Which camera should I buy?
Which camera should I buy? There are so many to choose from and a huge variety in price. So, how do you begin to narrow down your choice? In this post we will be looking at important factors to consider when buying a camera. There will be tips for complete newcomers to those looking to upgrade their kit. So, let’s get stuck in to our camera buying guide…
What do you need the camera for?
The first question to try and answer is what you want the camera for. Well, yes, the obvious answer is to take pictures…! However, try to be more precise about how you aim to use it as this will help you choose which features you need. For example:
- Is it just for fun or do you hope to sell your images?
- Do you need something small for travelling on holiday or is size not an issue?
- Will you be using your camera to shoot fast moving action or mainly landscapes?
- Do you need to be able to shoot in low light without using a flash?
- Do you already have lenses for a particular brand/system or are you starting afresh?
- Is price the biggest factor?
- Do you want to control everything manually or let the camera do the work?
You may not be able to come up with detailed responses to each of these questions. But it is well worth thinking about them as it will influence your purchase considerably. For example, if you just want to take the odd picture every now and then to post on social media and would like your camera with you all the time then maybe a reasonable phone camera is all you need. However, if you want to work in difficult, pressured environments where getting the shot is what gets you paid then you would need to consider professional levels of equipment.
Which camera should I buy if I’m just wanting it for occasional fun pictures?
If you want to have a camera at the ready all the time then it needs to be easily portable. So, it needs to be small and light. The obvious choice to start with is to use a phone camera. This enables you to avoid carrying extra equipment. You can also easily share any images to social media quickly. Different phones have different quality cameras in them. You may wish to invest in a better quality phone that has a high quality camera built in to get better pictures.
If you find a phone camera a bit limiting or want your camera separate from your phone then consider buying a compact camera. Compact cameras are small and lightweight. They give you various controls to adjust your image but won’t overwhelm you with technical complications. You normally get a reasonable range of zoom from wide to close in so there is more flexibility than most phones. Yes, you can “zoom” when taking photos on your phone but not all phones have a real zoom. Some phones may actually be able to zoom in. With others all you are doing is cropping before you take the photo instead of afterwards. So, in order to make something bigger you are losing most of the image. This tends to give worse quality images as they can start to pixelate if cropped too far. Compact cameras normally have a real zoom so that you can still have more room for cropping afterwards if you still want to.
Which camera should I buy if I’m wanting to sell my photos?
If you are thinking of selling your photos then you are already looking towards potentially becoming a professional photographer. When people purchase photos they want them to be good quality. So, you need equipment that will allow you to take good quality images. Many phones and compact cameras will struggle to produce high quality images that can be printed at any reasonable size. This is made even more difficult if you are working in low light as the images can become grainy. If you expect people to invest in your photos then you need to invest in your gear. You should think about setting aside a good budget for high quality equipment.
Does this mean you need a top of the range camera? No, not necessarily. Certain types of professional work need the very best gear available. Sometimes you can get away with something much cheaper as long as it still gives sufficient quality to your products. For example, press photographers, wedding photographers and others who have high pressure assignments where they can’t control the lighting conditions all the time would be best off with the best cameras you can get to give you the best quality in all situations. However, if you take landscape photos you might be able to use a crop sensor DSLR, a compact system camera or even a bridge camera. You don’t need the rapid response, lightning fast autofocus and high ISO capabilities for most landscape images. Instead, by using a tripod you can keep the camera using low ISOs and so producing good quality images. You will, of course, still get better quality images from better quality lenses and camera bodies. But, the smaller you are printing, the less of an issue this is. The bigger the image, the more you will see differences in sharpness, tones, etc.
Does the size or weight of the camera matter to you?
Perhaps you like to travel abroad on holiday and don’t have much room for camera kit in your bag. Unless quality is vital, you might not want to get a full-frame DSLR or even a DSLR camera. Whilst the advantage of DSLR cameras is that you can change the lenses to a huge variety of options, the downside is that you need to carry the lenses to have those options available! It might be that you still choose a DSLR but use a very versatile lens such as 18-200mm so that you don’t need to change lenses. However, if portability is the main thing for you then you might like to look at mirrorless cameras instead. They are much lighter and much smaller.
You can still get high quality images from mirrorless cameras. For example, you can get full frame mirrorless bodies that give you professional quality images. So, this isn’t forcing you down a bad path. If you need or want flexibility then some kind of compact system camera will work well for you. However, if you want to keep things simple and not have to carry anything other than the camera you could get a bridge camera or a compact camera.
What do you want to photograph?
Different types of photography have different requirements. For fast moving subjects such as wildlife and sports you need a camera that can focus quickly and take a series of images rapidly. This is when “fps” or “frames per second” comes into play. More expensive and more recent cameras will have better autofocus systems which can cope better with moving subjects. Some cameras are designed for action and so have a high fps rate (can shoot in excess of 10 per second). Other cameras are designed for slower, more deliberate work and so don’t shoot that fast. If you are doing mainly action then you need to bear in mind the fps rate when buying a camera.
If you want to photograph things that are far away then you need a good zoom. Bridge cameras often have a great zoom range but aren’t so good for professional work. Dedicated wildlife and sports lenses for DSLRs cost thousands so you need to bear that in mind if this is your genre. You may be better off with a bridge camera to get the reach as cheap telephoto lenses for DSLRs can be poor quality.
For landscape photography you need a wideangle lens. This might be built in (compact, bridge) or purchased separately (CSC, DSLR). If you are hoping to shoot landscapes and wildlife then you need both wide and a long reach. For DSLRs and CSCs (Compact System Cameras) this means buying more lenses. So, make sure your budget is ready to stretch or consider a bridge camera instead.
If you are wanting to shoot in low light situations especially without using flash then you need to get a camera with a good ISO range. High ISO performance means that you can boost the signal and create usable images in tricky situations (e.g. concerts and other events). To get the best in ISO performance (so best images at a high ISO in low light) you will need to look towards a full frame camera. Make sure you ask your sales assistant for a camera with High ISO performance if you need to do this type of photography. Learn more about ISO in our article – What is ISO?
Which camera should I buy – Nikon, Canon, Sony, Pentax, etc?
If you already have lenses for one manufacturer then it is sensible to consider getting a body that can make use of them. If you are starting from scratch then it is up to you. Choose the camera based on the functions you need first and foremost. Once you have narrowed that down, try picking them up and see which feels good in your hands. Have a look at where the controls are and see which layout might work best for you. Will you need more kit to be able to shoot various subjects? In that case, make sure the brand you choose has those options available to you. It might also be an idea to compare the reviews for similar cameras once you have narrowed things down. Ultimately, the brand is personal preference. With the big manufacturers there is often little difference in image quality between them. Functions may vary slightly and the layout may be different. Make sure you narrow down based on function first. Then see what you are left with. Unless, of course, you have a particular loyalty for a brand, in which case go for that one!
What is your budget?
If you have a small budget then of course this will limit your choice and help you decide. Should you be in the position of having an open budget then that doesn’t mean you have to buy all the best kit. If you think you will use it and get something out of it then by all means do. I would encourage you to buy what best matches your needs and budget. Sometimes buying used camera equipment can help bring things into budget. So, if you are just missing out on functions for a new camera due to budget constraints, take a look and see if you can get something else second hand that would be able to do what you want it to.
© Joe Lenton, March 2017