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Four Key Steps to Picking the Perfect Camera
Whether you’re a new photographer who wants to take better pictures of your cats or you're a seasoned professional, there will come a day when you decide that it’s time to buy a new camera. Photography can be almost as expensive as a gambling addiction which is why Praisee is dedicated to helping people avoid bad choices by hosting the information they need, all in one convenient place. This guide is intended to help lay out the process of buying a new camera so that you can choose the best possible option. NOTE: I’m basing this guide off my personal experiences working as a professional photographer and filmmaker so don’t take my word for gospel. Or do. I can’t tell you what to do - I’m not your dentist...Yet.
Step 1: Why do you want a new camera? Be honest.
This may seem like a pretty obvious question to ask yourself but it is probably the most important reminder when buying anything. ANYTHING. Sorry, I didn’t mean to yell. Do you
a new camera or do you
one? Is your gear the limiting factor in the quality of your cat photos?
A better camera won't make you a better photographer.
When I first started out on an entry-level DSLR, I initially spent more time trying to find a better camera than actually shooting with the one I had. Being new to the craft, I would compare my work to the pros and when I sat down to edit my photos, I would get frustrated and rage quit because they looked nothing like the art I aspired to create. I was young and naive so my thought process went something like this:
Why does this majestic Yosemite landscape captured at golden hour by a critically-acclaimed National Geographic photographer who’s been shooting professionally for over 50 years look so much better than this picture of my parents’ dog pooping in my neighbor’s yard? I’ve been doing photography for about 3 months so it’s DEFINITELY NOT a lack of experience, practice, or subject...It must be my gear.
I was a poor college student at the time so I couldn’t upgrade my camera without starving to death and was forced to use what I had. Since then, I’ve acquired several new cameras but I still use my original DSLR when I go out on hikes or random adventures (basically any time that I don’t want to worry about my camera being destroyed by bears).
Guess what? My photos look WAY better now even when I use my old DLSR. The things that made the biggest differences in my imagery were a ton of practice, lots of mistakes/experimentation, and self-education.
All I’m saying is that if you’re unhappy with your current photos and you’re shooting on anything more advanced than a toaster, it might be a lack of experience, practice, and/or subject rather than the capabilities of the camera so make sure you really question why you want to buy a new camera.
You don't have to justify your reason for wanting to upgrade to me but if you’re on a budget, make sure you’re buying for the right reasons because it might be more worthwhile to invest in better glass or workshops opposed to a new body. At the end of the day, I’ll support you no matter what - I mean...unless it’s a really bad decision. Like murder. I don't support murder. Anyway, let’s jump to step 2!
Step 2: What level are you? What do you need this camera to do?
Personally, I’m a level 20 Elf Mage...Just kidding! I’m actually a level 24 lonely. So now that you’ve decided why you want to buy a new camera, you need to identify what level you are and what this camera must be capable of because there’s a huge price discrepancy in the market depending on what your needs are. Are you a beginner? Passionate hobbyist? Professional? Ansel Adams? If you answered Ansel Adams, you’re a liar. I’m not mad...just disappointed. You know better.
If you’re a beginner that really just wants a camera for personal/social media use and plan on using automatic settings, a nice point-and-shoot would be more than enough for your needs. With improvements in technology, the image quality on these little cameras is pretty impressive and you can’t find a better compact option except for maybe a smartphone. If you’re a beginner that's interested in photography and has a desire to learn about manual settings, I recommend getting an entry-level DSLR or mirrorless camera. The reason why I dissuade most people from buying interchangeable lens cameras is because unless you’re shooting manual, they’re pretty much a really bulky point-and-shoot which tends to be very inconvenient. I know a couple people that have bought DSLRs and literally
use them because they didn’t read this article and realize what they really wanted was a little full-auto camera. Entry-level DSLRs can produce very high-quality images and are pretty versatile in their functionality (if you are willing to take the time to learn) but they’re cumbersome. They’re also very durable and relatively inexpensive. People usually go with the entry-level bodies from Canon or Nikon due to prevalence and price. Unless you decide to pursue photography professionally or your camera breaks (most likely from bears), this camera will last you a very long time (5+ years). Things start to get hot and spicy once we hit the enthusiast/professional level because this is where camera bodies really start to make a difference based on the intended use. At this point, your work might be limited by your equipment opposed to your artistic vision and/or skill. For example, if you’re shooting commercial advertisements that will be featured on billboards, you’re going to need a camera with a very high-resolution while if you’re an action photographer, it’s all about the high frame rate. We’ll get into key features in the next section but it’s a good idea to know what you intend on shooting so you can make your decision based on the features that will best support your art.
