I have been getting this question a lot lately; with people going back to school and the holidays coming up this is a prime time to start purchasing equipment. It can seem rather daunting at first deciding which camera will be right for you, but in this post I will help you to find the perfect camera for your needs.
Disclosure: Some of the links below contain affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. All opinions expressed are my own.
Consider Your Needs
The first and most important step to picking the right camera for you is to determine exactly what you will be using your camera for as well as how much time you want to invest into it. One of the most common mistakes I see is people spending hundreds to thousands of dollars on an expensive DSLR camera, yet they do not have the time or patience to learn how to use the camera. There’s nothing wrong with being the kind of person who just want to keep your camera set to “Auto” and take photos, but you don’t need to pay a high price tag to do that either.
Most people just need a device which will be portable, easy to use, takes decent photos, and will allow them to share captured moments with friends and family on social media. If this is you, then a simple point-and-shoot camera. Point-and-shoot cameras do all the hard work for you and often have “modes” you can set them to in order to adjust to your surroundings. So if you like taking pictures of your kids at their games, you can set the camera to an “action mode” and it will automatically adjust your shutter speed, aperture, and ISO to the appropriate settings to get a properly exposed image.
If you’re willing to learn, but are still new to the world of cameras you may want to consider getting yourself a DSLR; but try to stick with the lower end cameras until you’re comfortable with the camera and ready for an upgrade. Most beginner marketed DSLR cameras also have different shooting modes that you can easily switch to while you’re learning (or if you just feel like being a bit lazy that day) so you don’t have to know exactly how the camera works right out of the package. A DSLR will also (generally) have a higher megapixel count and will give you more creative freedom over your images.
You can also consider a fixed lens camera, though I personally tend to steer people away from them because I find them very limiting in the worst ways. Most of them mimic the look, feel, and control of a DSLR but do not have the capabilities of fully adjusting your settings due to the fixed lens.
Consider Your Budget
Let’s be completely honest; the prices of cameras is insane! If you want to get a decent camera you’re going to have no choice but to spend hundreds of dollars on a camera (and possibly a lens too). That being said, even if you have an unlimited budget, that doesn’t mean that you need to spend the couple grand on a new camera just for the extra 2 megapixels.
If there’s one piece of wisdom many seasoned photographers could pass down to beginners it would probably be that your equipment does not make you a good photographer, practice does. Time and time again, professional photographers have taken up challenges and made videos or blog posts to show that it doesn’t necessarily matter how expensive or good your equipment is. Professional photographers can use pretty much any camera to create stunning images because they have taken the time to learn the art of photography and have developed an eye for their craft. It’s too easy to get caught up in the consumerism of technology, but don’t let yourself be seduced by it. Some of the best photos I have taken were on my older camera with a whooping 10 megapixels and cropped sensor. You might actually struggle to find a camera with that low of specs now.
Consider Using Your Phone
Most people get quite upset with me when I suggest this to them, but hear me out.
The camera on your phone is probably a lot better than you give it credit for. Phone photography started to become an art form itself years ago. There’s now a bunch of published books to help you become a better photographer using just your phone. The average cellphone camera has between 13-16 megapixels which may not seem like much compared to a beginner DSLR, but an average point and shoot camera has around 20 megapixels. If you consider the actual application of usage of a point and shoot camera to using your phone, you will notice that your phone’s features, function, and battery life out weighs the cons of having around 4 less megapixels than a point and shoot camera.
It’s arguable that the cellphone has all but killed the point and shoot cameras. Many point and shoot cameras will cost you somewhere around $400 not including an SD card and extra batteries. Many of them don’t allow for digital transfer of photographs, meaning you have to hook up your camera or plug in the SD card to a computer to retrieve your images, but your phone can edit, transfer, and post your images directly to any media platform you desire. If your battery is low, you can simply invest in a portable battery pack for way less than the price of a camera.
With your phone, you can skip the computer all together. With apps like Instagram, VSCO, and many others you can take and edit your images to look exactly how you want them to. In fact, Adobe has even created a mobile version of their photo-editing software Lightroom to allow for fine-touch editing to your photographs.
Many of the more popular phones like the Google Pixel, Samsung S series, and Iphones also allow for manual camera setting giving you similar control over your camera as if it were a DSLR. This can be a great way to get an introduction to shooting a camera manually. You can also choose to purchase lens attachments and filters if you want to get creative.
