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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.