As odd as it may seem, photographers never start out as photographers. They rarely ever are born with a camera ready to play with, even if their parents are amateur enthusiasts. My parents, for example, were quite into memory preservation through film, and I never got into photography into a serious way until I was well into my 20s. It all began with a tiny point and shoot, and when I outgrew that, I was faced with the question that many advanced beginners are faced with:
Which camera should I buy?
Of course, this is not such a straightforward question, and different people will obviously have different needs. But I’m hoping that sharing a few things that I’ve considered along the way, might help you make the decision on which camera to invest your money on, because not all of us have the freedom to keep buying new toys, as much as we’d like to.
Because a photographer is equal parts artist and technician, let’s put aside the techie jargon and all the confusing alphabets, and focus on the personal questions that need to be answered, even before you embark on the technical research!
How much should I spend?
Budget is always the first question on everyone’s mind, and yet it’s not always the first answered. I guess before that, it’s always useful to know how invested you are in photography. What would you like to use the camera for? Not in 10 years, when the technology would have changed, but maybe in the next 2 or 3 years. Is it to take photos of your kids? Is it to capture amazing shots of food for your blog? Is it because you are an aspiring stylist and would like to create fashion shots that would make the editorial teams of magazines drool? Or maybe you’d like to earn some pocket money taking portraits of people in your city or town? The answers to these questions will determine the kind of camera you’d like to get, and ultimately what you can get it for.
What are my options?
If you’re moving on from a compact, point and shoot camera, I would suggest at least looking at a “semi-pro” camera with interchangeable lenses, which would still be a significant step up. Back in the day, I started out with a Canon Ixus 5 (god, I’m old), and then moved on to an Olympus EP-1. I did have a trial run with a friend’s beautiful Pentax LX camera (DSLR), but because I didn’t have much experience besides my Canon’s limited Manual functions, I felt like I was holding on to a lion by a frail leash. This thing was so crazy powerful, but I had no idea what I was doing.
Today, mirrorless cameras have come a long way, with functions that give a ‘professional’ level camera a run for its dollar. They are way more compact and portable, and the range of lenses that are made for them means that you can get amazing quality pictures and a serious bang for your buck. I own a Samsung NX3000, and it’s become the camera that I rely the most on now. And that includes some professional work that I do. I love it for its ease of use, fantastic software which yields vibrant results, and enough control that allows me to tinker with settings should I really have the need to.
If you want, you can also aim straight for a DSLR, and look at ‘professional’ options. But truly, in a day-to-day sense, even in my professional work, the only noticeable difference that I find between the two cameras that I own – the Canon 60D and the Samsung NX 3000 – are the range of lenses available to me, as well as a little bit of low-light noise management. Even in professional photography settings.
And anyway, a camera is only as professional as its user, and there’s no point buying a huge ass camera if you’re only going to shoot in “Auto” mode.
Which brand should I go for?
Brand is another question that is absolutely wrapped up in all sorts of psychology that conflicts with practicality. Some people swear by a brand of cameras while others might refuse to touch them. In this case, it might all boil down to which particular camera in which particular range suits your needs best. I get so many people ask me, “are Sony cameras any good?” without ever specifying which one they were enquiring about. And what’s ‘good’, anyway? At the end of the day, you’re pretty secure if you buy from a big brand with a long history, so it means that on that level, you’re pretty secure about not buying some no-name hack camera that will fall apart on you the first time you put it through its paces.
I’m personally a fan of Samsung, Olympus and Canon cameras specifically, having used them before, but it really is all about getting settled into the camera, and adjusting your workflow to get the most out of it.
What about lenses?
Ahh, with more options inevitably comes more confusion. After all, there would never be the question of lenses if there were never lenses to choose from in the first place. It depends on the photography that you’re interested in: if you would, for example, like to go all paparazzi-like, then you’re going to need some crazy huge telegraphic lens, and a camera that will support the use of that lens. Or you know, bird watching. You could use it in bird-watching too.
Personally, my business is all about food, so my cameras carry a 40-50mm lens, perfect for giving me that shallow depth of field that focuses the picture on the sexy ooze of my egg porn and blurs out all the insignificant details. In short, different lenses give you a different effect, and is more suited to different styles of photography. Depending on how rare the lens is you’d like to use, you can actually narrow down your option of camera based on whether they make the lens for the cameras that are on your list.
Brand New or Second hand?
This might get me labeled as a spoilt brat, but I usually like to err on the side of brand new, especially when it comes to electronic equipment. There are so many things that can go wrong with anything that has that many moving parts, that I’d really like to not place my bets with the honesty of the seller. When you buy a brand new camera, you know how it should behave, and if it doesn’t do anything that it should, you are protected by the warranty that comes with the equipment.
This is especially true when it comes to advanced beginner users looking to move to the next step. You wouldn’t ask a new driver to go shopping by themselves for a second hand car, so I wouldn’t suggest a relatively inexperienced photographer to dig through the murky waters of eBay in hopes of scoring a cheap, branded camera. Start off with a new one, you can work your way through from there.
Where do I start shopping?
It may seem that a fairly obvious answer is “the internet”, but I would suggest the fairly old-school approach: walk into a store. To me, photography is a very personal experience, and I wouldn’t buy a camera that fits a long list of technical specifications that I have if it didn’t feel nice in my hands as well. Stores usually have many display models that give you an idea of how it’s like to shoot with them, and give you a better idea of what’s a better fit.
I always tell the sales people that I’m still shopping around, and that way they don’t seem to try and push the sale as hard as when you’re ready to buy. Most of them can be quite helpful in the hopes that you will come back to them once you make the decision on your final purchase, and some of them are photography enthusiasts themselves, opening you up to another great source of information.
Once you’ve decided on what equipment you’d seriously like to pursue, then do the price research to find the best deal.
Sometimes, it all comes down to the bells and whistles. One of the most indispensable functions on my Samsung NX3000 for me is the Mobile Wifi function. It creates a wifi network that connects to my phone, and allows me to transfer new photographs to it easily. This allows me to provide live updates with high quality photographs, all with the click of a button. What your workflow’s like and how you’d like it to be can mean that these ‘peripheral’ functions can become a strong deciding factor in your choice of camera.
By the way, if you already own a camera that doesn’t have wifi capabilities and you don’t want to have to buy a brand new camera for it, not to fear. There is a huge range of Wifi enabled SD Cards out there that will work with a huge range of cameras. Try it, I’ve got one for my Canon 60D and I never leave home without it.
It may be cliche to say, but at the end of the day, there really isn’t a right or wrong answer. It’s only about what camera you’re willing to live with. And be brutally honest with yourself: if you’re the type to continuously whip out your iPhone instead of pulling a camera out of your bag, then maybe you’re not ready to buy a new camera yet, and the money can be better spent elsewhere. If you’re only going to post the pictures on your Facebook, then you don’t need to shell out the dough for a top-of-the-line full frame camera with 10 different lenses. Choose what works for you, and what is going to work in the near future. Plans change, and your camera can change beyond that too.
And to answer the first questions about budget: my cameras both cost in the ballpark range of $1000 AUD. They’ve lasted me 3 years and 1 year respectively, and I can still see myself using them for the next 4-5 years, at least. That’s probably a good starting point.
I hope I’ve answered most your questions on buying a new camera when you’ve outgrown your point and shoot! I’d love to hear if you have any more questions, so do leave me a comment down below! Interested in reading more about photography? You might also like to read about how to your camera in Manual mode, or about apps to boost your Instagram game!