So… I frequently get asked by friends and family about what kinds of cameras I recommend for someone who is starting out. Sometimes… the idea of “starting out” can be really intimidating because there are SOOOOOOO many option on the market. Some costing hardly nothing… and others equating to the value of your first unborn child… grand child… a memory of a deceased pet… the reuniting of a distant loved one… the lifelong unhappiness of your arch nemesis… whatever sparks joy and brings you eminent happiness.
So… I was approached with the question:: “Is there a beginner professional camera you would recommend?”
I say Beginner Professional Cameras… is an oxymoron because… well. It just is. Beginner– means you don’t really know anything about photography and you want to get your feet wet and learn how to use the thing. That’s OK!! Everyone starts somewhere and it’s awesome that you are wanting to explore this new creative avenue!! But let’s be honest. At this stage, you’ve concluded that the P-mode means “pretty pretty picture” mode and the M mode stands for “Mickey Mouse looks like a ghost” mode for all the snap photos you end up over exposing during your family vacation because you had no idea that all of those buttons you accidentally pressed on your camera rearranges the settings on your camera.
Professional means… you know the ins and outs of your camera settings, how to use it in any lighting situation, and you get paid to create images for your clients. Do note– this is in theory. There are plenty of professionals who don’t know what they’re doing… and they fake it until they make it. Whatever. I’m not shaming anyone. But just know… just because you spend a lot of money on a nice camera… it doesn’t mean you’re going to aut0-magically create beautiful images. There’s a lot of information to soak in first… how to use your camera and perfect your exposures. How to focus and using depth of field appropriately, creatively, and with intention. How to construct what you envision in your mind and make that a reality, which I find is the most difficult and frustrating thing to accomplish. How compose an image to make it look visually interesting–i.e. take out distractions, anticipate to capture emotions, and tell a story through your voice.. and so on… Then– There is also a level of post-processing you would want to learn in order to perfect what you already captured in camera to recreate the feeling of the environment and also to help the viewer navigate through an image so that it’s pleasing to the eye and provides interest and evoke emotions…. this is not even including the possibility of adding flash or off camera lighting… WHOLE different topic!!
So… key thing… beginner/enthusiast… you don’t get paid.. you do it because you love it and you want to use it as a leisurely outlet for creativity… You will want to meander through choices and take your time upgrading your equipment as you progress. Professional– you do it because you love it… but also because you rely on it for income. Now, there is much more pressure to know what the hell you’re doing because people are relying on you to not mess up. You’ll want to get the best equipment you can afford because at this point, you will have a discerning eye– where you can differentiate between quality and capabilities once you’ve gained experience and knowledge over time.
So– with that said– if you fall under the “beginner”/”photography enthusiast” category– there are definitely several cameras you can look into. I think it depends on your budget and what you want to really use it for. Outdoors, family events, sunset shots, ebaying stuff? Are you trying to document life… or would you like to make a career change and eventually? I would recommend just observing your habits for a few days… and what you do when you see something you want to photograph… and then what you do with the images after… if anything.
I say this because– I am so guilty of this… I photograph A LOT of things… especially when I travel. I have found– if it’s not paid work… I never get to it. Not by choice… I just don’t have time to fiddle with personal projects when I know my clients are relying on me to get images to them within a reasonable amount of time. Plus– I have to respect that– my clients are why I am able to afford any leisurely activity… let alone not be homeless and starving on the side of the road. So… is it REAAAAALLY necessary for me to take a big camera on my trips and lug 30 pounds of metal and glass around on my back? Yes. Because I can write my trips off. But– the question is– will you be as committed to do that since you don’t have a financial motivation to physically torment yourself?
For the enthusiast– I recommend doing what is convenient and what is realistic. I think it’s great to have a hobby but there’s no sense in spending a lot of money on an expensive camera if you’re going to default to your phone… b/c that’s the only thing you care to bring along with you.
If you decide commit to incorporating photography into your life… think about what you would ACTUALLY want to take around with you. Something small and compact or do you want a mammoth sized camera in your hand bag?
Then– most importantly– I would set a budget for what you want to spend on a camera…. b/c that’s a slippery slope in itself. I would probably have a bigger savings account if it weren’t for camera gear. I could probably buy myself a nice BMW if I sold all of it… actually. This is not me bragging. This is me admitting the shame and guilt to online shopping in the middle of the night. Set your budget and stick with it. Forecast where and what you might want to spend in the future… and understand that you can re-evaluate your decision and upgrade if you decide you’d like to continue your photographic journey.
So– once you establish what you want to photograph and what you’re wanting to spend… Do some research on the different camera styles.
::Level of control– High :: Capabilities– High:: Cost– High:: Ease of use– Can Vary depending on choice of settings
:: Size–compact :: Versatility– Low :: Probability of use:: Moderate
If you’re wanting something more for convenience– I recommend mirror-less camera. They’re small, but you can get changeable lenses so if you decide to explore more with photography– you have the option to be creative and to spend even more money. HA! Sony and FUJI are pioneers in this realm. They both have incredible cameras. The sensors can produce high-quality images– the automatic settings produce jpeg files that are beautiful and vibrant… which means less time you have to spend editing and tweaking. They have reliable automatic settings where you can just point and shoot– and voila– Magic!
