“Which camera should I buy” is by far the most common question we get asked. In this Q&A article we’ll break the question down and give you some things to consider when making your purchase.
When you purchase a camera you’re not just buying a single body or lens, you’re buying into an entire system. To be clear, we’re not talking about point-and-shoot cameras but rather DSLR, Mirrorless, or other interchangeable lens camera systems. Point-and-shoot cameras don’t have the same considerations as cameras with interchangeable lenses and are typically not what we recommend for anyone taking our classes or getting into photography.
So, what do we mean by “system”? These days with so many components like lenses, bodies, remotes, wireless flash systems, and other accessories available it’s easy to see why it’s referred to as a system not just a camera. Each different component of the system supports and compliments the others. When you buy into one manufacturers system you cannot typically use components from another manufacturers system, though there are some exceptions. Canon lenses won’t fit on Nikon bodies and vice versa. Making the switch from one system to another typically requires replacing the entire system (or close to it) so it’s important to make the decision wisely as it will be a long term investment.
The most important components to consider when buying a camera are bodies and lenses. They are the core components of the system and have the biggest impact on performance and image quality, yet they both serve a very different purpose and have different considerations in the purchasing decisions.
Lenses haven’t changed much over the years and don’t typically go through a lot of technological advancements. Because of this, a good lens holds it’s value well and never really looses it’s usefulness. In fact with some manufacturers lenses from 20 years ago or more can still be used on their modern day bodies! This makes a good lens a solid, long-term investment.
Bodies (the main camera unit that the lens attaches to) on the other hand are constantly changing, improving, and getting cheaper. Manufacturers are often increasing the number of megapixels (which in most cases don’t matter by the way) and add bells and whistles that you may or may not need. This means their value doesn’t hold as well and they should typically be seen as a shorter term investment. This isn’t to say that there will be anything wrong with them in 5 or even 10 years but if you want to progress with your gear as your abilities and needs progress then the camera body is where those changes will likely take place. A good lens won’t become limiting in the same way a camera body can.
Lenses also typically offer a bigger impact to image quality and overall system performance than bodies do. A good lens can greatly improve low-light performance, focusing speed, provide smooth out of focus backgrounds for portraits, and deliver crisp detail for landscapes. While bodies can also impact these things the improvements won’t be nearly as pronounced until you head much higher into the price range where the cost can often become prohibitive. A good lens will typically give you more bang for your buck than a body will.
With all the above in mind our recommendation is usually to invest as much money as your budgets allows in the lens(es) and get only what you need at the moment and the shorter-term future (2,3, maybe 5 years) for the camera body. When starting out this often involves buying a entry level body on it’s own (i.e. without the lower end “kit” lens that’s included) and investing the bulk of your budget in a lens (or lenses) that fits your shooting needs / style. This advice assumes you are one a limited budget in the beginning, which most people are when they start out.
Prime lenses (i.e. lenses without the ability to zoom) will give you the best image quality and low light performance for your dollar. On the flip side zoom lenses are more versatile as they will allow you to cover a wider range of subjects but often at the expense of image quality, low light performance, and in some cases background blur (aka bokeh). The type of lens you use really depends on what you want to shoot and how much versatility you need. Unless you need a single lens because you need maximum versatility and minimum hassle we recommend starting with one or two prime lenses that cover a few of the most common shooting situations you will encounter. In most cases a 50mm prime lens will make a great start and can be found use for $100 or less. It’s great for portraits, low light, and even a bit of selective landscape photography. If you plan to shoot wider scenes often, such as landscapes, then a wide angle zoom or prime lens in the 10mm to 20mm range is a good fit. For sports photography a zoom with a range around 70-200mm or 70-300mm would do nicely. Those ranges could also work for wildlife but you may want to get a little more reach and push beyond the 300mm range.
For further information check out Lens Hero which has a great tool for finding lenses that will fit your camera and your needs.
Find something that gives you the features you believe you will need right now and a little ways into the future to give you room to grow. WiFi is becoming all the rage these days, but do you really need it? It can be nice for studio work and slightly more convenient for transferring images (although slower) but there are other features that are probably more important to those starting out. How about frames per second (fps) during continuous shooting? Are you planning on capturing a lot of sports or wildlife action? Is customizability something you need? Being able to reconfigure the functions of your buttons? How many focus points do you really need? If shooting mostly stationary portraits, probably not many. All of these types of features can and do add convenience for some people but they also add cost which means that if you aren’t going to make use of them, don’t spend your money on them. Put it towards a solid lens.
How the camera feels in your hands is also important to consider. Does it feel comfortable? Do the buttons feel awkward to use? Are the menus confusing? You can often get used to just about any of those things over time but if one manufacturers body feels good and has logical buttons and menus for you right off the bat that might be worth exploring further.
You may hear mention of full-frame vs crop-sensor. It’s a debate as old as time (at least since digital has been around) and in most cases, especially in the beginning, it simply doesn’t matter. The major drawback to full-frame when you’re starting out is the cost. Full frame (larger sensor) cameras are several times more expensive that even mid-level dSLRs.
Notice that I didn’t suggest a specific brand of camera system? That’s because it really doesn’t matter. While Canon and Nikon are usually the top choices due to their long history and large selection of bodies and lenses other manufacturers offer great options and a fairly reasonable lens selection as well. It’s not the tool, but rather how you use it that really counts.
While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the “which camera should I buy” questions the general rules above will provide a solid guide in the majority of cases. Keep those things in mind as you thumb through sale flyers, browse Kijiji, or poke around in local Facebook groups for a good buy.
As always feel free to reach out to us for more specific recommendations or stop by the shop for some one-on-one advice. We love “talking shop” and are always happy to help you in your photographic adventures!