What Camera Should I Buy???
As a professional photographer, I get a lot of questions about photography, but this is the big one. I get it all the time, from teenagers to retirees, executives, doctors and stay-at-home moms. And the answer varies for each person who asks, because of course, there is no perfect camera. Just like there’s no perfect car that fits everyone’s needs, the best camera for you depends on what you’re going to be using it for. So I always answer this with two more questions of my own- what will you use the camera for, and what’s your budget? So here goes– the beginner’s guide to buying a decent camera….
There’re many different types of cameras. I’ll pass over phone cameras, as they’re primarily not for taking pictures, though they often do a good job for a basic, no frills camera. But here’re some of the things you can be looking out for:
If you buy a camera today, the first thing you’ll probably notice is how many megapixels the camera has. Honestly, it really doesn’t matter much anymore. Megapixels are a measure of how many pixels are in the camera’s sensor– the part of the camera that records the picture to the memory card. In the old days (think mid-2000’s), digital cameras often didn’t have enough megapixels to record a picture as well as film could. The fewer the megapixels, the more pixellated your pictures could look, especially if tried to enlarge the picture or make some prints. But the more pixels you had, the better the output from the camera, and the less the pictures would have that ‘digital’ look. But in 2014, almost every camera has more than enough pixels to make a decent sized print. And if you only plan on looking at your pictures on your computer or on a tablet, you need even fewer pixels. You only need more if you plan on making very large prints, like over 16×20 inches. And let’s face it, few people will even make an 8×10 these days. On the other hand, if (like me) you do make very large prints (I’ve made many that were several feet wide), the more pixels the better. For most cameras though, anything over eight megapixels will be just fine.
TYPES of CAMERAS:
Point and shoot cameras are great– they’re usually pocket-sized, come with fixed lenses (meaning you can’t change them), and take good snapshots. They’re great for carrying around in a handbag, jacket pocket or for leaving in a backpack. They’re unobtrusive if you’re hoping to take ‘stealth’ pictures, or to get shots of your kids or friends at a moment’s notice. The drawback though is that a lot of smart phones take almost as good a picture, so if you already have a decent camera phone, there’s probably no point in getting a point and shoot. The exception to this is the underwater, or action, camera. I have a small point and shoot that can take pictures and HD video down to forty feet underwater, as well as handle being dropped from up to six feet high– not that I’ve tested this out! Since I don’t own a camera phone, my point and shot is a great camera for going almost anywhere.SLR cameras- if you’re wanting to get into serious photography, you really need an SLR (which stands for single lens reflex)– basically a camera that has interchangeable lenses, and a viewfinder you look through, not just a screen on the back of the camera. Why’s this important? Because it’s much easier to compose your pictures when you look through a viewfinder and see your scene framed by a black border and no distractions. You’re also more likely to be able to hold the camera steady when you’re holding it up to your eye, and not extending your hands out, grasping the camera and looking at the LCD screen. But the real benefit of an SLR is the ability to change lenses, according to what you’re photographing, and the option to shoot in manual mode. Got a kid playing soccer? Then switch to a longer telephoto lens to fill the frame. Shooting a landscape? Then put on a wide angle lens and include everything from the rocks in the foreground to the distant mountains. Another benefit is SLRs will shoot pictures either as single shots, or rapid fire (measured in fps, or frames per second). My sports camera shoots at a blazing 10fps, enough to capture all the action.
Finally, the best part about SLRs… along with the Auto settings, most will have a Manual setting, where you can do all the settings yourself. If that sounds too scary, remember you’re shooting digital, where you can make mistakes and learn from them, without the cost of wasted film. So, when you get your new camera, read the manual (no one else does, but you should), and learn how to shoot manually. By learning how to control your camera, only then can you truly get the images you want, every time.
So what do I recommend? The camera manufacturers aren’t paying me to say this- I have no sponsors, so here are my honest answers to a friend who wrote a while back asking for advice. Keep in mind he was looking for an inexpensive starter camera, not the latest, most advanced camera.
Hey Mike – OK – let’s say between $200 – $250 for the camera. Is that feasible? Am I aiming to high or too low? Can I get a reasonably good camera for less? My wife will be taking photos of the family – she likes nature shots also, animals, and scenery. Also – she says that she’s into learning about the intricacies of taking photos – I bought her a book about the specific Minolta that I bought her, but I haven’t really seen her do anything but point and shoot. So what I’m saying is that I probably have to balance her intentions (an all bells and whistles camera) with reality (one button point and shoot). I know that the big thing is the telephoto lens – she’s been talking about that for years – she wants to be able to go on hikes and be able to zoom in on animals in the forest. I hope that this gives you enough info to go on. Thanks for your help.
And my response:
$250 is on the low side. If she wants a camera with the ability to change lenses, you’re looking at a starting price of about $500. The telephoto lens would be extra on top of that. I’ve been shooting with Canon cameras since high school so I know them best, but Nikons are also good quality. Sony’s only recently gotten in on the game with a couple new cameras too, so I’d say anything from Canon, Nikon, Sony or Olympus are probably going to be pretty good. Here’re some options with thoughts on each (btw, I purchase a lot of my gear from camera stores in NYC- Adorama is very reputable and often has the best prices, so all these links are from their store) …
Sony Alpha DSLR SLT-A58 Digital SLR Camera with 18-55 Lens, 20.1 Megapixel, 1080p/60i/24p Full HD Video, 2.7″ Tiltable Screen
Canon Rebel T3
I just had a look round and this one sounds pretty nice; the picture quality wouldn’t be as nice as the cameras above, but it’s probably pretty good, and the price is under $300:
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ70 Digital Camera, 16.1MP, 20-1200mm Focal Length, 60x Optical Zoom, Full HD 1080/60i Recording, 3″ Display, Dolby Digital Sound
I bought my wife this camera a couple years ago- she loves it and carries it everywhere- it’s much more compact that the the bigger cameras above. Picture quality not as good, but pretty decent. You can’t put a telephoto lens on it, so not good for any wildlife shots:
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 10.1 Megapixel Digital Camera with 3.8x24mm Wide-Angle Leica Optical Zoom Lens, 9 FPS High Speed Continuous Shooting, Black
There’s always a tradeoff- the bigger cameras are heavier (that not that bad IMO) but they take better pictures; the smaller cameras are more compact- you’re likely to have it everywhere when you want it, but the quality isn’t as good. If it was me, I’d spring for the Canon Rebel T3- you can always buy a telephoto lens later, and the lens that it comes with is pretty decent. Of course, it’s $550, so it’s double your original estimate…
The Adventures of Mike’s Camera is the blog of freelance photographer, Mike Hudson. He is available for commercial photography assignments– marketing, corporate, editorial, annual reports, lifestyle, web page photography, and events. His clients have included many regional and national magazines and newspapers, several healthcare providers, colleges, hotels, architectural firms, small businesses and more. Visit MichaelHudsonPhotography.com to check out his portfolio or contact him via email.