The Best Camera for a Beginner Photographer

The Best Camera for a Beginner Photographer

Today, I’d like to have a brief word with all the newbie photographers out there.

A few mornings ago, I found myself wasting time. It’s not something I’m proud of. I’m one of those “why have fun when you could be working” kind of people, so I generally try to keep my leisure to a minimum. But my mind does tend to wander from time to time, and it’s not unusual for it to wander its way right to YouTube, B&H, or some other platform where I can indulge in a bit of a window-shopping diversion before returning to my actual job, which is to make money using a camera rather than spend money purchasing one.

While I was browsing, YouTube’s sadistic tendency to suggest videos I might like caused it to place in front of me an option for a video that promised to show me the best camera for a photographer just starting out. I think that was the title. There are lots of such videos on the platform, and I don’t remember for sure. In fact, this was one of those times where the flirtation with slacking off was enough and I was, in fact, able to return my attention to work without ever actually bothering to burn the five minutes to even watch the video in question.

Yet still, I found the question interesting. First, because I have a proclivity to enjoy questions without any correct answer. The perfect camera means different things to different people, so really, any answer the video might have given would be both right and wrong at the same time depending on who was watching. But what I found more intriguing was the rapid pace of my own response upon reading the headline. I’d hardly finished reading the question before my mind blurted out that the perfect camera for a beginning photographer would be a used Fuji X-T2.

Now, I don’t mean this article to be a defense of that suggestion or a side-by-side comparison with other camera brands. If you read the prior paragraph, you’ll already know my feelings on whether any camera at all can be definitively labeled the best in a one-size-fits-all scenario. My selection of the Fuji X-T2 is no doubt informed by the fact that I used to own one myself, and despite having to sell it a few years back to raise money for a project, I have warm memories of that camera similar to an old man remembering his lost love from summer camp in 1972. To this day, whenever someone starting out asks me what camera they should buy, I put in a plug for a used X-T2. But what makes me so quick to suggest that camera to those starting out has less to do with that exact model and more to do with the user. So, let me explain.

First, I should define what I mean by “beginner” photographer. For the purposes of this article, I am going to be referring to a photographer literally just starting out. They are interested in photography and have decided to buy their first camera. They aren’t a professional photographer. At this point, they don’t even know if they have any interest in being a professional photographer. They just have seen a lot of cool photographs and want to see what this photography thing is all about. This is purely a potential new hobby for fun with no expectations other than exploring creativity. This is where every photographer starts out.

With that in mind, I’ll start with the first reason why I suggest buying a used Fuji X-T2. At around the $500 - $650 range, it won’t break the bank. Unless photography is your profession or you happen to have a great deal of disposable income, it's good to keep gear spending in moderation. Take it from a seasoned overspender: buying new photo gear can get out of control quickly. And since you're just starting out, I'm going to assume that you still want to have money left over to spend on other things. Like food, for example. 

That low price range is, of course, based on buying used versus new. I am a big fan of buying used. While I’m sure it is still possible to find a new version somewhere, why spend more money than you have to until you are sure that this is a hobby you are going to stick with? My annual garage sale is a veritable diary of bad purchases that I spent way too much money on convinced I was making a life-changing investment. Sure, I wanted to learn to play the guitar. But did I really need to buy the most expensive Gibson? Any old thing with strings would have sufficed for the two weeks it took me to learn that, despite my tendency to wail, I am no Bob Dylan.

The same goes for cameras. If you’ve watched or read any amount of camera-related content online, you’d be excused for thinking that taking a photograph absolutely requires all the latest and greatest technology and that, if you dare shoot with a camera without said technology, you can never really be considered a photographer. In actuality, the essential things needed to take a photograph, some tools to control aperture, shutter speed, and film speed/ISO, haven’t really changed since the beginning of the art form. Sure, if it turns out that you are destined to be the next Diane Arbus, you may eventually find yourself needing a camera with better specs. But at this point, let’s not overcomplicate the process.