Step 3: Features and Determining Factors
So now you know why you want to buy the camera, what level you are, and what you want to use it for. The next step is using this information to decide which features are important to you so you know what to look for in potential camera options. While most cameras are capable of producing similar results, some cameras are better suited than others depending on the situation. Of course there are more determining factors than what’s listed below but I think these are the most relevant topics: - Full Frame v. APS-C
- Mirrorless v. DSLR
- Low-Light Performance
- Auto-Focus and Capture Speed
Full Frame v. APS-C
Some of you may be thinking “Wtf, bro? Full frame all the way - why is this even a topic of discussion?” First off, rude. Secondly, APS-C might hold some advantages over full frame cameras depending on your budget and what you’re using it for. For those of you that don’t know know, the difference between full frame and APS-C is the sensor size. Full frame cameras have a 36x24mm sensor while APS-C cameras have a 22x15mm sensor. This makes a huge difference because full frames have 2.5x the surface area of APS-C sensors which means the photosites on full-frames tend to be larger and thus less prone to digital noise in low-light situations. So what are the potential advantages of an APS-C camera then? First, they're less expensive than full frames so if you’re on a tight budget, this might be a solid option. Next, APS-C cameras tend to be smaller which is ideal if you’re looking for something to fly on a drone or a high-quality travel camera. Finally, these cameras have a crop factor of 1.6x so if you’re shooting subjects far away such as wildlife or sports, these cameras will give you more mileage with your telephoto lenses allowing you to get a closer shot. As mentioned earlier, the full frame sensor does better in low light and produces better image quality overall but it's much more costly. Is it worth it? You decide.
DSLR v. Mirrorless
DSLR or digital single-lens reflex cameras have been the staple of professional digital photography since the advent of the digital revolution. They use a mirror to reflect the image that is exposed to the sensor opposed to mirrorless cameras that expose directly from the lens.
The primary advantage of mirrorless cameras is that they are way smaller than DSLRs and still produce amazing images. They also utilize an electronic viewfinder so you can see an accurate exposure of what will be captured when you release the shutter opposed to the optical viewfinder of a DSLR. On the other hand, because this viewfinder is a digital screen, this can prove to be quite challenging when used in bright, outdoor situations.
DSLRs tend to be cheaper since they dominated the professional/prosumer market so if you want to go mirrorless, it will be most likely more expensive. That being said, I predict that DSLRs are on their way out as mirrorless technology continues to dramatically improve each year.
If you’re unfamiliar with RAW, it is an uncompressed image format that allows you to maximize quality as well as provides the most versatility in post-production for editing. The advantage to shooting in RAW is that you can adjust certain settings such as white balance or sharpening without “baking” it into the original file. If you’re doing any professional work, being able to shoot in RAW is an absolute must.
For most digital or online purposes, resolution isn’t really an issue for many cameras. Images shot on a DSLR typically look great on computers, tablets, and phones because the image sizes are way larger than the screen resolution so the photos are downscaled to be viewed in full. Resolution becomes especially important if you plan on printing your images to anything larger than the common 5x7 picture size. Where are your images intended on being displayed? Social media? Galleries? Commercial printing?
Do you need a $3,000 42MP camera or would a $700 24MP camera accomplish the same goal?
This is probably one of the biggest things people are looking for these days. If you’re a studio photographer, this doesn’t necessarily apply to you since you control your light but for photojournalists, event, landscape, and travel photographers, low-light performance might be crucial. Personally speaking, I was shooting a lot of events where I couldn’t place additional lights so I needed a camera that could handle very dimly lit situations well. Since I primarily shot video, it made sense for me to invest in the Sony A7s II. When it comes to low-light, this is where full frame sensors and ISO become extremely important so make sure you do your research in these departments to determine if the camera in question is suitable for your needs.
Auto-Focus and Capture Speed
I feel like these two sections go together because they both relate to photography that is heavily action based. If you’re trying to shoot any sport, manually focusing can prove to be very difficult because the subjects move so fast. Nowadays, auto-focus has improved so that it can really make your life easier if you’re capturing motion heavy photos (it should be noted that lenses also play a large role in how well the camera auto-focuses so keep that in mind). At the same time, action photography is a numbers game. You need to be able to capture a high amount of frames in a very short period of time to make sure you get the perfect shot. When you’re researching cameras and crystal-clear focus at high speeds is important, make sure the camera is capable of capturing high frames per second with a reliable auto-focus. If you're thinking about adapting different brand lenses to your camera body, kiss auto-focus goodbye.
Step 4: Research and Reviews
At this point, you have a good idea of what to look for. The final step is to do research on cameras that fit your intended purpose and needs. Compile a list of
potential options from google searches as well as insight from photography shops and/or friends (if you're like me and don't have any friends, just make them up). Make sure your search keywords are very specific so you can truly identify the best options for
. For example: “Best low light full frame camera for astrophotography” or “Budget point-and-shoot camera for daily comparison photos of my dog and Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson.”
Once you have your list of potential options, check out unbiased reviews on Praisee to see how other people feel about them so you can find the perfect match tailored to your needs!
Click here to help the online photography community by reviewing your gear! ---->
Was this article helpful? Did I miss something? Do you also distrust bears? Let me know in the comments below! All the best, Kyler
3 years ago
Solid post! This was actually very valuable, esp for someone like me who has very little experience. The added humor made the technical read much more enjoyable. Well done!
3 years ago
Thanks for the helpful guide! I've been considering a mirrorless camera vs the usual DSLRs for travel reasons, so this article helped a lot.