If you would like to progress– and learn how to use the manual functions to produce RAW images– you have full reign to manipulate the different manual settings. The cameras might be compact– but are incredibly capable. You can get lots of bang for your buck. But keep in mind… lots of bucks are involved here. There are plenty of professional photographers that use these types of cameras as a 2nd and 3rd camera at weddings to provide a quick, unobtrusive option to the mix.
With that said–you’re looking to spend around $1200 for JUST the body and no lens. The lenses can cost anywhere from $200-$900 each.
Level of control– High :: Capabilities– High:: Cost– Moderate:: UserFriendly- Can Vary depending on settings::
Size–bulky :: Versatility– Low :: Probability of use:: Low
If you don’t mind lugging around a larger camera– like a small dslr… you can look into maybe a Nikon D3300 OR a Canon Rebel Xt… or something of the like. You can pick one of these up at Costco or Best Buy for +/-400-$700 and it’ll come with a decent lens. If you go this route– I highly recommend spending a little extra money on nicer lenses. Nicer lenses are really of importance here. Typically– with DSLR cameras– the lenses are what you should be spending your money on. Focus on prime lenses… meaning 50mm or 35mm and/or having a fixed aperture i.e f/1.4, f/2.8, f/4.0 etc. Having a fixed aperture is a game changer because once you start using manual mode… you will have more consistent results. If you get something like a 16mm-300mm zoom lens at f/3.5-5.6… That basically means you have a whole lot of nothing. Keep it simple– less is more when you’re learning. Having less options to zoom in and out– can actually be more beneficial to learning how to take in a whole scene in and tell a story. It will also be much less frustrating because you won’t wonder why all of your settings look WHACK on manual mode. Dark one photo… blown out in another… BLAH! Just know that– with those crazy zoom lenses with variable apertures… the amount of light that comes into your camera will change depending on how much you zoom in and out. If you KNOW you don’t want to learn how to use manual settings… and you’ll likely photograph everything outside with natural light, and on automatic settings… OK– get that zoom lens and call it a day. If you are ambitious, you want to control your settings, and want to really expand what you can do creatively– and not want to hulk-smash your camera at the end of the day… get a fixed aperture lens. They’ll know what you’re talking about when you go into Best Buy or wherever you go.
They don’t come cheap… but let’s say– you’re in it to win it… and you LOVE photography…. when you’re ready to upgrade your camera body or your old one just bites the dust– you don’t have to spend money on new lenses… you can just get a new camera and attach those lenses to that new camera.
Level of control:: Low:: capabilities:: High:: Cost:: Moderate:: UserFriendly– Not at first::
Size– ultra compact :: Versatility– High:: Probability of use:: Moderate
— Saaay you really love taking photos and video while you’re diving or at the beach… Well… it’s a known fact that water and sand will basically chew your camera up… and spit it out. So another options is a GoPro. Alek LOVES his. They’re relatively affordable- You’re looking to spend between $300-$500 depending on what model, capabilities, and accessories you might want. These cameras can produce amazing images and video if you so desire… or both at the same time. It takes a couple of hours to learn how to maneuver through the settings… as there are literally only 2 buttons on these things… but they are incredibly versatile, tiny, and virtually indestructible.
Level of control:: Moderate:: Capabilities:: Moderate:: Cost:: Low:: UserFriendly– YES ::
Size– Ultra Compact :: Versatility– High :: Probability of use:: High
Lastly– I would honestly and wholeheartedly recommend an iphone… over your run of the mill point and shoot camera. Not because I want to keep your camera knowledge base to a minimum so I can continue to run a successful business making money off people who don’t know how to operate a camera… Not at all but maybe. But– because a point and shoot… is really a waste of money with incredible smart phone cameras on the market. Upgrade your iphone and get a life proof case for it. Why? Apple’s iphone camera is known for its incredible image quality. It’s easy. Small. You always have it on you. And you can share images with a click of a button. You can actually blow the images up and print them on a canvas and make photobooks with them if you want. And if you want to make a photo look more vibrant… you can edit within your phone without having to learn new programs, buy new software, and worry about loading everything on to your computer. I recommend Iphones over android/nokia phones for 2 reasons… 1– because I’m an apple evangelist and I truly believe they offer a superior product that is user friendly and 2– because they have an incredible array of reliable photo editing apps. — ALSO– if you had a bigger budget and decide to concede to this option– I go ahead and throw in a lifeproof case. Now you don’t have to worry about smashing your phone into smithereens because you use it all the time to take amazing phones… but also, because you can also use this camera underwater… (up to a certain depth), at the beach… during a rainstorm… you get the point.
So… there you have it. Size. Cost. Capabilities. Make a decision. Stick with it. You’re not reaaaaaaally going to know what suits your lifestyle and creative goals until you start using it and figuring out what you like and don’t like… Set a time frame and re-evaluate… and upgrade/downgrade as you see fit!
I hope I was able to break down the options and help you decide what works best for you!
Stay tuned for the next article– What camera to get when you take the next step and What my opinion is on Nikon vs. Canon.