What Camera Should I Buy? | A Photographer’s Guide to Buying Your first DSLR Camera

1 Almost every time I’m out photographing an event I get the question, “What camera should I buy?” Every time I get the opportunity to share my opinions, which sometimes leave people’s jaws hanging. “You mean there are that many options out there!?” they say. So let me take a few moments to clear the air and write down some camera buying suggestions for the average consumer and interested photography buffs out there:

Do Your Homework

Let me start by saying, “It’s always best to do good research before buying a new camera.” The camera industry is constantly putting out new product. It seems like every 6 to 12 months there’s a new camera than can out perform their predecessors. So do your research to make sure you are buying the camera that you need. Here are a few things to do when researching:

  • Figure out what kind of photography you will be using the camera for most. (i.e. sports, candids, portraits, macro, landscape, travel, night, or video)

Once you’ve nailed down what kind of photography you will be doing the most, you can start your camera searching journey. I suggest this as a starting point because not all cameras are ideal for certain scenarios. Example: Some cameras a great at getting stop motion photos, but horrible at capturing low light images.

  • Read online reviews

There are tons of reviews online from professional camera users (like-myself) that are great places to learn about what the pros and cons are of a specific camera. Even cameras that are just being released will mostly-likely have a review somewhere online. This is also a great opportunity for you to test out your “Google-ing” skills… 

  • Check out the optional accessories available

Be sure to check out what accessories are available before purchasing a camera. Sometimes new camera manufactures will release a line of cameras that have nearly any options available. This means that if you need to purchase an accessory to capture a certain kind of photograph you’ll be out of luck. The best cameras to buy are the ones that have many choices of accessories. This way your not spending your initial investment on a camera that is not expandable.

  • Rent before you buy

Depending on your location, you should have a pro camera shop somewhere near by. So, go rent a camera for the weekend and check out all of it qualities before you buy something you might regret in a few months. Most weekend rentals are around $150-200. Which in my opinion is an acceptable loss if it saves me from years of head ache because I spent my entire budget on a crappy camera. Also, most camera shops are willing to deduct the rental cost from a new purchase if you purchase through them. So, say you spend $150 dollars to rent a camera and you love it. Let them know that you would like to purchase that same model from them and chances are they’ll deduct that $150 from the purchase cost of your new camera! Win-win scenario if you ask me!

What Things to Avoid When Purchasing

I’ve bought tons of cameras over the last several years. Some I’ve gotten great deals on and have loved, others were a total waste of money and I was left footing the bill for something that ultimately ended up in the trash. So, from experience, here are a few things to avoid when purchasing a new camera system.

  • Beware the “amazing” kit deals on Amazon.

If you’re an avid Amazon.com user, beware those “to good to be true” camera kits that are available. These are the ones that come with a camera, two random lenses, and about twenty random accessories. Amazon try to bundle products together to make them more appeasing to the buyer, but what they don’t tell you is the bundled products are JUNK! You’ll end up paying a “little” extra thinking your getting all the things you need to start taking pictures, but you’ll be very disappointed when the box arrives in the mail and everything breaks as your taking it out of the box. Shop around and find a good deal, but know that anything that is worth something will cost you something.

  • Don’t buy manual lenses as starter lenses.

I made the mistake early on buying a bunch of old manual focus lenses. I bought them because 1) they were super cheap and 2) I wanted to sound cool telling everyone I knew how to “manual focus.” Don’t make my mistake! Manual lenses are great if your an avid photographer and you want to get down to your photography roots, but Auto Focus lenses are the best to learn on in my opinion. Most people start wanting to capture “candids” which is nearly impossible if you’re a noob fumbling around with a manual focus lens + trying to learn how to use your camera body. Also, don’t believe anyone that says, “Manual focusing is better.” I’m just going to say it, they are dead wrong! With the advances in phase and contrast detection auto focus systems, you’ll never be able to grab as consistently sharp an image with manual focusing. When it comes to getting a consistently sharp and in-focus photograph, AF is just the way to go.

