How to Choose the Right Camera Equipment.
Making that decision can be nerve racking. If you are a beginner or seasoned Professional Photographer the decision on what camera equipment you purchase is very important. While having the latest is what everyone desires. It may not be the best choice for you.
Do you know cameras or are you just beginning?
What lens are you using? Is the lens interchangeable?
Are you shooting on auto?
Do you know the basics; Aperture, F-Stop, Shutter, and ISO?
Do you know when you should and should not use a flash?
So before you “spend” the $ and become so overwhelmed with a camera that you will never pick up again, do your research. Ask questions. Go to Target or Best Buy and pick up all the cameras. Go to your local camera shop. In LA it’s Samy’s Camera. Ask Questions. Play with the features. Feel the camera in your hands.
A quick look at my background as a photographer, so you understand my knowledge and my recommendations.
Photojournalist for 10 years
Camera in hand for 36 years (at least I think since I was 10 years old)
Freelance Photographer for the past 14 years while living in LA.
Currently working at Samy’s Camera eBay Manager (on medical leave), read my previous blog.
Determine Your Camera Needs and Then Start Small.
Point and shoots, well they are pointless. Most everyone HAS a cell phone with a very decent camera built in. Use that EVERYDAY. Challenge yourself to take photos of the world around you. Not only will this teach you what looks good, as you shoot, you will begin to understand how lighting works.
Why when the sun is behind your head, you can’t see your face. Why your images at night look like a blurry mess.
If you are new to photography, or trying to decide if this is a hobby you REALLY want to spend money on; start with a mirrorless system.
Similar DSLR Features
I own the Sony a6300 with the standard 16-50mm lens. It is my “everyday” camera. Perfect for quick day-trips, hikes, get-togethers. It’s fits in my purse or backpack. It provides me the ability to have decent images . I can shoot RAW, 24mp images, and edit to my hearts content when I get home.
My professional gear is a D800 and D300s, I was in the process of putting together the D300s gear to sell. Unfortunately (and this is why I say start small) camera gear has a quicker de-value as soon as you buy it than a car. My D300s, I bought new around $2000. I will be lucky to get $300 for it now. I have been thinking of having it converted to an IR camera. It would provide me the creative ability to capture some amazing images!
Choose a Mirrorless or DSLR Based on Video & Still Features
Options for Mirrorless (order of my preference, based on image quality, features, size and options)
Sony a6000 / a6300
Panasonic GX85 / GX9
Fujifilm (any of the X-T models)
Olympus OM-D Series cameras
These are just my personal preferences. I have many photographer friends that have Olympus and Fuji and love them. It’s truly is your choice and I think if you go into the store and pick up each one and feel the camera. If you have larger hands some of them may be a bit too light and toy like and you will want to look at the larger bodies.
Megapixels between 14-24 are sufficient. If the camera shoots RAW, then it’s not a priority. You will not notice the difference. Remember this is not going to be your FINAL camera. You will upgrade and you will want to keep learning.
Don’t buy it then. Walk away.
Go home and read reviews. Pick your top 3 choices and narrow it down.
Choosing a DSLR over a Mirrorless Camera.
If you wish to skip the mirrorless route, then my recommendations for DSLR are to consider your skill level; this is very important because it will help you decide what is going to work best for you. If you are looking to get into photography and you want something more than a point and shoot, look at beginner DSLR cameras with an APS-C format.
Once you make that choice, then stick with it. Don’t switch between brands Nikon/Sony/Canon because the lenses are not that interchangeable. Yes you can get adapter but it degrades the quality of the lens.
The grass isn’t always greener and you’ll end up paying more more to “weed” out the options.
DSLR Camera Options
Canon T6 Series DSLR Camera Kit
Canon T7 Series DSLR Camera Kit
Nikon D5600 DSLR Camera Kit
Nikon D7200 DSLR Camera Kit
Nikon D7500 DSLR Camera Kit
There are more but unless you plan on going the route of upgrading to the Sony a7 series Mirrorless Cameras, Canon or Nikon would be my recommendation. The lenses typically are backwards compatible. Always ask. Nikon has the F mount, it has been the same for decades. There are some lenses that will not work on the pro gear, so it’s always go to ask questions and research. Canon mounts can vary, they have the EF, EF-S and may have some compatibility issues.
