This is part one of a three part series of articles I’m offering in answer to the most often asked question here at This Week in Photography; “What camera should I buy?” I know that beginners especially want this question answered. They are more likely to think that it’s the camera that takes the picture, not the photographer. Unfortunately for them, that’s not the case. And there’s no secret, magic or special camera that will make you into Ansel Adams. But since we get this question all the time, I decided to write this response.
Let’s start with goals. What goals do you have with your photography? Photographing the kids is much easier and less expensive than photographing wildlife. Making studio portraits will require a different kind of camera than that used by sports photographers. Do you want to turn pro or just make pictures you’ll share with your immediate family? Understand this simple truth: There is no perfect camera. And not all cameras are designed for all types of photography. Many photographers have more than one camera, depending on how many photographic pursuits they are engaged in at one time.
You’ll need to take into account a wide variety of factors when selecting a camera, and the first is budget.
Good equipment can sure make it easier to capture great shots, but you do not have to be Bill Gates to afford good quality equipment. Depending on the kind of photos you want to make, and how accessible your intended subjects are, you should be able to get a good camera outfit for less than $600. But if you want to specialize if wildlife or sports photography, that budget will increase. If you want to specialize in food, medical, aerial, high fashion, again – the budget will increase.
Regardless of budget, you’ll need to start with some basics. And I am making some assumptions here. I am assuming you are looking for a digital camera. Few film cameras are sold these days. And the focus of our show is digital photography, so I am not going to cover film. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t know what kind of camera you want, a film camera is the wrong choice almost all of the time. (You film purists out there flame away, because I’ll just ignore you.)
Now if you are serious about producing quality photography, you’ll need to invest in a 35mm single-lens reflex camera with at least one lens. Commonly referred to as DSLRs, these cameras offer speed, choice, and control. The convenience of smaller format SLRs, combined with their ability to work with affordable lenses, make 35mm SLRs the a good starting point for most types of photography.
Point-and-shoot cameras USUALLY don’t deliver enough control or digital data to deliver professional quality photos. You can get some decent images with the higher-end digital point-and-shoot cameras, and as time goes by, you’ll see more published images come from these cameras, but generally, they don’t have sufficient focal length, response or image quality. Another problem with point-and-shoot cameras is that they are often too slow for some types of photography.
Therefore, I highly recommend 35mm format DSLR. Medium and large format cameras are also an option, but not a practical one. Digital 35mm cameras offer a wider range of lenses, are usually less expensive, easier to carry, easier and faster to operate, and provide the most flexibility to photograph a wide range of subjects.
In the next installment of this article, I’ll focus on some exact points to consider like shutter lag, metering, lenses and more.