  • Buy name brand from a camera (only) manufacturer. 

As I mentioned above, there are new companies popping up everywhere that are trying to get their foot in the camera market. The camera market is huge! But what these companies will do is release a line of cameras that have no accessories to expand them with. So, this means, you will be buying a new camera with little consumer testing, few lenses, lenses that are ridiculously expensive, and a body that can’t be expanded through after market products. So, buy a name brand camera from a credible photography company. Preferably from a company that manufactures only cameras. This means, pass on Sony, Samsung, or any other companies that try to diversify by adding cameras to their product lines. The best companies to purchase from are the ones that specific their resources and research to meet photography demand, not the ones that just diversify to expand their profit margin.

  • Don’t just buy a DSLR because it’s cheap.

I’ve made the mistake of buying a dslr camera because it was cheap thinking, “We’ll at least it’s a DSLR. That means it’s got to be better than a point and shoot.” Boy what I ever wrong! The lesson I learned here, was not to buy someone because of hype or price. The base DSLR models out there are quickly being replaced by point and shoot cameras, or mirrorless cameras that are just as affordable and product way higher quality images. So, search within your budget, but don’t buy the cheapest camera your run into thinking, “It will do the job.”

Here are my Suggestions

There are three major camera types out today: 1) Point and Shoot, 2) DSLR, and 3) Mirrorless

Point and Shoot Cameras

Point and shoot cameras are usually “pocketable” and are great for travel or everyday use. They can produce high quality images and many are capable of 1080p HD video. When purchasing a point and shoot camera the biggest thing I can suggest looking for is “optical zoom.” Don’t buy it if it says “digital zoom.” Digital zoom crops an image to frame the image closer to a subject. This will produce degraded quality images as you zoom. Optical zoom cameras use optics, meaning glass, to zoom. Therefore the sensor size and image quality remain the same as the optics “move around” to make the image seem closer.

My Suggestions are: Canon Powershot SX280 HS (Cost: Under $400)


DSLR Cameras

A DSLR or Digital Single-Lens Reflex camera is the camera of choice for most professional photographers. These are the cameras that have interchangeable lenses and usually have tons of expansion options available through additional accessories. A DSLR camera is great for fast moving subjects (i.e. sports or candids), have better low light image quality than most any point and shoot camera, and are built for the avid photo buffs. Most DSLR cameras do have Full Auto capability, but for most shooting Full Auto will not simply produce better pictures. Full Auto functions evaluate the scene based on lighting conditions, but do not evaluate well for subject matter. Therefore, you may notice the same amount of blurry images with your expensive DSLR as your cheap point and shoot if you don’t properly read your product manual. So READ THE MANUAL!

A few of my suggestions for the average consumer looking to buy a DSLR are:  Canon EOS 60D or Canon EOS 70D (Cost: $800-1200 for a body and lens kit)

My suggestion for anyone looking to step up their game to a Full-Frame 35mm equivalent DSLR are: Canon EOS 6D or Canon EOS 5D mk III (Cost: $2000-3500 for a body and lens kit)


Mirrorless Camera

Mirrorless cameras are becoming incredibly popular right now. These cameras typically have the “pocketability” of a point and shoot with the additional benefit of interchangeable lenses and similar image quality to a DSLR. I personally love my mirrorless camera! It’s the perfect camera for jobs that require me to pack light or be discreet. I get similar image quality as my DSLR with only a slight drawback in versatility. Most are not ideal for fast moving subjects, but they can be very suitable for portraits and landscape photography. Most mirrorless cameras also come with the added benefit of HD video recording (with significantly longer recording times than DSLR’s).

My suggestion for the average consumer are: Canon EOS M, Fujifilm X100T, or Fujifilm Xt10 (Cost: $400-900 for a body and lens kit)

My suggestions for the pro photogs are: Fujifilm XT1 or Leica M9 (Cost: $1700-7000 for a body and lens kit) 


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