Personally I love Nikon glass. I love that I can use a lens from 1980s-90s that provides superior image quality. My favorite lens was the old Nikon AF 85mm f1.4 (which you can still get). I have upgraded but only because I HAD to. Old lens just stopped working. : (
How Much Should I Spend on a DSLR?
If purchasing new; look to spend anywhere from $500-1000 on a kit, whether it be Mirrorless or a DSLR. I would not spend more and honestly would not go to much less. This price range is going to give you the best options and features if you are really truly wanting to learn camera gear.
All of these cameras I mentioned above will give you the basic features but allow you to shoot in auto if all else fails. You can learn while using the camera. Just don’t rely on that little green icon. Push yourself to understand why you just spent $1000.
If you truly wanted to get “into” photography then I recommend spending around $200 on a used film camera and lens that allows you to shoot manually. While this may seem archaic, you as a photographer will learn so much more which will carry over to when you are ready to make that “BIG” digital purchase.
Camera manufactures include the basic tools needed to operate the camera. There are however many other accessories you will need.
Other Accessories Needed for Your Camera:
camera bag (I have 3 bags) - each coordinated for a particular job or assignment based on the lenses.
memory cards (at least 4-5 each camera)
extra batteries (at least 3 for each camera)
filters (polarizer, Sky/Haze and ND)
lens cleaning cloths
battery charger for car
small travel tripod (verify it will HOLD the weight of your gear)
What Subjects are You Going to Shoot with Your Camera Gear?
Occasional shooting, possibly the kids playing sports etc?
Determine the type of photography you want to capture. Research and ask those questions of local dealers. Really take your time, I know it can be exciting, new and “shiney” but trust me, you’ll be pissed if you choose wrong. Restocking fees, no returns…yes, I know if you’re a Prime member you don’t have to pay, well…not really. So expect that you will have to pay something.
Which Camera Do I Choose?
There has always been the “BIG” debate.
Canon or Nikon?
Which do you choose?
When video or clips became an option in DSLR, it became the next big game changer. It changed the face of photography, video and journalism.
When Sony announced the a7, their first full-frame mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras; they created a new format and style camera, that appears to be taking over the game. There is no mirror, so the camera can be whisper quiet. The video that can be created with these beauties, are stunning.
Sony has now manifested; The Canon, Nikon Or Sony Conundrum.
While I am impressed with the tech of Sony, I’m very happy with my Nikon and have no plans to EVER change. I settled for it’s cousin, the Sony a6300 and have been very happy.
My first “Pro” Camera in the day was the Canon A2e. Starting out as a photojournalist, you had to supply your gear; smaller papers don’t have the budget. However as I kept advancing my career, the equipment eventually would be supplied to me. It was always Nikon. So I’ve always used both; Nikon film gear for work. Canon film gear for personal. In 2004, I dropped my first 2k on a Canon 10D Digital Camera for personal use. In 2007, well when you work for Nikon, they make it REAL…REAL easy to just hand your check back to them!
So below is a scale of 1-10 of how I feel about how the camera equipment regarding Video and Stills.
Keep in mind, I am an old school film photographer and I’m still trying to get my head around the video aspects. So don’t take it personally, I’m not “attacking” your brand… “Keep your britches on”, as my grandfather would say.
*the information below is my opinion only just based on my experience and personal cameras (Rating 1-10, 10 being best)
Video = 10
Stills = 8
Video = 7
Stills = 10
Video = 10
Stills = 9
The Different DSLR Formats: FX vs DX:
FX = Full Frame - wider and larger sensor
DX = Digital Frame (APS-C) - cropped sensor, also increases the focal length of the lens.
