Buying a new camera is exciting, but it’s also expensive. You don’t want to lay out your hard-earned dollars on a camera and then realize it’s not The One. So, which is the ideal camera for you? If you’re looking to upgrade your game and wondering how to choose the perfect camera for your needs, there are a few things you should take into consideration before you decide.
What Type of Photography Are You Into?
Are you a street photographer? Sports? Fashion? Landscape? The type of camera you choose should reflect what you want to use it for. For instance, a street photographer may want a lightweight, compact mirrorless camera instead of a bulky DSLR. When you have to carry a camera and lenses around all day, the size and weight of them really start to matter.
A small camera has other advantages over a large one for street photography too. People seem to take less notice of and feel less threatened by a small camera as opposed to a hulking DSLR with a huge zoom lens, which can seem kind of, well, stalkerish.
A sports or wildlife photographer really needs a camera with a high frame rate to catch all the action, but that machine-gun speed doesn’t matter so much to landscape photographers – the ground or the sea isn’t going anywhere soon.
If you travel a lot, a lightweight and durable camera and lenses are a must. If you want to buy a film camera instead of digital for your traveling, be aware that if you take a film with a higher ISO than 400 on a plane, the security scanners can ruin your film completely or fog parts of it. Just something to be aware of!
You need to think about what type of photography you shoot the most, and what pros and cons your current camera has when you’re shooting.
Lenses and Camera Systems
Another consideration for buying a new camera is whether you are already heavily invested in a particular brand through lenses, and what your budget is.
You may have bought several expensive lenses for your current camera brand, and if you change to a different brand, your current lenses are now obsolete. The same goes for any flashguns you may have for your brand too. This means you have to pay yet more hard-earned cash for a new set of lenses as well as a camera body, and this can easily run into the thousands of dollars.
You can either stay with your current camera system and lenses and upgrade to a better model or bite the bullet and sell your current lenses second-hand to help buy new ones for a new system.
Getting used to a new camera system can also take time, as each manufacturer puts their controls different places and uses menus that can seem confusing if you’re not used to them. So, think very carefully before you make the change to a completely new brand, or you could get a big dose of buyer’s remorse!
DSLR or Mirrorless?
Once if you wanted to get a decent camera, you had to get a DSLR. Then Panasonic launched its first mirrorless camera, the Lumix G1, and it was a game-changer.
Like DSLR’s, mirrorless (or CSC’s as they are also known) cameras have changeable lenses, but they don’t have a complex mirror system like DSLR’s do. This means that in principle they are lighter, smaller and more mechanically simple than their cousins. They are also simpler to learn than DSLR’s, as they are more like compact cameras to use.
On the downside, the lens ranges of mirrorless camera systems aren’t as extensive as they are for DSLR’s and they don’t have an optical viewfinder. They use the rear screen or electronic viewfinders, which can take some getting used to.
The debate on which is better continues to rage on the internet, but here are the advantages and drawbacks of DSLR’s and mirrorless cameras summed up in a quick guide.
Size and Weight
- DSLR: Big and bulky, but this can be an advantage when using telephoto lenses, or if you’ve got big hands!
- CSC: They are smaller and lighter, but some of the lenses can be as big as a DSLR, which can make them unbalanced and hard to hold still.
- DSLR: Canon and Nikon have a huge range of lenses for every type of photography, as does Sony. Independent lens makers like Sigma also make lenses to fit all of the major brands.
- CSC: Fujifilm, Panasonic, and Olympus have good, growing ranges. Sony isn’t quite there yet but is trying to catch up.
- DSLR: A lot of photographers still prefer the traditional optical viewfinder for the natural look and immediate viewing.
- CSC: Gives you a digital rendition of the scene as opposed to your own view. Some CSC’s can have a bit of a time lag when rendering the scene, which isn’t great if you’re trying to capture an action shot.
- DSLR: This used to be a big advantage for them, but not so much anymore. They’re generally better for tracking moving subjects than CSC’s but their Live View isn’t as good for that.
- CSC: Live View AF is generally very good when using the LCD screen, and the electronic viewfinders in the latest models have great overall AF performance.
- DSLR: The best, top of the range DSLR’s can no longer match the speeds of the best CSC cameras.
- CSC: They have overtaken the ability of the DSLR to capture scenes at high speeds.
- DSLR: Once was the king of video capabilities, and Canon DSLR’s were once hugely popular with professional film-makers, but they look to be overtaken by mirrorless cameras.
- CSC: 4K video is now becoming more common with mirrorless cameras, and the Live View AF is better. This could possibly be the future of video.
- DSLR: They use the best and most cutting-edge tech in their APS-C or full-frame sensors.
- CSC: They use exactly the same sensor sizes as DSLR’s, so there is no real difference in image quality.
- DSLR: Top of the range models can go for over 1,000 shots on a single charge.
