A few weeks ago I got a question from a high school friend. He was in the market for a new camera and wanted to know what camera to start with. The answer to this question is the camera that you start with, is the camera that fits within your needs. When I first bought my camera there was a whole lot of thinking that I did not do. Amongst the things that I did not think about was what genre of photography I would do. This would ultimately define what I needed as a photographer. This resulted in year after year of unnecessary gear purchases. Based on what my friend asked I thought it best to write an article that will guide you as you think about the camera that you want to buy. At the end of this article, I will provide you with a few recommendations as well.
Where to Start?
I bought my first camera-based on what someone else had bought. I remember borrowing the camera, using it on a job, loving the images that came from it and decided to get the same camera as well. The problem was that as I grew to understand photography more I began to realize that I had limited myself with my choice of camera. The camera that I chose was rather limiting in a number of areas. This meant that I would soon have to look for another camera to compensate for those limitations. Nonetheless, the past is the past and this is a perfect opportunity for you not to make the same mistakes that I did.
I know the question you are asking is ‘Where do I start?’ In order to figure out the process of selecting a camera that will suit your needs, you need to ask yourself the following questions.
1. What will I shoot?
‘What will I shoot?’ It is important that you are honest and realistic about the answer that you give. I find that at the beginning of most people’s photography journeys, they make decisions based on what other people are doing. When I started photography I was envious of Mutua Matheka’s travel work. I wanted to take the images he was taking. Nairobi skylines, elephants in the Maasai Mara, waterfalls and black sand beaches in Iceland you name it. I wallowed in envy to the extent that I did not take the time to find out what camera he used to shoot his images with. This lead to a lot of frustration and feeling of failure to the point that I actually put off photography for about 8 months. Within those 8 months, I had to take the time to re-evaluate what I wanted to shoot and eventually I found what I wanted to do.
Be as realistic as possible. I think it is important to shoot what is available to you. What is available to everyone is not going to be the same. Some of you may travel often, so it will be easier to do travel photography, some of you love food, so it is easier to do food photography, some of you attend a ton of events and therefore easier to do event photography. Find what it is that is available to you and shoot more of that, rather than trying to shoot what someone else is shooting out of envy.
It is important that you identify what it is that you want to shoot because different genres of photography have different challenges. Challenges may require specialized lenses, tripods, brackets, and even rigs. These could cost you an arm, a leg and four kidneys. So take your time and think about what it is that you want to shoot because it may determine the amount you will need to spend on the camera and accessories that come with it.
2. What will you use the images for?
We take photographs, to make images. It is a way of recording memories for some of us. It is a way of marketing products or services. So, what are you going to use the images for? Do you want to make your crush notice you on Snapchat? Or are you a meme making machine? Are you promoting products on Instagram? Do you have a blog that you want to share some of your life experiences with others? Do you travel to different places and you want to share those experiences?
I will randomly assume you want your crush to notice you on Snapchat. Do you really need a camera to do that? Probably not. If you travel and want to share your experiences with people, maybe you want a small, light camera that will take high-quality images that you can print in a publication or share on your website or blog. What you use the images for will determine the camera that you choose to purchase. Image use will also determine what storage alternatives you have. Different digital files will take up different amounts of space. It is important to bear this in mind because storage for digital files can quickly become expensive.
3. How much control do you want?
I feel that this is an important question because we all want to do something different with photography. Different people will be at different levels within the photography realm. Some will be hobbyists while others will be hardcore professionals. I have been spending a lot of time on photography forums and Facebook photography groups. I have noticed that there is a general dislike for human beings who shoot in AUTO mode. This is a phenomenon that I find strange. The reason being, different people will want different levels of control.
Most people buy a camera to take photos of their family and friends on vacation or during a family get together. Most of these individuals will not care what the exposure triangle is. They just want a picture of their babies at the beach. They will therefore just shoot in AUTO mode because it gives them a relatively good, clear and straight forward image of what they want.
As you think about choosing a camera, think about the level of control that you want from it. Do you want to control every single aspect of your shots? Then, why not buy a pro camera like the Canon 5D Mark III. Do you want to just point the camera at someone and not have to think about what aperture setting to use, what ISO you need to be at, the possible shutter speed so that the images are sharp without shake and don’t forget you also need to select the proper autofocus mode? Remember the amount of control that the camera will give you is a component of the cost of the camera. The more control you have the more it will cost, the less control you have over the images you are taking, the lower its cost will be.
4. How important is size and weight?
Cameras come in a wide variety of sizes and weights. Hollywood film crews will rig cameras to helicopters just to get the shots that are needed for a film. These systems are thousands of dollars. Cameras will still be pin-sized so that doctors can take them down someone’s throat to identify damage to patients’ organs.