For older film shooters, this is easier to understand, FX frame has the same size sensor as the 35mm film plane, DX frame is a smaller sensor, with a 1.5 increase on lens focal length.
FX; shooting with a 20mm lens, like the film cameras, it is a 20mm lens
DX; shooting with a 20mm lens, is like shooting with a 30mm lens (a 1.5x increase in focal length)
Choosing the Right Camera Lens
Most kits come with a lens. Use that. Do NOT purchase any other lens. Use the one it came with. Force yourself to understand how the basic works before you drop the money on another lens. Lenses are the eyes to your camera. Yes the camera holds the tech, but it’s the lens that actually sees. Similar to our heads (which hold the tech), still need great eyes to see.
In 35mm format focal lengths of lenses determine how and what you can shoot. There are 4 basic types; Wide, Normal, Telephoto and Zoom.
Wide Angle Lenses are focal lengths under 35mm
Normal Lenses are focal lengths 35-60mm
Telephoto is any lens over 75mm
Zoom Lenses are focal lengths that vary the length; 18-55mm, 70-200mm etc.
*There are other specialty lenses, Tilt/Shift, Super-wide, Fisheye, Super-Zoom, Macro and Creative (lens baby) but let’s start with the basics.
Lens Types: Prime and Varying.
If the lens aperture can stay at the widest regardless of zoom or focus, then it is a prime lens. These are the Cadillac’s of lenses. The dream team. I LOVE LOVE my primes. Prime glass is glass well made, designed with the intention of professional use.
There are some amazing zoom lenses that fall into the prime lens category, like the older Nikon AF-S 80-200mm f2.8, they do not make this model anymore and I am constantly on the look-out for a decent used one. LOVED this lens. It was sharp, It was the perfect weight, you felt it in your hands.
I feel the 70-200mm is a perfect focal length, especially for travel photography, portrait photography. It allows you to compress your image, drop the focus on the background, get the “right” amount of bokeh.
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR Lens; (see here).
Canon’s EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens version is, (see here).
Sony’s FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens; (see here).
Yes, you WILL spend money on lenses. My current lens arsenal, is quite deep (these are just a few) and many lenses I’ve had for decades.
Lenses in which the aperture, (opening of the lens blades) must close down as the lens zooms out is a varying zoom lens. Typically the quality is not as great but I have personally seen amazing images captured with what the industry tends to look down on. So push your self to learn the basics. Begin at the beginning, because as you learn the craft, you will learn what types of lens you need and actually want to spend the money on.
Lenses great for Landscape photography: 20mm, 24-70mm, 50mm, 70-200mm (LOVE), 70-300mm, 300mm
Lenses great for Portrait Photography: 24-70mm, 50mm, 85mm (LOVE), 105mm, 70-200mm
Please note: The focal length above are for my Nikon gear. Most camera companies have the same typical focal length. There are some slight differences, but as long as you get or understand the idea of Prime and Varying lenses, it will help you determine the lens for you.
RESEARCH. RESEARCH. RESEARCH.
This is very, very important and why I said it three times. Research online, look at specifications, what will the camera come with (accessories etc), some dealers offer packages. Go to local dealers, play with the camera, hold it, and shoot with it. Does it feel good in your hands?
How Much Money Should I Spend on Camera Gear?
Digital camera decrease in value each year. Technology advances so quick with digital that models that are 2-4 years old, are not really worth 1/4th of what you originally paid. My first digital, which only had 6 megapixels, was $2500, without the lens. I sold it for $400 (very sad). My D300s, without the lens was nearly $600 cheaper and had better image quality but am now considering having it converted to infrared.
New models for top end DSLR’s are produced on average every 18-24 months.
If you don’t have the money but really want a certain model, don’t settle, SAVE! Or Purchase it used. Most manufactures release or announce new models towards the end of the year. Keep in mind; proprietary accessories, well they take a bit longer to come out (90 days to 6 months). Finding the right deal for a model that may be a year older, would be your best option.