- CSC: You’ll typically get around 300-400 shots, which on a day’s shooting isn’t a lot. Bring spare batteries – you’ll need them.
- DSLR: A cheap DSLR is currently better value for money than a cheap CSC.
- CSC: If you want a CSC with an electronic viewfinder, be prepared to pay a high price. If you want a cheap one, you’ll have to make do with Live View.
There are many more comparisons that can be made between DSLR’s and mirrorless cameras, but this should give you a quick overview, and hopefully help you decide what type of camera you might like.
Full Frame or Crop Sensor?
Crop sensor cameras are cheaper than full-frame ones because their sensor size is smaller. You likely know about sensor size and image quality, so I’m not going to talk about that here, but the difference in image quality between the two can be important, especially if you want to make prints of your images. For most everyday shots, the image quality difference between full and crop frame sensors won’t matter.
If you shoot macro, a crop frame sensor can actually have advantages over a full-frame camera in certain scenarios.
The full-frame sensor will always give a higher-quality print than a crop frame, especially at larger sizes. If making prints is important to you, it’s something to take into consideration.
I’m assuming you also know about the difference in lens crop factors when you put the same lens on a full-frame and a crop sensor. If you don’t or want to refresh your memory, have a look at this video from B & H for a full explanation.
Canon and Nikon need no introduction. Their followers have an almost fanatical brand loyalty, and the eternal ‘which is better?’ debate will likely rumble on until Armageddon. Canon and Nikon both render color differently, with Canon’s reds and skin tones being very in-your-face, and Nikon colors have been accused of being a little too muted. If you shoot in Raw format though, that won’t matter too much anyway as you’ll adjust the colors in post-processing.
Sony took over the old Minolta brand, and Minolta used to be a very high-quality camera manufacturer. Sony brought their tech know how to the table, and their range of DSLR and mirrorless cameras are competitively priced and have some innovative features that Canon and Nikon don’t.
Fuji is a brand that has made a name for themselves with their excellent mirrorless cameras and range of lenses.
If it’s a Micro Four Thirds camera you want, then Panasonic and Olympus are popular brands.
Should You Buy Brand New?
This can be a tricky one. If you have a tight budget, it can be tempting to go on eBay and see that you can get a lot more for your money than if you bought a brand-new camera from a store. I bought my first DSLR second-hand, and it’s still working now, even though I have progressed to newer models.
You can pick up some great pre-loved camera bargains from second-hand websites, ads, and stores, but you need to be a savvy shopper. If you are going to look at a camera you’ve seen in an ad, take someone with you and try to arrange the meet in a public place, such as a coffee shop. Don’t go to a stranger’s house alone – people have been robbed after being lured in by ads.
The person who’s selling the camera should have no problem with you taking some test shots and examining the camera. If they do, then be very wary. Check the sensor and lens mount for excessive dust and dirt. If it’s dirty, chances are the seller hasn’t taken very good care of it. Also, examine it for marks and dents on the outside. A few scratches from wear and tear is normal, but a big dent in the body could mean it’s been dropped.
If you’re buying from eBay, make sure the seller has a returns guarantee, and check out the reviews from other buyers. Another way to buy used cameras and lenses is to buy from a reputable store, such as Adorama, UsedPhotoPro or other retailers.
If it’s a film camera you want, you can pick up some very high quality used gear at reasonable prices. Film is beginning to make a comeback after being pushed out in the wilderness for years with the invention of digital. Now people are rediscovering the unique properties of shooting with film and it’s becoming more popular with mainstream professional photographers too, especially in the fashion/portrait world.
If you buy brand new, of course, you are protected by the manufacturer’s guarantee and the shop’s returns policy, so you have to decide if you want the peace of mind of buying brand new, or if your budget will only stretch to pre-loved gear at the moment.
Are There Any Comparison Websites I Can Look at?
If you want to weigh up all your options and compare different brands of cameras, there are websites out there that can help you make your decision. One of them is Snapsort. This site has been going for years, and the website is a bit clunky and old-fashioned, but it does the job brilliantly.
You search the market based on budget, using a slider to specify an amount before you search. You then modify a number of filters to narrow down your search. For instance, if you want a Canon, you can cut Nikon and other camera brands from your search. There are several filtering options to help you.
Once you have a shortlist, you can then use a cool feature – the Snapsort Compare tool. Put any two cameras in from your shortlist, and the compare tool will review their strengths and weaknesses side by side, from price to technical specifications.
I have found this tool really handy during my photographic career, and there are other similar sites like Digital Camera Review and Camera Decision.
Buying a camera leaves you with a lot to think about. Although you may be impatient to rush out and buy one, the smart move is to slow down, think about it, and consider some of the points I’ve covered above.
It’s all up to you now, and soon you’ll discover the thrill of holding your latest camera in your hands. Happy shooting!