Purchasing your first digital camera can be a hugely daunting experience – the options available; DSLRs, Mirrorless, Rangefinders, bridge cameras, point-and-shoots, all at different price points, can leave you feeling like a rabbit in the headlights as you read yet another review. Whilst the options might seem never ending, the perfect camera for you is out there somewhere, to suit your shooting style and budget. These are the seven basic things to look out for that will help you narrow down your search and get you shooting.
Seems obvious right? However, the cash you set aside might not include all the extras you didn’t consider like – spare batteries, memory cards and maybe even an extra lens. Some cameras, namely, mirrorless cameras consume batteries at a speedier rate than DSLR cameras. Its heartbreaking being in that awesome spot with the most perfect light having nothing more than an expensive paperweight in your hand with the exhausted battery alert flashing. Same goes for memory cards (SD or Compact Flash), you may find yourself snapping away lots and lots during a long holiday and then find yourself out of space on your memory card with nowhere nearby to buy any more.
Why do you want to buy a camera? Is it for taking snaps on holiday? Landscape work? Street photography? Often, many people at the start of their photographic endeavours, feel like the ‘best’ camera is a DSLR simply because it’s what the pro’s carry. There are any cameras out there that might be better suited to what and where you’ll be photographing. Whilst some cameras might have better image quality, they may be too unwieldy to carry around on holiday for example, making you not want to carry it around. Equally, some cameras might not be suited to shooting portraits in the style you wish due to compromises in lens design for example. A camera on the shelf at home is no good at taking photographs, so sometimes a compromise in something, might be what you need to get you shooting.
Whilst more resolution is always good, more usually costs more, so if cost is an issue, don’t feel that a camera with lower resolution will hinder you. The Sony A7sII has one of the highest quality images out there – shadow/highlight retention and beautiful colours, but at 12 Megapixels it has relatively low resolution. All this means however, is that you can’t blow up your images to really really big sizes. Just ask yourself – are you going to be printing huge sizes? How will you be displaying your images? By all means, if you can go for a higher count, go for it, but if you’re on a budget, make sure you’re not losing out elsewhere – especially if it’s somewhere that matters more for your own photography.
There are many different formats out there: from 1 inch sensor all the way to full-frame and Medium Format. The digital sensor is intended to replicate the film plane back when everyone shot film. The sensor is affected by light in a similar way, but the way lenses and sensors work together to create the look of an image is almost the same. Roughly speaking, the larger the sensor, the more light it lets in and generally speaking, the higher the image quality – from colour tone, contrast and dynamic range. Up the scale, you have Micro 4/3, then APS-C and finally Full Frame. Full Frame is the exact same size as the film plane on an old 35mm film camera, and is considered the gold standard in digital photography. However, with sensor technology continuing to evolve, smaller sensors are getting better all the time. However, when it comes to ultimate low light performance without flash, depth of field control (defocusing backgrounds) full-frame is still king. Do however, expect to pay a premium for full-frame cameras and the lenses to go with them.
What might you find to be extremely important to your photography? If you’re photographing outdoors a lot regardless of weather, a weather sealed body and lenses might be of importance to you above all else. Do you require a swivel LCD at the rear to frame up those low angles? What about Wi-Fi connectivity? There are many features which may be important to you that are always worth searching for on your cameras spec list. Be prepared to compromise on some features, as often, what one camera gives, it can take away elsewhere.
Many cameras will come with a kit lens (usually DSLRs) which is a great way to get you shooting straight out of the box. However, kit lenses at lower price points are often average mid-range zooms and do not make the most of the image quality the camera is capable of. Whilst i would never put someone off buying a kit lens, if you’re on a tight budget it might be worth saving the cash and getting the camera body alone and investing in a prime lens. A prime lens is a non-zooming lens of a single focal length. Many street photographers choose prime lenses for their work, usually 28mm, 35mm and 50mm lenses as these allow them to get in amongst the action for a different perspective. They are normally lighter than zooms, smaller, faster and more portable. Image quality is also higher due to having less moving glass and compromises made in their design. However, they are not for everyone due their inability to zoom. So if your plan is to capture wildlife then a zoom might be best for you as it will allow you to have more ‘reach’ and give you more options in case you haven’t got the time to ‘zoom with your feet’ as you would with a prime lens.
7) Think long term
My advice is always to spend as much as you can afford on a camera system. A camera will always be a useful addition to your life even if you don’t end up sticking to what you thought you might be photographing. However, many photographers if not most, quickly transition from being beginners to having a wider understanding of the photographic world – both from a technical point of view to also realising their creative visions. With this in mind, it’s worth buying something which will have some longevity in being able to satisfy your creative needs. Cameras when bought new, lose their value quickly, so it might also be worth considering buying second-hand for less as you may find the camera you do want at a much cheaper cost than an inferior camera which is more expensive simply because it’s new. I mean, who doesn’t want better for cheaper right?