Chances are, you’re already walking around with a fairly powerful camera in your pocket or purse every single day. Personally, the way I see it is that you’ve already spent a couple hundred dollars to a grand on the cellphone you have with you everywhere you go, and it can do everything most beginner cameras can do plus more. . .so why would you want to spend another couple hundred dollars on another device?
Digital or Analog?
I didn’t actually think this question was going to pop up again after the early 2000’s when digital photography really got going. . .but it seems I was wrong.
The analog 35mm film format has been coming back lately, honestly I don’t understand why. Like many professional photographers, I too started my photography journey with film and I have indeed developed a strong love for working in the dark rooms. However, I honestly can’t see a reason for the return of this format of shooting other than for the bragging rights and the vintage-hipster aesthetic.
Shooting with film is expensive, time consuming, difficult for a beginner, and isn’t a viable option to everyone. Now that print labs and dark rooms are becoming more scarce it makes this format more for the elite than for the masses. While I do firmly believe there are a lot of benefits to learning the “traditional” way, modern digital photography has eliminated a lot of the challenges people faced with analog photography. I appreciate 35mm and I always will, but unless you’re very passionate about learning photography and have the money to invest I would pass on analog and stick with digital.
Pros and Cons
Every style camera will have its pros and cons. I will quickly discuss some of them for your consideration.
Point and Shoot:
These cameras are compact, easy to use, cheaper, and are great for blogging or vlogging because they are easy to use with one hand. You can simply invest in large storage SD cards and film on the go for hours. Because they are cheaper and often have retractable zoom lenses which are protected with an automatic cap, there’s a little less fear of damaging these cameras making them great for on the go and travel photos. There are more expensive models available if you are looking for better image quality with the ease of use. However, they do not have very many creative options, tend to have a lower battery life, and are (in my opinion) becoming obsolete thanks to phone cameras.
Your cellphone is probably somewhere very near by you already. With a huge resource of helpful apps, instant uploads to any media platform, and ever growing this is a powerful tool to have as a part of your photography gear even as a professional. Using your phone as a camera has become almost second nature of many of us around the world and we have even created a culture around the sharing and taking of images via these little devices. As time goes on, they only get better. On the cons side though, they do not have the best technology when it comes to zooming in nor do they possess a very high dynamic range. This can mean that you might miss a shot if the subject is far away or if the lighting quality is very poor.
Fixed lens cameras come in a variety of styles and can be a compact point and shoot, or bulky with a stronger lens similar to a DSLR. It can allow for manual shooting as well as different feature mode settings. They are often times cheaper than a DSLR and boasts higher megapixels than a point and shoot, making them a good option for bloggers and family events. The fact that you cannot change the lens along with their average price point does make you wonder though if they are really worth it. For just a couple dollars more you can get a DSLR which will give you full control over your images, or you can save money with a point and shoot or by using your cellphone.
If you’re looking to unlock your creativity and get higher quality images then you will probably want to go with a DSLR. You will be able to change your lenses as needed and will be able to shoot fully manually to create the images exactly as you want them to be. They have higher megapixels and have a better sensor than the aforementioned cameras. They are, however, much more expensive and very bulky. They do not always present themselves as being very user friendly either and will require you to learn how to use the camera, after all, it’s more than just point and shoot.
The mirrorless cameras are really starting to pick up a loyal following. With their lightweight bodies, higher dynamic range, and digital view finders it’s easy to see why people are loving them. Mirrorless cameras come in various styles and can now be found with full-frame capabilities giving the user stunning quality images. But, they are rather expensive and they have been known to have a poor battery life. Depending on which model you choose, the lenses for mirrorless cameras can be very expensive as well.
Once you have settled on a budget and the style of camera that fits your needs, the search for your new camera can still seem a little overwhelming with all the options that are out there now. A quick note on which company to choose; this is all personal preference. Personally, I am fond of Sony and Nikon, however I have worked with Canon cameras as well. I simply found that Canon required a lot more maintenance and had given me more troubles than my Nikons ever had. Canon does have a more user friendly interface. Though I feel Nikon lenses are better. Sony seems to be leading the way in terms of mirrorless cameras with Fuji not too far behind. In the end, it’s up to you what feels best for you. Many professional photographers will even switch around what companies they like during different times or for different occasions.