As we began this post we stated that identifying what you want to shoot is the first step to choosing the right camera. Based on what you want to shoot one can look through the different sizes and weights of cameras and determine which best suits them. I feel the need to throw in an example here. In 2018, I had been travelling quite a bit for work. During my travels, I used my phone to take pictures. The phone was doing fine but being a photographer I wanted to step things up a little bit and have higher quality images that I would share on a blog that I had at the time. Up until this point I had my Canon 600D. (This camera is rather large and takes up a tone of space.) Together with all my lenses, I had to carry it in a separate bag. That meant that if I was travelling, which was mostly work and a few times for leisure, I would have a ton of weight on me. I was also not assured of the security and safety of all my stuff. I decided to get myself the Sony A7. It was smaller and compact, the lenses were TINY! The camera body and lens that I bought it with, could fit in the same bag all my clothes were in. Image quality was good, it did great video (though autofocus sucks) and one feature that the 600D did not have…WIFI. This enabled me to quickly transfer images from my camera to my phone, edit quickly with a few presets that I had and share or post on the blog.
So look through different cameras and decide what size and weight will be suitable for what you want to shoot.
5. What accessories will you need?
I was recently watching a video by photographer John Greengo where he gave a talk on various purchasing mistakes that a lot of first time camera purchasers make. THEY RARELY BUDGET FOR ACCESSORIES. When you have finally chosen the camera that you want it is important to consider the accessories that will go with it. A new camera will almost always not come with 3 important accessories.
1. A memory card.
2. A camera bag.
3. An extra battery.
Thank me later for saving you the extra coins on your budget.
6. How much can you afford?
A camera will cost you money! How much money? That is a question only you the purchaser can answer. A camera will cost what the buyer is willing to pay for. The more advanced that a camera system is, the more you have to pay for it.
To make things a little easier let us breakdown cameras. This post is directed towards people interested in the more professional side of photography, so I will be talking about DSLRs (Digital-Single Reflex). These are cameras where one can change a lens on the camera. DSLRs can be categorized into three groups.
a) Entry-Level DSLRs – These can also be called beginner pro cameras. They have basic pro features such as the manual mode and varying autofocus modes. They do not give a high level of control on the features because they are basic, they are best for those who are trying to start understanding photography. Examples are Canon 100D, Canon 200D, Canon 760D, Nikon D3300, Nikon D3400, Sony 6000, Sony 6100.
b) Semi-Pro Level DSLRs – These are a level above the entry-level DSLRs and give a lot more control over certain features. They have better autofocus handling and better low light handling capabilities. Examples include Canon 70D, Canon 80D, Canon 90D, Nikon D610, Nikon D750, Nikon D780, Sony 6300, Sony 6400, Sony 6500.
c) Pro Level DSLRs – These are the top of the line cameras. They have been filled with all sorts of features. Amazing autofocus handling, massive manual controls, impressive low light handling, and very high frame rates. Examples include Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 1DX Mark II, Canon 7D Mark II( some will argue with me on this one), Nikon D810, Nikon D800, Nikon D850, Sony A7III, Sony A7RIII, Sony A7SII, Sony A7RIV(this is A BEAST)
These are the three categories that the professional cameras are broken into and prices will increase from beginner to pro-level DSLRs. I would like to point out a few things before I give my recommended cameras for those intending to pursue photography professionally. If you have the money to buy a pro camera body, buy it if you want to, I will not stop you. However, I feel that for the amount of money that you will spend on a pro camera body, that money can be invested in more useful items like lenses because better lenses play a small role in image quality. So take the time to think carefully through what you want to do. If you are having some reservations or questions, leave them in the comment section below, I will take my time to answer and help where I can.
My Personal Camera recommendations
1. Entry Level Pro DSLR
a) Canon 100D
b) Canon 760D
c) Nikon D3300
d) Nikon D3400
2. Semi Pro-Level DSLR
a) Canon 80D
b) Canon 90D
c) Canon 6D
d) Nikon D750
e) Sony 6500
f) Sony 6300
3. Pro-Level DSLRs
a) Canon 5D Mark III
b) Canon 5D Mark IV
c) Canon 1DX Mark II
d) Nikon D810
e) Nikon D850
f) Sony A7III
g) Sony A7RIII
h) Sony A9
You are not restricted to this list. Make your selection based on research that you have done and what you can afford. I will take this opportunity to remind you not to forget to budget for a memory card, a camera bag, and an extra battery.
For questions or comments please leave some in the description box below. I will talk to you in another post. See you soon.