Advice to New Photographers: Buying a Camera

As a photography teacher, I’m often asked the question what “camera do you recommend?”  I realize that most people just want me to give them a specific camera and say “buy this one, it’s the best.”   Unfortunately, the answer I give is never that simple. Like most major purchases, buying a camera requires some knowledge and research.   For newbies, who are about to take their first photography class, the lack of knowledge about technical aspects of a camera can make the research and decision seem daunting.

Last week, I met the students who will be traveling with me to Japan in 2014.   Unfortunately, our orientation did not allow enough time to really delve into the questions about the all important camera question.  Since they need to have the cameras before departure, I thought I’d write this blog post with these students in mind.  My goal is that anyone who wants to learn photography or is considering purchasing a new camera will find this information useful. You might also want to read my Philosophy on Gear that I wrote before a similar study abroad trip to Brazil.

Pedestrian silhouette in New York City (Emily Naff)
Pedestrian silhouette in New York City (Emily Naff)

When beginning your research it is good to know the answer to these questions:

Is photography going to be a casual hobby, serious hobby or profession?   The camera manufactures tend to make different models for these categories: entry level, pro-sumer and professional.  Many of the functions are the same, but the pro-sumer and professional camera body tend to be better built to withstand the use (aka abuse) that the heavy users will subject their cameras too.

How much money do you have to spend?  It is generally the case that more money will get you higher quality equipment and lenses. If choosing between spending more money on a camera body or lenses, spend more money on quality lenses. In most cases, the glass, optics and speed of a better lens will be a bigger factor in image quality than the camera body.

Do you already have some lenses and other equipment from an film camera, friend or relative?  Is so, what brand is it?  What sensor size is it designed for?  If the lenses are from a film camera, they may work on a digital camera of the same brand. If they are from a digital camera, you’ll want to know if they are designed for full frame or aps-c sensor size.

What type of shooting do you plan to do the most?   Snapshots of friends and family, portraits, weddings, sports, action, nature, wildlife, macro, extreme sports, urban street, night or lowlight photography?  Refine your search by looking for articles and reviews on cameras and lens by including the type of photography in your search.

Do you need an SLR, or will a compact point and shoot do the trick?   I’ve written a few blog posts about the pros and cons of SLRS and Point and Shoots.  There are also some new types of cameras entering the market that are worth taking a look at.  Many of these new models  bridge the gaps between the pros and cons of SLR and Point and Shoot.  Some of the terms you’ll hear to describe these other options are “mirrorless’,”interchangeable lens”, and “micro four-thirds”.  I’m planning another blog post to explain those options, so stay tuned.

The students in my study abroad trip are required to use an SLR or camera with interchangeable lenses, so Part 2 of this blog post will focus on the decisions to be made when buying an SLR. Subscribe to the blog (bottom right of this page) to make sure you get Part 2 emailed to you.  Part 2 will also include helpful links to websites that will be helpful in the research process.