This is probably one of the most common questions I get asked regarding the realm of photography. Throughout my life, I’ve known tons of people who have wanted to get involved with photography and so many of them, knowing that I love this hobby, ask me what they should be looking at when purchasing a camera. After a few minutes into my answer, they all seem to agree that they should never have come to me with such a question. I get very involved when discussing cameras and I overwhelm them with details. My bad, but I can’t help it. So be it. At least I have a place to write about all I know now.
There are many areas of a camera to dig into when analyzing electronics such as these. Some are tiny little areas and some are big broad ones. Overall, there are only a few really important areas, but I’ll cover what I know down below. When you read what I have to write, don’t get all caught up in the minutiae of it all. Think big and focus more on the grander picture. After all, your camera will be your companion for years to come. You better like it. Also, the brand you choose will likely be the brand you use for the rest of your life, so think about things long and hard. Get used to any camera to decide upon; feel it and hold it for a good long time. Trust me, all these things matter. They actually matter much more than the small details I’ll lay out below.
What I just shared in the previous paragraph actually brings me to a very important point. The weight, comfort and intuitiveness of a camera should be the very first aspects you consider. If a camera can’t pass this first hurdle, there’s no sense in looking at any of its other details. When you look through the viewfinder, can you see everything? Do you have to move the camera around to view the entire scene? If you do, you may experience issues in the future.
Are the settings buttons you’ll use on a daily basis at your fingertips? Are they comfortable and easy to locate? If there’s something specific that you know you’ll need to access regularly and the button for it is in an awkward location, you may become annoyed by that fact sooner rather than later. How does the camera feel in your hands? Do you like it? Do you like looking at it? wold you be proud to show it off to friends? Where can you view the camera’s current settings? On the rear LCD screen, inside the viewfinder or on the top of the camera? Or perhaps all three? Where would you like them to be?
Boy, there are so many things to consider.
Does the camera you may be interested in come with a lens? Is it a lens that you like? Are there options for different lenses that come with the camera? It’s been my experience that choosing a lens you’ll enjoy and use often when you purchase the camera is a very good move. In general, you can get a good deal on that lens and if you bought a camera with a marginal one that you haven’t really taken to, you’ll regret that move later on.
The whole trick with picking out the perfect camera is to narrow down the plethora of options available. When searching, it’s important to read through tons of reviews (but take them with a grain of salt as some of them are fake), participate in discussion boards to ask questions about which is good or bad about so-and-so a camera and to actually hold any camera and lens in your hand that you would consider buying. Yes, camera stores still exist and I can tell you from personal experience, there’s a lot of value in physically touching something that you’re about to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on. This goes back to the comfort thing I mentioned above. Your camera has to feel good to pick up and hold.
Another great way to narrow down the field is to set your maximum budget. Right there, you can remove many contenders from the running. That is, unless your budget is very high. In that case, it won’t help clearing the herd at all. Write down your required technical specifications and keep your own shooting style in mind. Each of these things will whittle away at the noise and will allow you to hone in on a few select makes and models. It’s actually helpful to do all this while sitting at your computer from home. Personally, I can’t really think straight when I’m out in public trying to pick out a piece of electronics. If I’ve narrowed the options before I ever step foot out of the house, I can then head out to get more of a personal feel of the few cameras I’ve settled on.
Weight and size are two huge attributes to consider. Are you planning on traveling with your camera? If it’s a full size DSLR, will the size of it become cumbersome and will the weight of it bother you after a day of carrying it? Would a smaller mirrorless model be sufficient? What will you be doing with the photos once you take them? Do you need ultra-high resolution for print or will you simply be posting the images on Facebook and Instagram? If the latter is the case, you can probably get away with using your smart phone, but if you plan on getting serious about photography down the road, it’s always better to make the investment into a more legitimate and full-featured camera to launch into a successful future.
If you are serious about becoming more involved with photography, you’re going to want to look at the accessories that are available for any camera you’re interested in. In this case, more popular brands are probably a better way to go. Canon, Nikon, Pentax and the rest of the larger brands have got tons to choose from in the way of lenses and other add-ons. Along the same line, any add-on or accessory that you choose needs to be easy to use and to understand. Not many of us are interested in taking an entire class to figure out how to use a new toy.
How old are you? I know my eyesight isn’t the greatest anymore, so seeing what’s written on any screen the camera may have is important. Are the screens clear? Can you see them while standing in the sun? Do you need your glasses to see through the viewfinder? Is the diopter range great enough to compensate for your eyesight?
When searching for the perfect camera, you need to think about what type of photography you’ll most likely spend your time engaging in. Different cameras lean towards different themes. If you’re a portrait photographer, you may want to see what other portrait photographers have purchased and if they’re happy with their choices. The same is true for action photography. The controls are different for every type of camera, so you’ll need to find the one that suites your needs. Again, it’s critical to be able to access those controls without pulling the camera from your face as you’re shooting. While this may not seem important during the beginning of your photography career, you’ll find that it becomes more and more important the better you become.
One of the areas that always takes some getting used to is a camera’s menu system. This is the place none of us want to look into, especially when we have no idea what anything does. It’s because of this fact that it’s so critical to get out there and visit a camera store to flip through the available menus yourself. Unless you can find a great video that walks through this system, step by step, at a snail’s pace, it’s always better to explore on your own and in person.
The final aspect I’d like to touch on here is the actual output of any scene a potential camera will capture. Looking at image samples online is almost useless and to be honest, cameras these days are all good. Unless you’re going very low-end, I wouldn’t make the biggest fuss about this. Higher ISO values don’t add that much grain to an image anymore and lenses have gotten so good that any distortion at the edges of a scene are minimal. Most reviews and comparisons online truly split hairs when it comes to this. But, if you would like to take a look at the quality of a photo that a camera or lens can take, simply bring your own data card into a store and stick it into the camera of your choice. Snap a few pictures and then bring the card home and check those pictures out on your computer. Run them through Adobe Camera Raw, Lightroom and Photoshop. See what you can do with them. That’s the best thing to do. Now that’s a thorough search!
Well, I hope this helped you somewhat. It certainly was a lot of writing, but I am always happy to assist fellow photographers when it comes to deciding upon and choosing a new camera. If you have any questions or would like to add something, please chime in down below. Thanks!
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