What camera should I get?

Today’s post is to help those who are looking to buy a camera. Because I’ve been around for a while (started in 2006), I get this question more often than not!

When digital really started to make an impact on the professional photography world, it was around 2005 or so, camera companies were still working out kinks.

Fast forward to 2019 and most of those kinks don’t even phase the camera companies. They’re more concerned with making mirrorless cameras and creating something more compact.

In recent years, camera companies have expanded their smaller cameras to have more professional-grade capabilities, making them lighter, a bit more cost-effective, and still with great quality output.

All of that to say THEY ARE ALL PRETTY MUCH THE SAME.

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FIRST, ASK YOURSELF: WHAT DO YOU PLAN ON USING THE CAMERA FOR?

This is probably the first thing I ask when people ask me to help them purchase a camera. Most often people go out on the search for a camera because they have some event, trip, or otherwise that they feel they need more than their cellphone to capture great photos.

Some don’t even know what they’ll use the camera for and are just looking for something for the future.

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You need to sit down first and ask yourself what you plan on using the camera for. This is going to help you determine if you need something consumer-grade or professional.

Are you a hobbyist with some experience in photography? Are you primarily a cellphone type of photographer? Are you thinking of learning more settings or just want something higher in quality and easy to use? Are you looking to spend more money, later on, to keep learning new things or is this a one time purchase?

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These questions will help you figure out whether you plan on giving photography more effort or just want something to capture your daily life beautifully. Or perhaps you want an adventure style camera like the Go Pro and don’t have any interest in either consumer or pro cameras.

Maybe you don’t know yet and are just beginning to look around. If you’re into film, that’s for a whole different post!

Consumer versus Professional

These two terms are something you should familiarize yourself with if you’re looking for a camera. Knowing which category you fall into will be the determining factor on what type, style, size, and budget camera you should purchase.

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CONSUMER

A consumer-grade camera is usually cheaper, smaller, with a smaller sensor - meaning, less data/quality, and sometimes has lenses that are attached (the hybrid camera). Some have detachable lenses but you have to make sure they are the right fit.

Since these cameras have smaller sensors, the lenses you use must also fit the same aspect ratio of the smaller sensor. In short, the sensor is what records the image. What you see through the viewfinder isn’t what you’ll get exactly in the final image.

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On a small sensor, what you see through the viewfinder will get cut out on the edges. The amount depends on how small your sensor is. Just make sure you read the box on the camera you’re looking for. If it says anything about a sensor being a specific size, then you’re looking at a crop sensor or consumer-grade camera.

Who should buy a consumer-grade camera?

Consumer-grade cameras, because of their crop sensors, size, and particular price point, these cameras are perfect for someone who loves to capture their family travels, family events, everyday life, etc and not have to deal with bulkiness or doesn’t care to really use the camera out of Auto Mode.

These cameras are easier to use, better to understand when it comes to taking photos, and all-around great for everyday use.

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They are a step up from a really great camera phone, to put it in more simpler terms. Obviously, if you purchase one with detachable lenses, you have more range than a camera phone.

PROFESSIONAL-GRADE

Becoming a pro takes money, education, and practice. If you’re looking to get into photography professionally, be ready to invest. If you are just starting out, I suggest you start on a consumer camera that has detachable lenses and learn it 100% before jumping into the pro camera side. That way, while you’re learning, you don’t have to spend as much upfront.

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Professional cameras are identifiable by the FULL FRAME feature. Full frame means that the sensor is equivalent to that of 35mm film. Back when film was standard, medium format cameras were the high grade quality cameras and required 120 film. With the onset of personal cameras came the 35mm film cameras. Some pro, some personal grade and every type in-between.

Full frame cameras capture exactly what you see reflected through the mirror of the camera. No cropping and no loss in data. What you see is what you get. This also makes the quality of the photo much better.

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There are many, many, many professional style cameras out there and even medium format cameras like the Hasselblad that is even greater in quality. But expect to also pay for what you get.

You want a full-frame quality camera, you’ll have to spend accordingly. And sometimes, they don’t come with lenses, which also means you’ll be spending on lenses of the same caliber and price point.

Look for FULL FRAME on the box or on the detail list of features of the camera to choose a pro-grade one.

Who should buy a professional-grade camera?

Someone who is already looking to upgrade, familiar with photography, has a budget and is looking to take photography more seriously.

