One of my greatest joys of being a professional photographer is that I get to spend a decent amount of time talking tech and playing with gadgets for a living. As you’d expect, I’m something of an expert on cameras and lenses (you really have to be if you’re going to create imagery for a living). Because camera bodies and technology are becoming much more accessible price wise (consumer level stuff at least!) many people are taking up photography as a wonderful hobby and past-time. As many of my friends and family are in that boat, I usually am asked a few times a year for some advice on purchasing a new camera. I’ve found myself usually recycling the same information over and over again for people, so I think it’s time to put together a little blog post for others to use as a reference point when shopping for their first D-SLR camera.
The Goal of this Article
As I mentioned, consider this a little bit of helpful advice on choosing a camera body & lens for the entry-level hobbyist. This is NOT a buyer guide for professional camera equipment or for getting into photography as a profession. If being a professional photographer is your goal (awesome!) I can’t encourage you enough to first go to school, or to at the very least spend a few years being mentored by a professional.
Type of Camera
My advice is to pick up a “D-SLR” camera. D-SLR stands for Digital Single Lens reflex. Long story behind this nomenclature, but this is not a pocket fitting “point and shoot” camera. It’s a “real” camera that you’ll hold up to your eye and look through a mirrored vision of the lens image to set up your shot. These cameras look more serious in nature, and have detachable lenses that you can interchange as you grow your collection. The different lenses can achieve different effects and different uses, and as you grow in the hobby, you’ll fin yourself wanting more.
Canon vs Nikon vs All Other Brands
This seriously doesn’t matter at all – whatever floats your boat I would though recommend you stick with Canon/Nikon. I’m personally a Canon shooter, but there are just as many great Nikon shooters as Canon Shooters out there. There are two reasons I shoot Canon – I love me my 85 1.2L lens, and I love that they’re pushing the envelope and leading the D-SLR video world. Again, this doesn’t matter to the hobbyist, you’ll be happy with either or.
MegaPixels Don’t Matter
At least for this discussion! Anything above 10 is perfectly fine. Worry more about available iso speeds (mentioned below). Megapixels are important at some level, but they have become the marketing gimmick that camera manufacturers have used to sell and communicate value, rather than the tons of other things that matter. I’ve printed 40×60″ canvases from a 10 megapixel image, and yes, you can even print billboards from a 10 megapixel camera if you chose to. There are mathematical “viewing distance factor” reasons for this, but for the purpose of this article it’s not really relavant. What does matter is that you don’t get wrapped up in a “bigger is better” mentality.
Higher ISO Does Matter
ISO is one of the things your camera uses to control how “bright” your images appear after you’ve snapped them. The higher the number, the lower light you can shoot in. In my opinion, if you’re getting a camera for a hobby (around the house, random fun art, etc) 3200 is what you should be looking for, or above. I wouldn’t say that for professional usage (my camera goes 125,600 ISO for reference), but it will be helpful at times for you.
Buy Last Years Camera Body
I recommend getting last years (or two years ago) used. This sounds crazy, but the camera manufacturers literally pump out entry level cameras every year, with subtle improvements. You’ll get so much bang for your buck if you go to a local camera store and get the body used – or just go to ebay.
Buy the Lens Seperate
This follows from my previous thought on purchasing an older body – instead of investing your money in a brand new camera body, spend all your money on a good lens. The kit lens most cameras come with (18-55mm) is not the best. Honestly, it sucks. I recommend getting a 50mm 1.8 lens used/new, and buying the 18-55 seperately used if you must. The 50mm lens won’t come in a kit, but it’s a great starter lens. As far as lenses go, this is a pretty cheap lens(less than 100 bucks) It’s GREAT for fun shots, especially indoors. I know those numbers might not mean much now – but perhaps someday they will. Like I said, pick up the 18-55mm lens used if you really want the wide angle view it offers, you can find it used on ebay between 50-100 dollars. Seriously – buy this lens used, there’s no point in getting it new, it’s not a great lens.
Where to Buy
Ebay is fine, if it’s a reputable private seller – meaning – it’s a person who is selling their camera and they have a good rating. If it’s a store, be careful and ask good questions. There are a LOT of gray market camera bodies and lenses out there, so you need to be very picky. If you decide to buy from a different website, I really recommend using a chain store you know, or using bhphotovideo.com. Any other webstore I recommend you funnel through ResellerRatings.com to ensure they are a reputable vendor. Seriously – be careful out there folks – if a deal seems to good to be true, it probably is.
There you have it – I hope that helps you all out a bit as you explore the fun world of photography!!