July 26, 2023

Which camera should I buy?

Thinking of getting into photography? If you are, then the first decision you need to make is which camera you should buy

Every couple of weeks, I receive an e-mail asking me about getting started in photography. The first question is usually, “Which camera should I buy”? I’ll be totally honest; I like using my Canon cameras. It was the first DSLR I owned, and other than a few months in 2018, it’s been a brand I’m happy with, and I didn’t see a reason to move to a different brand. The reason I shoot Canon? The guy in the camera shop recommended it to me. Knowing what I know now, that’s probably the worst way to decide what camera to buy. So, which camera should you buy? Spoiler alert: I won’t recommend any brand or model, but it’s still worth reading.

Why do you want a camera?

Before you even start looking at cameras, you first need to decide what you want to do with your camera. If you’re set on making photography a career, you’ll want to start with a camera that allows you to learn the basics of exposure; a budget DSLR or a mirrorless model will be a good start. The choice would be similar if you’d like the challenge of understanding how to expose pictures yourself. Are you just wanting to capture memories without too much effort? Maybe consider upgrading your mobile phone – the cameras on the latest models can take great photos (and it’s not worth buying a bridge or compact camera anymore). How about if you’re interested in sporty shots, mountain biking or diving? You could consider an action camera like the Insta360 or GoPro.

Is this camera a stepping stone?

If you already think you will buy cheap and upgrade later, start thinking about how your purchase will be future-proof. An entry-level camera often has an APS-C sensor (also known as a cropped sensor). There are usually lots of cheaper lenses available for these cameras. However, if you change your camera to a full-frame version at some stage, lenses built for the APS-C system won’t work on your full-frame body. Save money in the long term by buying lenses that can fit both full-frame and cropped sensor cameras.

How easy is it to use?

The last thing a new photographer will want is to be put off by a complicated camera. Often, manufacturers add more features, often with the aim of justifying an upgrade. You might never need the ability to shoot 8K video or to fire off 40 frames per second of stills. Try speaking to existing photographers and asking them what they like about how they use their cameras and, more importantly, what they dislike. I recently ran a private workshop who had bought a new camera. They liked the quality of the photos but were pulling their hair out and the complexity of the menu system to change simple options.

If you can, walk into a camera shop and ask the person behind the counter a few questions. Here are a few suggestions. How can you change the focus area on this camera? Where are the controls for shutter speed, aperture and ISO if I shoot in manual? How can I view the histogram after I have taken a photo? You might not know what all these things are, but if the camera is intuitive, someone who knows about cameras should be able to find each one in about 30 seconds. If it’s taking more than this, either they don’t know what they are talking about or if it’s a speciality camera shop, more likely, the camera is too complicated.

Size matters

The size of a camera can affect your purchase decision in two ways. The first is a physical thing. If you’re a small-handed person, a big beast DSLR might feel uncomfortable to hold and use. Similarly, if you have fat fingers and big palms, a more compact camera could lead you to press buttons you didn’t intend to. The second size issue is also physical but in a different way. Will you be hiking for miles while taking pictures? If so, do you want to carry the extra weight of a DSLR with high-end (and heavy) lenses? Once again, try and head to a camera shop and pick up the models you are interested in – feel the weight of the camera and lenses in your hands to decide if it feels comfortable.

How does it look?

Honestly, if I was starting again, the last thing I would consider is how a camera looks. That’s me, though, and some people want to look the part. One camera manufacturer, in particular, produces retro-looking cameras with lots of dials on top of the camera. They look proper old-school, so if that’s your bag, you’ll probably guess the manufacturer. Before you go down the looks route, check to see if the camera’s usability matches the aesthetics.

It’s all about the money

For most of us, one of the biggest concerns is how much a camera will cost. Let’s make no bones about it; photography is still an expensive hobby. If you want to go professional, it will be even more costly. It doesn’t need to be the bar that you may think. You don’t need to buy the latest make and model when you’re starting off. You can buy good and reliable gear from some good second-hand sellers. Wex has a second-hand section on its website. MPB is almost entirely there for you to buy used gear. Both will indicate how well-used the equipment is, and you can trust them reasonably well.

The other cost thing to consider is the availability of future lenses. Many camera manufacturers are comfortable with third-party lens producers developing lenses that work with their systems. Quite often, these lenses can be as good as lenses built by the camera company and about 20% cheaper. One manufacturer, in particular, has been reluctant to allow third-party lenses to be produced for their mirrorless systems. As a result, expect to pay more for their lenses until they see sense.

You can’t go wrong

I’ve purposely not recommended any particular brand. The reason for that is I have seen pretty much every manufacturer and model while running my Switch to Manual workshops. If the camera launched in the last four or five years, it will do a job. It might be clunky, but you’ll get there, and you will take decent photos if you know what you’re doing. And that is the key to thinking about your start in photography. It doesn’t matter what gear you are using; the pictures will be mainly influenced by the skills of the person using it. Get some training, if possible specific to the camera you are using, and practice, practice, practice.

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About the author

As well as running Edinburgh Photography Workshop, Rich Dyson is a professional photographer. His photographs are regularly used in newspapers such as The Times, Guardian and Daily Telegraph. He also had two solo exhibitions and was featured in a members-sponsored exhibition in the Scottish Parliament. You can see and buy his photography at richdysonphotography.com.