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You don’t have to go into photography professionally, like weddings or portraits, but even a more serious photojournalist, street photographer, or nature photographer will need the pro camera for the quality in both body and lenses.

This is someone who has moved out of Auto Mode and is looking to expand their portfolio because their current camera isn’t giving them more range.

GO OUT AND LOOK AT CAMERAS FIRST

This is the second thing I’ll tell people to go out and do. Go out and take a look at the cameras. Research online beforehand and then go and pick the camera up in your very own hands.

There is nothing like picking up a camera and seeing how it feels in your hand. Take a few test shots and see how you like the way it sounds.

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Nikon, Sony, Canon, Fuji, Pentax, all of them are pretty much on the same level now. Research online and then see which one feels better.

I remember I liked Canon when I first started. Again, this was at the beginning of the digital era and at the time Canon was the better choice. But now, they are all really great cameras!

Sony took a few years to catch up and are now doing great things! Even I want to upgrade to the AR 7 II. But this is after having 10 years to practice, learn, and give my Canons a good run for their money.

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The perfect camera doesn’t exist and so the next best thing is to pick the one that feels right in your hands.

It’s like when you go buy a car, you can do all the research online you want, but when you test drive it YOU JUST KNOW.

Same with cameras. Go to Best Buy, Fry’s, Walmart, Target, anywhere they sell cameras and get a really good look at all the features up close and personal. Then choose the right one.

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BOTTOM LINE

Digital cameras now are all pretty much on the same level as far as quality. The best thing to do is to research which features best serve your photography goals, go and look at them in person, ask others about cameras they have, and then make a choice.

I will say this if you do end up splurging on a camera that has detachable lenses, be ready to spend in the future for more lenses!

Photography is a never-ending artform and there is always something new to learn especially with these types of cameras, also known as DSLR cameras (digital single reflex cameras, which is because of the mirrors they have to help see the photo before taking it).

And if you have any questions, just ask me and I’ll try and help you out as best I can!


Pin the image to save the post to refer to in the future!

Disclaimer: I know many photographers will look at this post and roll their eyes at the idea that cameras are all the same. Save your comments. This is a simplified post about how to purchase a camera, not about which camera is better or to confuse people with unnecessary jargon.

It's not all about gear

When I first started in this art form, digital was just coming up and lots of really professional and tenured photographers were starting to switch over. It was a constant battle between Canon or Nikon and many even winced at having to put their medium format cameras on the shelf until digital backs were more widely available.

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Some didn’t make the switch at all. Some swore by one brand or another. But I’m here to tell you IT DOESN’T MATTER ABOUT YOUR GEAR.

What does matter then Jackie? Let me tell you: Experience, practice, and the willingness to always learn and be receptive to criticism.

I’m going to blow your mind by telling you whats in my camera bag. You might even laugh and say what the how? Or you might say, oh it makes sense. Either way you’ll be surprised, for sure.

My gear:


  • 28-105mm F/3.5-5.6

  • 580 EX ii flash

  • Cheapo extra flash that can be slaved or TTL

Taken with my cellphone but this is it, my gear. On camera is my 50mm.

Taken with my cellphone but this is it, my gear. On camera is my 50mm.

Yep, that’s it. Every image you see here on my website was made with that gear. And before a few years ago, it was a Canon 5D, the original one, which I still have two if anyone is looking to buy. While it’s good to keep one for backup, that’s all they are now. Just cameras I lug around “just in case”. I also have a tripod and I’d be surprised if I actually ever pulled it out to use it.

But all the gear listed above is what is in my bag and I love it. Keeps my gear light, easy to access, and I seriously love the 85 and could honestly shoot everything with it if I had the choice.

Now let’s get into what DOES matter when it comes to photography.

KNOW YOUR GEAR AND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU

If you’re just starting out and are worried that you’ll be judged by others, clients, photographers, neighbors, your dog, that you don’t have all the top gear, or that you’re still shooting on a semi professional system, let me be the first to tell you that IT DOESN’T MATTER if you don’t actually learn how to use your gear.

Knowing your gear in and out until you don’t even have to look down at the buttons is what makes you great at the creative side of things. Sure, tech is cool and trust me, I’d love to have all the latest gear to play with but it’s not the reality and honestly, let’s be real, expensive.

This was shot on a 2006 Rebel Ti. One of the first ones that ever came out, I believe second generation? Kit lens 18-55mm.

