What Camera Should I Buy!?: AKA, the Most Difficult Question for a Photographer to Answer

I’m the photo guy in my circle. I’ve been playing with SLRs since high school, I got my first DSLR in about 2011, worked in a supermarket studio for over two years, managed it for one of those, and have maintained my own (VERY small, I call it exclusive) private business of family and portrait photography for over five years.

Even with my limited experience I get this question most commonly: “What camera should I buy?”

I decided to make this article/video and YouTube playlist because this answer NEVER changes and I wanted something that I could link people to. The camera you SHOULD buy is the one that you think will work best for the subject matter you WANT to shoot!

The first myth that I am going to debunk is that a new or better camera will drastically improve the imagery that you can capture. That is wRong. Unless you bought a truly terrible camera. The only way to take better photographs is to GET. INTO. PHOTOGRAPHY.

You need to educate yourself. You need to practice. This list of resources should get you started.

First, if you have ANY camera, you need to understand the basics of the photographic triangle. Even cell phone applications like Open Camera can give you controls of exposure that can drastically improve your shots. This is great practice before you buy a camera, and the first video below from Adorama will take you through that. I learned these concepts from the third edition of Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Exposure, so if you’re the booky type, I recommend his and Scott Kelby’s The Digital Photography Book series. I also collected amazing pre-digital SLR books from used book stores, the photographic triangle and how you use a camera has hardly changed.

The next thing you need to understand is that the light in your home probably sucks. Cameras need a LOT of light to record their best quality of image, failing that, they need a lot of time. If you are photographing moving subjects like children or family or pets, that defy slow shutter speeds, you need to consider upgrading your lens or purchasing lighting. I won’t tell you what camera to buy, but I will tell you not to buy a point-and-shoot or fixed-lens camera unless you have good reason. I consider them the modern-day disposable. Consider DSLRs and Mirrorless cameras so you can change lenses to increase your potential when or if your interests change.

More on that further down, this second video by Sean Tucker is about making the most of available light, or finding ambient/natural light that is good for portraits. I should mention that there are tons of these videos out there, I’m just listing the first ones that I found agreeable. What Tucker does not mention is that side-lighting from early morning or evening is often most agreeable, along with diffused light from clouds or haze.

For the third and final video, we’ll take a look at the speedlight, or flash. This is likely the first option for a camera that someone might buy for shooting indoors or in low-light situations. They can be frustrating if you don’t know how to use them, but hopefully this video by Ed Verosky will clue you in to some of the techniques that work best like bouncing with an on-camera flash.

I will give you some suggestions for entry-level cameras and some things to look out for, but I want to say this first: don’t ignore used cameras! Henrys has great used cameras and warranty offerings that are always tempting to me. You can get an intermediate-level body for a little more than a new entry-level body in some situations. An older camera is not something to scoff at! So many professional photographers that take AMAZING photographs are using cameras from upwards of ten years ago with megapixel counts lower than 20mp! That’s the second myth I’d like to debunk: megapixel count DOES NOT have anything to do with the quality of a camera. Well, less than 8mp is probably something you want to avoid. My first camera was a 2002 Canon Rebel XT with 8mp. I could still blow up a portrait to a 20″x30″ and that is likely more than most people would want to print. Just remember to get the photograph as perfect as you can in camera so you can minimize cropping and rotating later.

OK. Some suggestions.

The Sony Alpha series mirrorless cameras always come to mind, though I’ve never used them. They are compact and I have seen some awesome photo and video work from their predecessors. Older version entry levels had drawbacks, like lacking a hot-shoe, so you couldn’t use an external flash if you wanted to. You also had to use the LCD screen to sight your shot. Personally, I hate that, and I require a viewfinder. The A6000 seems to be their entry level now. It has a hotshoe and viewfinder, and costs about $800 CAD.

My second DSLR was a Canon Rebel SL1. Now they have the SL3 and it runs about $850 CAD , but you can get the SL2 for about $200 CAD less. My favourite things about that camera was that it was compact, light, and had very crisp imagery. The drawback for me was Canon did not release a battery grip, nor did they design the camera to accept one well. Ultimately, I replaced that camera with an 80D because I dropped it too many times and the hot shoe was malfunctioning.

In conclusion, I don’t want you to fret too much about the particular camera you are buying at first. You can always save up for a new one when you know more about what you will be shooting, and you can buy lenses to shoot better in different environments. Do shop around, look for a deal, and talk to your local dealer about what they have that will work well for you — even if it is not new!

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