“Which camera you should I buy?” doesn’t have one easy answer. But if you follow some simple rules on how to buy a camera, you will end up with a device well suited to your photography needs.
As a professional photographer, there is one subject of conversation guaranteed to come up whenever i meet new people. Buying camera gear. What is the best camera/lens? Which camera should I buy? Where is the best place to buy? What do you use? What do you recommend?…
There are so many choices out there that it can be pretty confusing. The task isn’t to work out which camera is the “best”, the task is to find the ones that are a good fit for your budget, needs, and lifestyle. A bit like buying a pet. (Imagine a vet being asked “what is the best pet to buy for $400?”)
One blog post cannot address every variable. Instead I will share with you an email I’ve sent, (more than once), to help friends and clients on this topic. It’s usually when they are planning a holiday, or embarking on a photography course of some kind.
…Yes, I do remember you mentioning your upcoming holiday, and that you were thinking of buying a new camera. We didn’t get a chance to discuss specifics, so here is some general advice on how to buy a camera.”
The rest goes something like this…
Decide on your budget. Cameras can range from a few hundred to a few thousand. Visit your local camera shop and say these words:
“I have $X to spend, show me your top 3 or 4 cameras in that price bracket that were released in the last 12 months or so”.
A good camera store won’t recommend anything… until they’ve asked you some questions:
- What sort of things do you like to shoot? People, places, animals, sports? indoors, outdoors, daytime/nighttime?
- Do you also want to shoot video?
- Do you want to just point and shoot …or are you interested in taking some control? do you want to do more advanced photography later?
There are so many great cameras on the market now that its hard to go too far wrong. Handle some of the cameras and try them out in the store. (Actually take some shots, don’t just hold them)
Once you have a shortlist of 2-3 candidates, go online and read some reviews.
When you have settled on a brand and model, go back to the store and see if you can wrangle a deal. Try to bundle the camera with some of the essential accessories you need with any new camera:
- camera bag,
- extra memory cards (especially if traveling)
- spare battery (especially if traveling)
- blower brush and cleaning kit
- (cheap) UV filters to protect your lenses are a good way to help protect your investment.
- If the store has a printing lab, you might be able to get some processing included too.
7 tips to buying the right camera
1. The biggest practical difference between brands is the user interface.
Canon, Nikon, Sony, are arguably the market leaders right now. You can also find some solid offerings from Olympus, Panasonic, Fuji, and Pentax.
Most brands employ very similar technology. But each uses different layouts in their menu and user interface (buttons, dials, touchscreens etc). So the first tip is : Choose a camera that you like the feel of.
Ask the salesperson to show you the basic controls. Compare the different brands to see how their menus are arranged. A camera is a physical tool. It needs to feel good in your hands.
Some excellent cameras will simply not be suitable for you… if you find their menu system too awkward. Go with the one you are most comfortable with.
2. Avoid Very long zoom lenses.
This is one of the most common traps novices fall into: Buying a “super-zoom” (that is – One lens that claims to do everything – wide angle landscapes to super long distance shots).
A long “zoom” does mean convenience…but also loss of sharpness, and increased weight. Remember that old saying: Jack of all trades – master of none.
Highest quality is actually NO zoom at all. (Called “prime lenses” and used by the pros). A really long zoom on a point and shoot camera uses up lots of battery. And it is the most common failure point, mechanically.
If your are choosing a camera with interchangeable lenses choose a couple of shorter zooms, rather than one really long zooming lens.
Eg: A 28-55 lens plus a 55-200 lens is usually a better option than one 28-200 lens. (There are very good reasons why pros buy a series of shorter zoom lenses, instead of just one huge one)
3. Buy the biggest sensor you can afford.
The bigger the sensor in the camera , the better the quality. If you want quality, this is where it lives in camera land. Its not the size of the camera body that matters, its the size of the sensor. That is the heart of a camera.
The advantage of a bigger sensor is it captures more light. A big sensor will always beat a little sensor in quality. Especially in low light. This explains why phone cams may perform OK – outside during the day…but produce miserable results in poor lighting.
4. “RAW” format shooting option.
For best quality you want a camera that can shoot RAW. (not just jpegs) All pro cameras and most enthusiast cameras can shoot raw. It is much better quality. And more forgiving of exposure mistakes. RAW Files are much bigger …so you will want to buy extra storage/memory card/s!
5. Avoid the “rugged” or “waterproof” style cameras
The convenience of a tough weatherproof camera is appealing…but the downside is a big drop in image quality. You should only consider these if you are planning to go into extreme conditions: kyaking, or trekking through snow. Or if quality is not an issue and you want a camera you can plop down onto a sandy beach next to your towel.
6. How much do i need to spend?
There are plenty of cameras for a less than US$300. But…you already have a basic camera on your smartphone don’t you?
I think it makes sense to look at cameras in the range of $400-$1000. My phone cost me about that much, and takes reasonable pics and video… in good lighting conditions. So in my view it doesn’t make much sense to spend $200-300 on a very cheap camera that performs only marginally better than my phone.
If you want the “ultimate quality” from a compact camera, you want something like this one:
Sony Cybershot RX1R II. Full sized pro sensor, 42 megapixels. (remember tip 3: the bigger the sensor the better the quality). This is an impressive camera in a tiny body.
But, at around US$3000 it’s more expensive than many full size professional cameras.
Alternatively you can buy a Canon 80d body, perhaps with an EF-s 24mm lens, for less than US$800. This is a great little camera and a nice sharp lens for landscape and street photography. And it’s a semi professional DSLR camera.
7. Everyone Has An Opinion.
Even professionals will disagree on which camera brand/model/feature is “best” for a given task. So it can become confusing if you read too many opinions.
You don’t need me to tell you how the internet works, but …There are countless camera reviews on the web, of varying quality. Many suffer from poor testing techniques, or a strong bias towards a particular brand. Many review are thinly disguised sales pitches. They simply regurgitate the manufacturers claims without actually testing real world performance.
There are reliable online review sites and one of my favourites is dpreview.com. It provides thorough individual reviews of most camera models. I usually skip to the summary at the end. This gives an overall score, and the main pros and cons.
They also have a very useful “side by side” comparison tool . (no – this is not a paid promotion).
One of my favourite tools is their studio scene comparison tool. They test every camera looking at the same scene with the same lighting.
You can see how a camera performs at low and high iso (important for low light shooting, such as indoors) And compare cameras side by side to see the quality you are likely to get. You can even compare it to the results from an iphone.
The good news is that it’s hard to find a bad modern camera. Photographers have never had such powerful camera technology available in such small and affordable devices.
The challenge of choosing “just one” camera?…These days its pretty much the same problem faced by a kid in a candy store.