Choosing a Camera

This is one of the most asked questions I get by amateur photographers or by people who want to be photographers, how do I choose my camera?

It is a good question and this post will be short and with probably no pictures so it is mainly stuff to consider. A sort of lay of the land and most of it you’ll already know I imagine.

Griffen and Bailey
Griffen and Bailey

Here is a random picture because I’m a photographer and if you are then you like looking at pictures.

So back to the main story, how to choose a camera.

The first thing is to know that it is gear. Gear can only be chosen when you know what the gear has to do, so you have to learn what gear can do, and what it can do is determined by what you want to do with it, ish.

What I mean is, the first question isn’t what camera, but what type of photography, since this determines what camera operator skills you’ll need and the gear it will take.

For example the picture above was shot with a Nikon D700 and a Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 lens. It was shot at about 100mm and around 2.8. This gave me a certain depth of field (the humans are in focus while the background isn’t) and a certain level of foreshortening (lens focal length changes how far apart things look along the axis of the shot).

Anyway, without being technical, you can see that if you want to shoot portraits and you want to shoot with a shallow depth of field, then you’ll need a camera that can give you an aperture on your lens of 2.8 or smaller.

Notice all of this is tech talk about photography and isn’t talk about cameras. This is my point. How to choose a camera starts with making sure you know what you want to shoot, then learning what it took to shoot it.

Camera Overview

But just so I’m not being a complete jerk, here is a quick intro to cameras.

There are cameras whose lens comes off and ones where it doesn’t. If they come off and you look through a viewfinder then they are probably Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras.

DSLRs means that you’ll need a bunch of lenses too so the best thing to do is find a friend that has a bunch and buy a camera that their lenses fit. If they shoot Canon, then buy Canon. If they shoot Nikon, then buy Nikon. etc.

DSLRs are fairly big. The other family of cameras that exist now and are superb beasties if you get the right one are the Compact System Cameras, or Mirrorless Cameras (even though some have mirrors).

The CSCs are much smaller but also have a great range of lenses. Olympus and Fuji and Sony for example make some superb CSC cameras.

Any camera you buy will have a certain maximum resolution and it will have an image capture sensor of a certain size. Sensors the size of a 35mm film are called full frame. Sensors less than that have fancy names like APS-C etc (hit up Duckduckgo to do more research ((it is a search engine that doesn’t track you… www.duckduckgo.com))).

So there are two factors at work so far. Size of camera. Size of sensor.

Bigger sensors are often better with low light and can give you better depth of field control but it is all much of a muchness.

Smaller cameras are superb and are easier to handle, especially for travel photography.

Go to dpreview.com and have a read about cameras to get a really good idea.

Now you don’t have to get a camera whose lens comes off. You can get one with a single zoom lens. This will do the job if you get the right one (for a time). If you are serious about giving photography a go though then in the end you’ll invest in a camera system.

The good thing about big brands like Nikon and Canon is that there is a vast selection of good quality second hand lenses on sites like Gumtree (I’ll do a post on how to judge a second hand lens a bit later).

Beyond the camera and lens you’ll eventually need to think about a flash, a tripod, a reflector, a decent camera bag, several memory cards of the right speed, a way to back up your data on the go and a way to back it up when you get home and finally a computer to edit your images on because no matter what anyone says, if you shoot digital, you’ll eventually have to touch a computer.

In Conclusion

I realise this post may have rambled but I am hoping that from it you drew the following.

  1. Decide what type of photography you most want to do.
  2. Research the behind the scenes of how the style of shots you like where shot.
  3. Find out what friends have cameras and figure out what resources you can borrow (legally and with permission).
  4. With all that in mind, decide if you want to carry a big camera around or a smaller one. Smaller cameras have smaller lenses. Their shoot quality is near enough to being the same. There are pros and cons thus dpreview.com.
  5. With all this in mind figure out how much it will cost and do more research.

Or just bit the bullet and go get a second hand Nikon D300s off Gumtree with the original twin lens kit (around $400 probably) and go out and shoot or pick up a Canon 70D with a similar kit and go shoot then flog it on Gumtree once you figure out the ups and downs of what you want to do.

See how helpful I am. 🙂

You can write to me below if you have specific questions. I generally get to them.

 

Shoot with what you have

I currently do two days a week in a camera shop. It is great getting to play with all the latest gear without having to buy any and having a job where reading about the latest gear is part of my job.

Part of my job is to answer the question ‘I want to get into photography, what camera should I buy?’ or the variation ‘what camera should I get?’.

Now I don’t get paid commission in the shop I work in which is fantastic because it lets me be completely free to answer that question honestly, and the way I answer it is to ask, ‘what sort of pictures do you want to take?’.

The most common answer is ‘oh, I don’t know. General stuff. I just want to be better at it’.

And that is what this post is about, getting better at the pictures you take. One of the best things you can do is shoot. Shoot a lot. Don’t wait for a better camera to go out and shoot. It is entirely likely that you could do more with the gear you already have.

seagull_looking_at_the_camera
seagull looking

Here is a seagull looking at the camera. There was a wind and so a lot of gulls were just hovering. Ish. I did have my sexy camera gear with me, but it was in the back of the car and I was eating a burger so I picked up my iphone. It took a few goes but I eventually snapped a shot that was in focus and exposed correctly. I locked focus with my finger by putting it on the picture at the distance away I wanted focus locked at then lifted it and took the gull. Iphones are very slow to autofocus. (if that doesn’t make sense I’m sorry and I’ll do a shooting with iPhone guide at some point. Just know that you can lock focus and exposure on an iPhone and that this is very useful. You can also reverse pinch to zoom but that is a digital crop and you will lose resolution… back to the story).

I always say that there is a triangle. First up is the Gear. Gear matters, but not as much as you may think. Skills to use the gear are what matters. A great camera in the hands of an idjit will not get a great shot reliably (anyone can fluke a good shot from time to time).

So I suggest you learn to use whatever gear you have to the limits of what that gear can do. Learning to use the gear is not about getting good shots. It is about building a library of skills you can draw on. I call these Camera Operator Skills. It is knowing about light and about focus and exposure and aperture etcetera for the gear you have. It is knowing workarounds to get your gear to do what it isn’t really designed to do.

Ultimately being a photographer is about turning what you see in your mind into things people can see outside your mind. This is Vision. All good photographers have Vision. They see the shot they are after before they take it more often than not (obviously not everyone is the same, but you don’t want to be a lucky dip photographer).

Vision requires that you have the Skills to use your Gear. When you bang hard up against the edges of what your Skills can do with your Gear, then it may be time to look at better gear. By this time you’ll know exactly what you want to shoot and you’ll come into a camera shop and say to a guy like me ‘I want to get into photography. I like to shoot wildlife. I tend to shoot macro and I am most interested in afternoon waterfowl. I also want to shoot starscapes and timelapse’.

That is the advice I’d give to everyone who picks up a camera and wants to take better images. Do that. Pick Up The Camera and get a vision in your head and then go out and try to capture it. Shoot, then shoot more then shoot more. When you run out of stuff to shoot, go shoot doors.

Then post boxes.

Then feet.

Then the left eye of dogs.

Enjoy

(PS feel free to share with me your thoughts on this post. Be nice though)