Lots of people have been asking about what camera they should buy, and while I am a photographer, I am not a Magic 8 Ball. I can’t tell you which camera is best for you, but I can give you some tips to help you make a good decision. So here are a few things to consider before your next big purchase at the checkout counter and your latest photo assignment to keep you busy in the meantime!
(If you aren’t looking to buy a new camera and you just want your assignment, scroll down to the end of this post.)
First and most importantly, if you’re going to buy a new camera then you need to think about how you plan to use it. There are so many different kinds of cameras for so many different purposes that you might be disappointed if you don’t think about this first. Ask yourself:
- How big should my camera be? Can it fit in my purse? Will I be reluctant to bring it to parties if it requires multiple pieces?
- What do I plan to photograph? My kids at baseball games? My collection of orchids? Lions in Kenya? Models for H&M?
- Do I want to learn about complicated camera functions or do I just need something simple?
- If I do buy something complicated, am I likely to lose interest?
- How much money do I have?*
These are really important questions to ask yourself. I sometimes find that I’m very reluctant to take out my camera because it’s so big that it won’t fit comfortably in my purse and because its camera bag is bulky and heavy. (I also get shoulder and neck pain if I have to carry it for too long.) The question about ease is vital because sometimes I really love our little point-and-shoot because it’s just so simple. But if you want to expand your skills and really invest in photography as your new hobby, then you probably want a serious camera with more options.
Be honest about what you plan to use your camera for. I’ve known a lot of people who’ve spent thousands of dollars purchasing big expensive cameras and lost interest in the thing shortly after. It can be really daunting to learn so much and it takes practice, too – don’t be fooled into believing that a new camera will make you a better photographer, only practice can do that! This is especially important to think about and it is probably the most common mistake people make when buying new cameras. Expecting a bigger, more complicated camera to make you the next Annie Leibovitz is like believing a new set of knives will make you Jamie Oliver. Don’t go there. Spend your thousands on photography lessons – you’ll get better results.
Second, consider the type of camera you want. Here are three common types but remember there are more and that this list is not exhaustive.
- DSLR means digital single lens reflex (confession: I had to look that up), and is the kind of camera most commonly used by professionals and hobbyists. This kind of camera has multiple detachable lenses that allow users to manipulate light in order to produce images. These are generally purchased as kits or in pieces (i.e., camera body, lens, flash, etc) and can be purchased new from around $600 and upwards. They offer both automatic and manual focus modes and give users the option to customize photos with the use of art filters, scene settings, shutter speeds, ISO, and aperture settings. They are complicated and require a good deal of time to learn how to use.
DSLM or mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras are the latest trend in cameras. These are small cameras that can easily fit in a purse or pocket but still allow users the ability to customize photos with multiple lenses. These cameras have a retro style to them which means you will probably look cool holding one but they don’t have a viewfinder (it’s all live view from the back screen), which is something a lot of people both like and dislike. They are a good in-between camera where you get all the functionality of a larger DSLR but still maintain the size of a point and shoot. For many, this is a win-win and the price is pretty good falling between $300-$600 to get started.
- Point-and-shoot cameras are what most of us have. Their biggest advantage is size because they are small, easily concealable, and can be carried anywhere with minimal effort. They are also cheap (anywhere from $150-$500) and easy to maintain. They don’t have removable lenses or many controls over the exposure of photos but they do offer numerous scene settings which are pre-programmed for settings like sports, the beach, night skies, landscapes, and portraits. They generally have a movie mode which many people find useful. These are your basic digital cameras. They don’t offer the greatest amount of flexibility, but most people really don’t need all the options of a bigger camera.
My third and final piece of advice is to do your homework! Read reviews, check prices, compare features. A great place to start is www.dpreview.com – a website dedicated to reviewing every camera under the sun (they also have price comparison pages for specific camera models). You might also want to visit a local camera shop, test different types, ask questions, or even inquire about renting a camera! Yes, you can do that! Consider the camera’s warranty period and the return policy of the store you buy it from (my first camera was purchased at Costco and it crapped out on my after 6 months, but because Costco is amazing, they took it back and I exchanged it for something better). These are vital things to think about before you make a purchase.
Also, think about the features. My point-and-shoot has a long-exposure night scene setting which always turns out great pictures and makes it far more useful when I’m too lazy to lug around my bigger camera. Some cameras are waterproof which makes them great for diving or snorkeling on vacation, others have internal image stabilizing systems that minimize distortion from hand shakes. There are so many different features that I can’t possibly list them all, so do your homework!
I’m not going to recommend one brand or one camera over any other. I think we’ve all got our own allegiances and every camera has it’s own unique advantages. However, you are welcome to ask questions about features, prices, and functionality. Additionally, feel free to offer up your own advice here about what you found useful when camera shopping or what you think a new camera-buyer should look for.
Now, for this week’s photo assignment!
I wanted to give you a break for a week and instead simply encourage you to go out and use your camera. There is no lesson this week other than to enjoy taking photos. Your assignment is to go on a photo walk. I want you to pack up your camera, put on your boots, and take a walk. Photograph anything interesting along your way, use all the things you’ve learned here about getting close to your subject, using the rule of thirds, and braving the elements! Look for life in hidden places, texture on fences, pebbles on side walks, funny faces, crumbling houses, shiny new bikes! Show us what you found and post three (yes! three!) photos here in the comments section when you return!
By the way, if you just walk around the block, then you are cheating this week! Go for a REAL walk! Go for an hour and don’t come back until you’ve got at least 20 photos on your memory card, alright? Okay! Ready, set, go!
*If your goal is to become a camera enthusiast, plan on never having money again.