This was shot on a 2006 Rebel Ti. One of the first ones that ever came out, I believe second generation? Kit lens 18-55mm.

Photography, at least not professional photography, is not cheap. So it’s best to really get to know gear and even rent if you need to until you’re sure what gear works for you for the type of photography you want to do.

The only way that you’ll understand what the differences are between a 35mm and an 85mm is by shooting with them. You’ll see subtle differences and perhaps your style doesn’t include a 16mm wide angle lens. Perhaps you shoot in a studio and feel like a solid 24-70 is your sweet lens.

Perhaps you’re a natural light photographer and don’t need anything fancy in terms of flash. Perhaps you are all good with a reflector and some good light.

Maybe you’re starting out and have the kit 18-55mm lens. Use that lens with everything its got and see how far you can push it’s limits.

Get so in tune with your gear that you are not phased when work comes your way, you know you can rely on the gear you have and the set up you’ve created for yourself.

Knowing my gear in and out helps me create images that I picture in my head. Otherwise, I won’t be able to create photos like this because I won’t know the low light capabilities, for example, of my camera.

Knowing my gear in and out helps me create images that I picture in my head. Otherwise, I won’t be able to create photos like this because I won’t know the low light capabilities, for example, of my camera.

My gear works for me. Because I mostly photograph families, children and events. Sure a 70-200mm would be nice, but personally I’ve shot weddings with that lens and it’s painful for my hand after a few hours. Plus, most beach weddings are small and intimate and I don’t even think I’d use it all that month. So for me, it’s not on my wish list.

My gear is light, easy to move around and change, and more than anything, still gives me the results that I’m looking for. It’s what works for me, find what works for you with what you have or want in the future.

PRACTICE AND EXPERIENCE

It doesn’t matter if you have all the latest gear. It doesn’t matter how many hours you’ve spent learning Photoshop. The only way that you can make your gear work for you, is to practice and gain experience.

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Shoot, learn, watch other photographers and how they work, read tutorials, get insights into how people do and create the images that you like, try recreating (not copying) and learning light. Ask friends to pose for you, try different lighting situations, use different backgrounds, reflectors, creative ideas to get unique style photos that are all your own.

Shadow another photographer. Send them emails, ask questions, connect with other photographers, build a community, and shoot, shoot, shoot as much as possible.

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That’s the great thing about digital now, you can shoot until your finger goes numb and if you don’t like any of it, erase it and start over. Only when you feel like your gear is holding you back is it time to start thinking about what you can change, if you have the money. If not, then think of unique ways to use your gear to get different photos or the photos that you’re trying to create.

NEVER STOP LEARNING

I started photography when I was 19 years old. I’m 34 now and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t learn something new about photography, lighting, gear, the creative aspect, or the industry as a whole.

There is always something to learn and that’s what makes it so fascinating! Which is always why I write articles and tutorials because if i can pass down some kind of knowledge I’ve learned over the past few years, then I will.

CREATIVITY

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I can’t end this post without talking about this aspect of photography that has nothing to do with gear. You can have all the gear in the world but if you don’t expand your creativity or at least attempt things, try new things, add ideas to your list of ideas, or explore that side of yourself, your photography will not flourish it it’s true potential.

Creativity can be found in all different formats and doesn’t have to be to actually taking photos. Some photographers are inspired and get their creative juices from books, movies, music, paintings, experience, personal struggles/triumphs, family, etc. There is so much floating around that can move us and keep our creativity flowing.

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This doesn’t mean you are to compare yourself to someone else. NOT AT ALL. Creativity is personal and it is an intimate experience with yourself. Your photography is an expression of that and it can push your limits.

Just because you photograph portraits doesn’t mean that you can’t do macro photography as well. Or mixed media with photography and other types of art. Allow your ideas to be big, crazy, and creative. Allow yourself to really dig deep and get it out and see how you can bring it to life.

No amount of gear can bring out your creativity.


Okay, I know that this week’s post is a little fluff but I can’t even begin to tell you how many photographers and artists I come across who are so bent on the fact that they can’t move forward with their craft because they don’t have the right “gear”. Let’s be real: It isn’t just about gear. A camera is a tool, that’s it.

Photography is much more than that, it’s YOU. Your drive, your creativity, how much you practice, the experience you accumulate, and how you express your creativity.