The cell phone has made everyone a photographer. Social media platforms like Facebook, Pintrest, Instagram, and Snapchat are loaded with pictures taken on smart phones. While I wouldn’t want this to get around, I have taken some very good photos on my cell phone, as well. And so have you. Maybe that’s what started you thinking about getting a digital camera.
You see, for some of us there comes a point when that is not enough. Letting our cell phone make all the decisions is, well, boring. We want more control over the process. That’s when we begin to think about getting, in the words I once used, a “good camera.”
Before we get started on choosing the right camera for you I have to give you a warning. After you buy it, spend countless hours learning how to get the most out of it and learning how to capture the best image, learning how to see your environment in a new way, in short, becoming a skilled photographer, you will hear the words that all good photographers hate to hear. People will look at a really special scene you have captured and say, “You must have a really good camera.”
I want to help you buy a really good camera but I also want you to learn how to get the most out of it. The camera will only give you the control you need to maximize you talent. In the end, the image you capture will be yours.
So let’s begin. There are several things to consider when choosing your first camera. Or your second, for that matter. Here are the 4 that I think are important:
- Budget – how much money do you want to spend
- Quality – this is tied to the budget but is still important
- Versatility – how much control does it give you
- Lenses – Often overlooked at the beginning but critical
Budget If you have been to a camera store or gone on line to shop for cameras you know that there are a mind boggling number of choices out there. You also know that the prices range from a few hundred dollars to a several thousand dollars. When it comes to digital cameras it is definitely true that you get what you pay for so don’t skimp – buy the best camera that you can afford. More about quality later.
When you are thinking about your budget keep in mind that there is more to this purchase than a camera body. Obviously, you need lenses There are many starter kits that come with lenses. These are good quality lenses and make a good starting point and they are cost effective. We’ll talk about lenses later but keep in mind that the better the lens, the better the end result.
In addition to the lenses, there are a number of essential items you will need to purchase. Some of these are not optional. Here is a list:
- Memory card – This is definitely not optional. You will need an SD card for your camera. When choosing an SD card there are a couple of things to consider. The most basic is size. How many photos do you want to store on the card before you upload them to your computer? Are you going to shoot video. Will you be shooting in RAW (a subject for another day)? The minimum I would recommend is 8 GB but if you are shooting video, or going on a trip, or shooting action shots, move up to 16 or 32 GB. I use a 32 GB SanDisk. The other consideration is speed. This determines how fast the card will process and store your image. If video and action shots are your thing then you will want to get a fast memory card.
- Camera Bag – This is a must. I suppose you can own a camera and not have a bag but you sure aren’t going to be able to carry much equipment. And most important of all a good camera bag protects your investment during storage and transportation.
- Tripod – You can be a photographer without one but if close-ups, portraits or landscapes are your thing a good tripod is necessary.
- Lens Filters – A UV filter is a good idea. It will prevent the front element of you lens from getting scratched. We will be discussing other filters in a coming article.
- Flash – The one on your new camera is handy but you will want to get a good flash soon.
- Remote shutter release – Optional but, again, if close-ups, portraits or landscapes are your thing then get one. A wireless remote is best.
Quality So, what makes a quality camera? All the top camera manufacturers make quality camera bodies so it really comes down to image quality. Most entry level DSLR have an image resolution of between 16 and 24 megapixels. This is important for two reasons. The higher the number, the more information the sensor can record. That means that you can get better color and sharper images. It also means that when you enlarge the image it will still be sharp.
But there is more to the pixel story. The size of the sensor is important. While it’s true that more pixels mean more detail it’s also true that smaller pixels result in inefficiency and noise in the processing of an image. So, my 16 megapixel cell phone camera and my 16 megapixel DSLR do not deliver equally high quality images because my camera has a sensor many time larger than my camera. And that means that the pixels are many times larger and more efficient in converting the image.
Entry level cameras typically have slightly smaller sensors than pro cameras. Professional cameras have what is known as a full frame sensor which is basically the same size as a frame of 35mm film. Amateur cameras like the Canon Rebel and the Nikon 5200 have smaller APS-C sensors.
Bottom line, if you can afford it, buy a camera with a full frame sensor like the Nikon D750 but don’t be bummed if you can quite spring for a $2500 camera body because the APS-C sensors can still deliver sharp images.
Versatility Time for me to admit an assumption I make when I am deciding what to say. I assume that you will not be satisfied with ordinary snap shots but want to exercise control over the final image. Okay, that means that the camera you buy must allow you to take control. All DSLR cameras multiple settings that make you feel like you’re in control and in the near future we will be talking about them and how to use them. For now, though, let me just say that if the camera you are thinking about buying does not give you the option of full manual operation cross it off the list and choose a camera that does. After all, if you only use all those preprogramed options you just own an expensive and heavy point and shoot camera.
Lenses As you continue to explore digital photography and as you begin to widen your horizons you will discover that you will invest much more in lenses than in the camera body. Lenses are engineering marvels and can cost anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars to over $10,000. Now there is one fact about lenses that you must realize at the beginning. They are not interchangeable between manufacturers. The lenses I buy for my Nikon will not fit on your Canon or Olympus. That means that after I have invested in an extra lens or two, if I decide to change camera bodies I cannot use them on the new camera. Keep that in mind when you are deciding on that first camera. And if you already own a DSLR and are looking to upgrade, it is certainly something you need to consider.
Buying a new camera is only the beginning. There are some good choices available and it’s fun to shop for them and compare prices and features. Once you have the camera the fun really begins and that, my fellow photographer, is what we are all about.