The Essential Smart Guide to Buying a Camera: What to Look For
One of the most important things a traveler can invest in is buying a camera. Nowadays, everyone has a camera, if at the very least one on their phone. The only thing you won’t see me recommend on this site is a selfie stick! Don’t get me started on those…:)
Buying a camera can feel overwhelming especially if you’re a beginner photographer. After years of shooting and testing out a number of different kinds of cameras, I’ve found what works for me. So here’s what I’ve learned in terms of the most important factors when it comes to purchasing a new camera and what to look for in a camera.
First, here’s a short synopsis of my camera buying guide, but if want to read about it more in-depth, simply scroll to my article below.
1. What Kind of Photography Are You Doing?
This is perhaps the single most important question to ask yourself when buying a camera. Do you enjoy landscape or street photography? Portraits? Shooting your family? Or do you simply want to take snaps with no other purpose than wanting to document your travels or your family and provide blog content? Or are you somewhere in between? Or are you a complete beginner?
Every question here matters when buying a digital camera. DSLRs are great because they are powerhouses, but they’re not for everything or everyone despite their prevalence today.
Personally, as a street photographer, I don’t enjoy lugging around a giant DSLR. It creeps people out. Are you traveling on foot mostly or by car? These questions are all important before you make your decision.
There’s a range of different kinds of cameras out there for you to buy. There are mirrorless options that are a lot lighter as well as many point and shoot options. Mirrorless cameras have the advantage of being subtly sharper since the mirror doesn’t cause an extra vibration in the camera.
2. The Camera Influences Your State of Mind
Again, lugging around a large DSLR can really take the zen out of photography. I don’t mean to hate on the DSLR, I own one and I don’t hate it, but I like many others shoot better with a smaller camera, particularly if you’re documenting on the road. It’s less intrusive for one.
It’s important to know that your camera choice will certainly influence your state of mind, thus your photographs.
And it’s your state of mind and not your gear that makes good photography. Everyone is different so it’s important to test as many cameras as you can to see which one you click with.
3. Rent Some Cameras
You can rent cameras from local shops relatively easy before buying a DSLR camera. Renting a few cameras can help you get a better feel on which one is right for you. It’s also a great way to test lenses too.
4. Weight Matters
As I mentioned above, weight is an extremely important variable to consider when buying a camera! Like everything, it’s give or take. If you plan on doing a lot of backpacking on your travels and you’re a tiny female or aren’t in the best shape, I’d personally recommend a smaller camera. If you opt for a full-frame DSLR with heavy telephoto lenses and a tripod, you’ll end up hating life and wasting energy on lugging gear that ought to be spent on seeing better photos.
5. The Sensor is Most Important When Buying a Camera
What kind of sensor you choose to shoot with is the single most important technical decision you’ll make when buying a camera. You can fall for all the other bells and whistles that come with new cameras, but the sensor is the heart of image quality, assuming image quality is the most important to you.
For example, when you take a picture with your iPhone at night, it looks terrible, right? Look at all that grain. You can hardly make out the image. Well, it’s because the sensor is tiny and it can’t record the necessary information to create a dynamic capture.
Naturally, smaller sensors capture less information and because they are smaller, they also crop the photo. The standard full-frame sensor is the same size as traditional 35mm film. But the reason full-frames cost more is because the sensors cost more to make.
True, you don’t need a fancy camera to take good pictures and I’ve seen plenty of folks shooting awfully exposed images with a 5D Mark III, but that’s neither here nor there.
Good photographers can produce great images with any camera and bad photographers can use the best equipment in the world and still manage to create cliche bad photography.
There are plenty of excellent crop-sensor cameras out there and they consist of the bulk of camera demand for most amateurs. But just keep in mind that the sensor size matters. So you just need to compare price to subtle upgrades in image quality to see what is best for you when buying a camera.
DXOMark is an unbiased organization that ranks camera sensors. With that said, it’s not perfect, but it’s nevertheless a good resource for analysis.
6. Lens Compatibility
Aside from the sensor, the lens compatibility is the most important technical decision you’ll make buying a camera. Many photographers actually advocate spending more money on the lens than the camera body! Optics vary and trust me, to the trained eye, there’s a major difference between a $400 kit lens and a $2000 lens. Once you get far enough into photography, you’ll find your eye for detail becomes OCD.
Again, it all depends on what your intentions are. But, when you buy a camera it’s important to know ahead of time what kind of lenses you’ll be able to use with the camera you want.
7. Should you buy new or used?
This is an interesting question. Again, I’ve bought most all of my gear used, but I lived in Tokyo where the used camera market is literally the best in the world. Buying a camera there was almost too easy. If you’re ever in Tokyo, think about shopping there!
That said, ordering online is not difficult. I’m more inclined to buy used lenses rather than DSLR bodies though, seeming as the digital bodies definitely do have a limited lifetime. However, film cameras are a lot easier to buy because they don’t degrade quite as fast.
8. How to Shop for a Camera
B&H or Adorama are great stores, I’m a fan of them both. Try also going through a local camera dealer and perhaps even Best Buy which now sells higher range DSLRS. You can also approach a local photography school. Oftentimes, students are anxious to sell their gear so you may find some bargains.
9. Think Outside of Canon or Nikon
When I started photography people would ask me “so do you like Canon or Nikon?” There’s some major debate in photography and it’s like you’re supposed to pick a side or something. It makes no sense to me. They’re both great brands.
For some reason, especially in America, these two brands monopolize the photography world. Yet, there are a TON of other cameras and lenses out there that are also wonderful and are NOT a Canon or a Nikon. Just to name a few: Sony, Panasonic Lumix, Pentax, Olympus, Zeiss, Hasselblad, Leica, Fujifilm, and more.
10. The Extras are Superfluous
Don’t fall victim to buying a camera simply because it has a lot of cool new features or something like wifi. GPS is very useful though if you catalog your photographs. But call me old fashioned, I like to download my images and then edit them before uploading them to various forms of social media. Be mindful of new bells and whistles that companies come out with every year. Having an excess of features doesn’t make a camera better.