What Camera Should I Buy?

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….

My original Canon 1D digital SLR. I used this camera from 2002 until 2004- my first digital camera. It's still a great camera, and takes better pictures than many cameras being made today.

My original Canon 1D digital SLR. I used this camera from 2002 until 2004- my first digital camera. It’s still a great camera, and takes better pictures than many cameras being made today.

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:

MEGAPIXELS:

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.

Using my manual focus, manual exposure film camera, the Hasselblad 503CX, one of the best film cameras ever made.

Using my manual focus, manual exposure film camera, the Hasselblad 503CX, one of the finest film cameras ever made.

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.

Using my Canon 5D Mk 2 SLR in Maine. Picture taken with my Panasonic Lumix [underwater] point and shoot camera.

Using my Canon 5D Mk 2 SLR in Maine. Picture taken with my Panasonic Lumix [underwater] point and shoot camera.

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.

Shooting in Wistmans Wood (Devon, England) with an infrared converted Canon 5D Mk2 SLR camera. I've rented this camera twice. Essentially it has been converted from a normal camera to be sensitive to infrared light. The artistic possibilities are endless.

Shooting in Wistmans Wood (Devon, England) with an infrared converted Canon 5D Mk2 SLR camera. I’ve rented this camera twice. Essentially it’s been converted from a normal camera to be sensitive to infrared light. The artistic possibilities are endless (click on this picture to see what I was shooting that day).

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.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

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) …
In London for the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, April 28-29, 2011. I mainly used my Canon 1D Mk4 SLR, capable of shooting action at 10fps, and able to shoot HD video. Built like a tank. It's heavy camera, but the build quality is the best of any Canon I've owned for the last thirty years.

In London for the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, April 28-29, 2011. I mainly used my Canon 1D Mk4 SLR, capable of shooting action at 10fps, and able to shoot HD video. Built like a tank. It’s a heavy camera, but the build quality is the best of any Canon I’ve owned for the last thirty years.

 

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.

 

Photo Class- the best thing you can do to improve your pictures

© Michael Hudson, All Rights Reserved

Is all that bland sky necessary?

As a professional photographer, I get asked by a lot of people what they can do to make their pictures better. There’s a wide range of answers for that– bad exposure (pictures coming out too light or dark) is a big one, using a low quality camera and getting pixellated pictures is another, but there’s one thing that I see wrong more than any other, and that’s poor composition. Composition is simply a matter of how you frame your pictures- what you decide will be in the shot. Will it be more sky or less sky, closeup portraits or full body shots. The single biggest mistake I see is putting the subject right in the dead center of the picture. I know this from experience– every time I ask someone to take a family photo for me with my camera, I always get back a shot of our heads in the middle of the frame, with too much boring sky above us.

Waaaayyy too much of the road, the sky and trees, and not enough of my family.

Waaaayyy too much of the road, the sky and trees, and not enough of my family.

What can you do to avoid this? You’ve got two choices- either move in closer to fill the frame with your subjects, or aim the camera down a little to avoid all that sky behind them. Honestly, a more ground is more interesting than blank sky. Of course, if there’re some cool clouds, or an interesting sunset behind them, by all means, include that in the shot, but don’t waste valuable space with bland-ness. Think first- what’s your picture really about, and concentrate on that. Is it the family, is it the location they’re in? Include those things.

One of the most helpful books I’ve ever read on the subject of photography, was The Making of Landscape Photographs, by well known English landscape photographer, Charlie Waite. The lesson I learned most from reading the book, was to search the viewfinder of your camera before you push the shutter button. Is there anything extraneous in the shot? Move so you avoid it. (I took a picture of my car several years ago- it’s still one of my favorite pictures, but what bothers me is there is a flattened soda can on the ground in front of the car. I know I could just delete it in Photoshop, but that’s not the way I like to work- get it right in camera!). Sometimes it’s only a matter of moving a couple inches to get a better composition. Also, ask yourself if you want everything in the picture- would your shot be better if you avoided all that empty sky, or waited until there were no cars in the background?

It takes some practice to start seeing composition intuitively, but it might help to look at the pictures you’ve already taken. How could you have framed them better? Study them, and be diligent in composing your pictures better. It might be the most common thing that sets amateurs apart from professionals, but with a bit of practice, your pictures will begin to look more professional.

Much better......

Much better……

 

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.