People ask us all the time: “What camera should I buy?” The answer isn’t as easy as you’d think. Imagine being asked, “What car should I buy?” It would depend on factors like how many in your family, do you have kids, where do you drive, how often, safety needs etc. It would be a used Toyota Echo for one person, a Dodge Caravan for another, and a brand new Chevy Silverado for someone else. So to answer the camera question, there are some things to consider:
- Photography knowledge level
- Intended use
Before we look at each of these, let’s define each main camera type.
Cell Phone Camera
As you already know by now, this is the camera that comes with your cell phone. To be perfectly honest, there are some really great camera phones now. On my trip to Ireland this year I used my cell phone to take tons of photos… and they turned out just fine (but I did use my Canon 5D Mark III whenever possible).
This type of camera is usually quite portable (i.e., tiny) and has fewer bells and whistles than a DSLR camera would have. That doesn’t mean they are simple cameras though. Many of today’s point-and-shoot cameras can do a lot of things right in the camera (HDR, panorama, face-detection) that aren’t always available in DSLR cameras. One main difference is the lenses. Point-and-shoot cameras don’t have interchangeable lenses, whereas a DSLR does (yes, some cameras that would be called point-and-shoot do actually have changeable lenses – but they are also quite a bit bigger).
One major warning: stay away from “digital zoom”. Photos taken in the digital zoom range, while great for getting in close from far away, tend to be quite fuzzy/grainy. “Optical zoom” is the ideal here.
DSLR (Digital Single-lens Reflex)
These are the big boys. They won’t fit in your pocket. The flexibility of changing lenses is the key here. The sky is the limit – and so is the price – when it comes to different lenses. A nature photographer may want a big zoom lens that allows photos to be taken from very far away. A basic 100-400mm lens will run around $1800. A nice all-around lens with good wide-angle and pretty good zoom (18-200mm) that would be great for travel photography, soccer photos etc., would be more like $600. The lens we use almost exclusively is a 24-70mm lens with an f/2.8 aperture and it could be yours for $2500.
Apart from the ability to change lenses, the biggest reason you would want a DSLR is creativity. You can set all of the dials to get the end result you are looking for. Yes, it will take a fair amount of time to master these dials, but the satisfaction of seeing your vision come to life in a final image is unbeatable.
These cameras are fairly new but getting quite popular in the photography world. They are very similar to a DSLR except they don’t have the moving mirror that is found in a DSLR. This makes it quieter as well as quite a bit lighter. With the purchase of an adapter, you can still have the ability to change lenses. Like with a regular DSLR, there are several price ranges you will find, depending on your needs (price range $500-$2000). For the purposes of this article, Mirrorless cameras will be included in the DSLR discussion.
Now let’s look at what you should consider before you purchase a camera.
We have now reached a point where this question is no longer a factor. I only put this here so you realize that. Don’t let the salesperson push you into a higher priced camera just because it has more megapixels.
When I went on my first international trip to India in 2004, all I had with me was a little Canon point-and-shoot that was a measly 3.2 megapixels. The photos I took allowed me to blow them up for printing to at least 16x20. Compare that to today’s cameras that have a minimum 14 megapixels (my new Nexus 6 phone has 16 MP!!) and you’ll see why, unless you’re planning on blowing up your photos for display on billboards, the number of megapixels just doesn’t matter any more.
We recommend sticking with the major brands. You may find great deals on camera brands you’ve never heard of, but you truly get what you pay for here. The major brands have lenses that will be more durable and reliable photo after photo. There’s a reason they have been around so long. Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus… these are names you should be looking for.
Photography Knowledge Level
Do you understand how to make Exposure, Shutter Speed, and ISO all work together? Do you know what a shallow depth of field means? If so, you might be in the market for a DSLR instead of a point-and-shoot. If not, you might find the dials and manual settings of a DSLR a little overwhelming.
That being said, if you are a beginner but hope to be a Pro one day, then a DSLR might be what you are after. A DSLR camera still has the option for Auto operation so to start you should be just fine. On the flipside, I started out in photography using a point-and-shoot that also had manual functions. I used Auto for a while but decided to figure out what those other dials meant and in a short time I was on my way to being a photographer.
This is probably the most important thing to consider when making your choice of camera. If your whole goal is to get photos of the dog/cat/kids running around the house being cute, then a point-and-shoot – or even maybe just your cell phone camera – will work just fine. But if you’re looking to get more artistic travel photos, or perhaps more portrait-style photos of your dog/cat/kids, then a DSLR would be a better choice. If you want to get better photos of your kids playing soccer/hockey/football then a DSLR would be helpful here as well. Bottom line: there is no sense spending the extra money on a DSLR if you don’t have to.
This one is simple – if you don’t have $2000 to spend on a camera then you won’t be getting a fancy DSLR camera. The whole point of this article is for you to really think about what you need. Only get what you can afford, obviously, but also only get the level of camera that will work for you. Don’t buy the DSLR if a point-and-shoot will do. Don’t buy a point-and-shoot if your cell phone will get the photos you are looking for.
A quick look online will show you that a decent point-and-shoot will run somewhere between $100-$400. An entry-level DSLR could be yours for as little as $600 but will more likely be in the $1000-$1500 range. The Canon 5D Mark III that we use currently goes for $3500 (not including a lens).
Not everyone needs a DSLR. Any level of camera can produce amazing photos. I won’t get too philosophical here, but having the most fancy camera with the biggest most-expensive lenses, doesn’t mean your photos are instantly going to be hanging on gallery walls. A camera – any camera – is only a tool. It doesn’t come with an artist’s eye built in.
We hope this helps you make the right camera choice.
brad & dave