions without the added lens/accessory investment, try out what’s known as a Bridge Camera. They often will look like a “younger sibling” of a DSLR with a lens you can’t remove. I personally love these cameras for all my friends who want to shoot better without a DSLR investment. You’ll get the same modes (Av, Tv, M, P, etc.) as a DSLR, and even RAW support. It’s the best of both worlds.
I want to finish this with the one piece of advice I will continually beat into your skull until you’re sick of hearing it. Remember, it’s not the camera that makes the photos as much as it’s the person operating the camera.
I don’t want you to feel that this is discouragement, but more to remind you to always push yourself no matter if you’re using a smartphone or an expensive DSLR. Learn how to operate your choice of camera, explore the modes, practice getting good focus and great composition, and even dabble in some basic post-processing for added punch.
If you like simplicity, then buy simplicity. If you need more tools/functions, then spend the cash. You’re only wasting your money when you buy more than you’ll ever need.
What advice would you give (or have heard) in choosing a camera?