When people are wanting to get a “better camera” than their point-and-shoot, they often ask me “Which camera should I buy”? My answer to that question is really simple: “I don’t know.” Three reasons for that answer: 1) I don’t know how or what you shoot, 2) I don’t know all the different brands and models of cameras available, and 3) I don’t know how much you are willing to spend on future upgrades to your equipment and hobby. Whichever camera line you choose will be fine, but you just have to realize that most people are going to need to stick with one brand of equipment so that the cameras, lenses, and accessories will all work together. Canon makes good equipment, Nikon makes good equipment, Sony makes good equipment, and there are several others! While I very much enjoy being a professional photographer, I’m not really a “gear head”. I went through the phase like all beginning photographers where I had to have the newest and greatest photographic equipment, but now it is more about developing my art with the equipment I have.
If you are trying to decide what camera to buy, there are a few steps to making an informed decision. First, talk to a professional photographer and ask them what they like and don’t like about the equipment they use. Next, borrow or rent a camera and lens to try. It is great if you can borrow a camera and lens and have someone work with you on using it. Do this with cameras from a few different lines and you can make an informed decision as to which one will best fit your needs and wants.
There are a few different broad categories of cameras. Most familiar is the point-and-shoot. These little cameras are about the size of an obese credit card. The lens is built into the body of the camera, cannot be removed, and will sometimes extend out from the body of the camera when powered on. There are very few controls, hence the name point-and-shoot. Theses are good to carry around everyday for travel: light, easy to operate, and compact. On the downside, photos taken with these cameras are often less than artistic, and more for just documentation.
Next in the line-up are mirrorless cameras. These have a few more controls on the body of the camera and you can usually change out the lens for different types of shooting. More expensive than point-and-shoots, but less expensive than DSLRs, these are ideal for the novice wanting to take more dramatic photographs than a point-and-shoot will allow.
Next is the DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera. The name comes from the mechanism inside the body which operates a mirror when the shutter button is pressed. This mirror reflects what the lens “sees” to the viewer’s eye; the mirror must move out of the way when making the photograph so that the image can be exposed to the sensor. Most camera manufactures will produce three different types of DSLR camera bodies: consumer, prosumer, and professional.
Consumer cameras are entry level cameras that don’t have all the bells and whistles, are optimized for use by someone who is not a professional photographer, and are usually smaller and lighter in weight. These cameras will often have fewer buttons on the outside of the camera and most of the controls are accessed through the “Menu” function. The rationale behind this is that non-professional photographers (consumers) will mostly use the automatic settings on the camera and not need to adjust the more technical controls. You can exchange lenses on these cameras for greater artistic freedom, but will find that they often do not work well in low light situations due to the smaller size of the sensor. Resolution ability often ranges from 10-20 megapixels. You can generally pick up a body and lens combination in this category for somewhere around $300 – $600.
Professional camera bodies are designed for the working professional photographer. They are usually bigger and heavier to sustain the abuse received in a work environment. A professional camera will have more buttons on the body so that the photographer will have quicker access to various controls. All professional camera bodies will have a full-frame sensor. This sensor is larger for one of two purposes: 1) it has less but bigger “pixels” on the sensor which allow the camera to make photographs in low-light situations, or 2) it has more pixels on the sensor to allow for more fine detail in the photograph. A professional body will always accept interchangeable lenses and most often will not have a built-in flash. The megapixels (millions of pixels) may range from 12 – 50; with cameras having less, but bigger pixels operating better in the dark and those with more, but smaller pixels providing better detail resolution, but lacking in low-light capability. Expect to pay $3,000-$7,000 for one of these…without a lens! Most professional photographers have a set of lenses that they love and use most often in their work. Professional lenses maintain their value; therefore, a photographer will usually keep their “good glass” and just upgrade to a new camera body as the technology improves.
The prosumer DSLR is a hybrid between a professional and a consumer DSLR; hence, the name. They may have a large sensor (full-frame) or a smaller sensor (crop sensor). The camera will have less external controls than a professional body, but more than a consumer body. Most will have a built-in flash. The amount of megapixels (resolution ability) can vary widely from 12 – 24 with differing degrees of balance between low-light capability and resolution. Cameras in this category typically will sell for approximately $800 – $2,000 without a lens. These cameras will be used by both professionals and amateur enthusiasts.
So, if you are looking to move up in your camera equipment…research, research, research! As a general rule, the more expensive the equipment, the longer it will last, the easier it will be to operate outside the automatic modes, and it will provide you wider opportunities of artistic expression. Happy shooting!