If you’re just getting into photography, there are several things to consider when buying a camera. Why do you want a camera in the first place, and what’s drawing you toward photography?
While the question of “which camera should I buy?” may be a simple one, the answer is anything but.
What to Ask Yourself
Once you’ve decided you want to get into photography, it’s good to know what you like to photograph, and how you like to do so. For instance, do you enjoy capturing scenes on the street? Are you the person at the restaurant table that takes five minutes to photograph their food before you eat it? Or are you looking for a camera that will help you capture your family’s memories?
It’s good to know what you’ll use a camera for because that will ultimately help drive your decision of what to buy. For instance, if you want to do a lot of street photography, a heavy DSLR might not be realistic.
DSLR vs. Mirrorless
Today it’s less about full frame vs. crop sensor vs. micro four-thirds than it is DSLR vs. mirrorless camera. You can produce great images with any camera, so the question comes down to a few major points of difference between DSLRs and mirrorless options.
This is when the question of what you like to photograph comes into the picture. A mirrorless camera might be perfect for the street shooter, but you might want a DSLR if you’re dealing with lots of low-light situations.
I’ve discussed a few times about the advantages of mirrorless cameras over DSLRs, but simply put, mirrorless cameras tend to innovate a lot quicker than DSLRs. The biggest advantage mirrorless cameras have, other than their size, is their video abilities. So if you’re looking for an all-in-one system that will let you capture stills as well as videos, mirrorless might be where you want to look.
DSLRs have their time and place as well, especially if you’re dealing with low-light situations on a frequent basis. But while image quality was once a major difference in DSLRs over mirrorless cameras, it’s now a much closer comparison.
In terms of brands, there’s no right or wrong answer. The two big DSLR brands — Canon and Nikon — are very similar. When you get to pro levels, Canon puts more of an emphasis on video features than Nikon does, but with entry-level cameras, you won’t notice a difference — you’re going to be fine with either camera. Pentax is also a great DSLR option.
When it comes to mirrorless brands, there are a few more options. Sony offers both full-frame and crop sensor mirrorless bodies, while Fuji offers crop sensor mirrorless bodies (in addition to some awesome but pricey medium-format cameras).
Olympus and Panasonic offer micro four-thirds bodies. Here, Olympus tends to focus more on stills while Panasonic focuses more on video. But again, the differences are minor.
When people ask to compare Canon and Nikon, or Olympus and Panasonic, there are a few minor differences, but none that will make buying one over the other a bad decision. For me, it’s all about how you can interact with the camera and what you like and don’t like.
If you’re just getting into photography, the budget will ultimately drive your decision more than it will for professionals. While camera bodies don’t fluctuate in price when comparing a beginner DSLR vs. beginner mirrorless option, you’ll see the difference where it matters most — in lens prices and accessories. DSLR lenses tend to run significantly more expensive (third-party options from Tamron or Sigma are great!), while mirrorless lenses are a little cheaper, especially with micro four-thirds. This is definitely something to keep in mind when you’re planning what to buy.
The two numbers I’m often asked about are $1000 and $500. You can get camera packages with each budget, especially if you’re creative. Here are my top five buys for cameras under $1000:
- Olympus E-M10 Mark III with 14-42mm Lens ($724): Olympus just upgraded its baseline camera, the E-M10. This comes with a 14-42mm lens (frame of view equivalent to 24-84mm) to get you started. If you want to go a little cheaper, the Mark II version of this camera is still plenty capable, with a price tag of $599.
- Canon T6i with 18-55mm Lens ($699): This is Canon’s mid-range DSLR camera, and it comes with the typical 18-55mm kit lens. If you’re really serious about photography, you’ll find you’ll outgrow this lens rather quickly and want something like a “nifty-fifty” 50mm f/1.8 lens ($125) or similar.
- Nikon D5600 with 18-55mm Lens ($746.95): Nikon’s mid-range amateur DSLR camera, coming with the typical 18-55mm kit lens. Again, you might want to look into a different lens like their 35mm f/1.8 lens ($196.95), which was my workhorse lens with my first DSLR.
- Sony Alpha a5100 with 16-50mm Lens ($548): The a5100 might be old, but it still holds its own, offering a 24mp sensor and small footprint. If you’re looking to spend a little more, the a6000 and a6300 are also great options.
- Panasonic Lumix GX85 with 12-32mm Lens ($597.99): Panasonic’s entry-level cameras carry features that you wouldn’t expect from cheaper camera bodies. Carrying a 16mp sensor, the GX85 is a great micro four-thirds option.
While buying from somewhere like B&H or your local camera shop might be a great option for any of the above cameras, if you’re on a tighter budget, you might want to look into used options from a site like MPB.com. Here, I recommend buying a camera body and then a lens separately, if you can, so you can get a little better lens than what comes standard.
Should I Get the Kit With Accessory Bag, SD Card, Lens Cloth, etc.?
With more budget-friendly cameras, you’ll see a lot of kits out there offering camera bags, memory cards and more. In my experience with these, these are really cheap accessories that won’t serve you well. Save your money instead, and buy accessories that are a bit more personalized to your liking.
Deciding what camera to buy isn’t an easy decision. It takes lots of research. Ultimately, if you’re undecided on what to buy, head into your local camera shop and see how the cameras feel in your hands. Ask for a demo of two cameras you’re deciding between, and make sure the system makes sense to you.