It is important to pick the camera that is best for you, if you chose to step down because you don’t have enough money but you need a camera now be sure to choose one that will take the same style lenses. One that will allow you to grow your own lens arsenal.
If buying new; once you choose the camera model you want to purchase, you can then price online, but be aware of import/gray market vs. authorized.
Key; if the price too good to be true (meaning ALOT less than other dealers) more than likely it is not an authorized product, which will not have the manufacture warranty, nor will it ever be able to be service by the Manufacture.
Buying a New or Used Camera.
Once you’ve found “your” camera. Price it. Check new, see what “extras” it comes with. Is it worth it? Are you “really” getting what you need? Or is just cheap accessories that will have to upgrade? Since the value of a camera does not last long, before you go out and spend $1000, check eBay, check craigslist. Many people buy a camera haphazardly and while it was shiny and new last holidays, they want to upgrade or have barley used the camera and they now need to sell.
Personally, I buy all of my equipment used. Years ago, I purchased the D300 and then upgraded to the D300s, purchased brand new. Why, because it had video and I was beginning to shoot videos, both music and YouTube commercial work for a small record company in LA (some of my commercial work). The tech has advanced so much since 2009, I now have 2 - D800’s purchased off craigslist and eBay. My lens arsenal has expanded and now I’m downsizing. Minimizing what I own and owning only what I use.
What Information is Needed When Buying Used Camera Gear?
Get the shutter count. (multiple free apps online, that work with these models) Not all can provide this very specific info. Fuji is one, most of the Pro gear has to be sent in to the manufacture.
Confirm the accessories that would come with it
Warranty Card (so you can confirm it’s a US model)
Caps (Body and Lens)
LCD Covers (if included; some DSLR have these)
Lenses - if Included (models/focal length)
Lens Warranty Card
Final Tips & Recommendations When Finally Making that Camera Purchase.
Warning: Reality check.
Do not buy a camera expecting to make money as a “Successful” photographer or call yourself a Professional until you actually can earn a living on just photography.
While some images you capture will probably work, understand that as a “Professional” photographer, you are being paid to capture those moments, you are being paid by the client to provide them with quality images. That is a responsibility that you SHOULD NOT TAKE LIGHTLY!
While you are learning, you can offer to take photos, but be honest with the client and explain. You are learning, not every image will be perfect but you will put every effort to making sure you capture the memories they are paying you to freeze in time.
You would expect the same professionalism if you needed to hire a photographer for your child’s birthday, a parents anniversary party, a graduation, any event that creates our lifetime of memories.
So, if the images are blurry, under exposed, blown-out; don’t blame the equipment. It’s not the camera, it’s the user that is making the mistakes. If you are marketing yourself as professional and still shooting on auto and providing the clients with images that are over-exposed, blurry, dark and just plain awful; well shame on you.
Do yourself and every other photographer a favor and refund their money immediately.
Yes, gear can fail.
Yes, gear can stop working.
However...it is very rare that it’s actually a failure of the gear. If you know the gear, then you will know when it no longer works.
The ONLY tip I recommend when making the camera purchase: TAKE A CLASS!!!!
I know personally that Samy’s Camera offers classes through their EDU program that are fantastic for beginners (Samy’s EDU Program). They also offer some advanced classes and photo trips that are fantastic!
Do you really want to spend $1000-$3000 without being confident you will understand the equipment?
If you do not know what aperture, shutter, depth of field or ISO is… learn it.
If you do not, you will not only regret your purchase, you will lose money and time trying to learn all that you can without the understanding of how the camera actually functions, which is VERY important as each photograph has varying lighting conditions, unique shooting conditions, that with understanding comes the confidence. Push past the frustrations, watch youtube videos, ask… read, read and read some more.
Read the manual.
I know it can be intimidating but honestly, I still go back and access the manual because I’m not using my camera EVERY day, and I’m not using the same features every-time I shoot.
If you get stuck (and you will), frustrated and upset, well read the first recommendation again.
TAKE A CLASS!