This brings me to point number two. While many a non-Fuji user will write off the physical dials atop the X series cameras as pure hipster nostalgia, the fact of the matter is that they serve a purpose beyond simply making the camera look cool. For an experienced photographer, the physical dials lend a more tactile approach to picture taking. It really connects you to your settings and forces you to think about how you are approaching your subject. As a photographer who needs to work quickly and efficiently all the time, one of the reasons I enjoyed the X-T2 was because it allowed me to slow down when doing personal work and really think about the things that I might simply do instinctively with other cameras. While slowing down might not always be a realistic option when I’m on a professional set, for a beginner without a client looking over your shoulder, there is no better time to slow down than the present. Part of falling in love with photography is the joy of learning about photography. At this point, you, as a beginner, are likely finding yourself somewhat overwhelmed by all the technical knowledge required to get the image you want. You probably figured that photographers just showed up, pushed a button, and out came genius. You’re just now learning about things like lighting, depth of field, and lens choice.  

Have no fears, it’s really not that complicated once you get the hang of it. But right now, you need all the help you can get to truly understand how your camera works. That knowledge will improve your pictures right now. But, more importantly, really understanding what’s happening beneath your camera’s hood will form the foundation you will need to carry you through your photographic journey. Those tactile dials are a great way to get real demonstrable feedback on what happens when you adjust certain settings. Sure, you can adjust settings with almost any camera. But having to go through the process of physically turning each dial is a great way to drive home the basics.

Now, at this point in the article, you’ve read all this talk about basics and cost savings and are probably wondering when you get to play with all the cool features you see on the new cameras in the YouTube videos. Well, here’s the thing. Sure, you can spend several thousand dollars to get the latest and greatest. And, yes, objectively speaking there are better cameras than the X-T2 currently on the market.  Even Fuji is up to the X-T4 at this point. But, if you’ll allow me to look into my crystal ball here for a moment, I can predict with 100% accuracy that one day, several years from now, after you’ve fallen in love with photography and found a bit of success in the field, you too will come to the realization that, when it comes to art, it’s not the tools that matter. It’s the artist.

Sure, there may come a time when you need a 100-megapixel camera. Sure, there may come a time when anything short of the full frame simply won’t do. You may eventually find yourself in a situation where shooting 30 fps seems slow for your needs. You might come to feel as though any camera without face and eye detection will negatively impact your workflow. But, right now, as you are just entering the craft, your only job is to connect with your creativity. Your job is to explore as many types of photography as possible and find out what fits. If it turns out that you are an amazing sports photographer and need to eventually invest new car money into a lens that’s bigger than your sofa, then so be it. But at this very moment, your time and your money are best spent by building your knowledge and experience prior to building your gear collection.

I always suggest a used X-T2, but, in actuality, there are one million and one cameras that might be the appropriate response to what is the best camera for a beginner. Just off the top of my head, a used Nikon D750 ain’t such a bad choice either. The point is not that you have to buy a specific camera model. The point is that you should buy the camera model that will give you the best value at this point in your career. Whether that be a top-of-the-line workhorse or a pawn shop reject with a missing card door and a dented frame, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to make great art. Just find what works for your budget, find the time to learn how to use it, and possibly, quite possibly, find a new passion.

Christopher Malcolm's picture

Christopher Malcolm is a Los Angeles-based lifestyle, fitness, and advertising photographer, director, and cinematographer shooting for clients such as Nike, lululemon, ASICS, and Verizon.

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x-t2 is a marvelous camera and i still use it as a backup. I shoot with x-t3 still, but the sensor isn'y any better. 600 for a used x-t2 body on eBay (or less) and a new 35mm f/2 fujinon (nifty 50 equiv) is $200. Thats damn near close to a pro set up for $800

I don’t have the x-t2. Instead, I have it’s smaller brother, the x-t20. The x-t20 has the same guts as the x-t2 but does not have weather sealing or an ISO dial on top. Otherwise, it’s a great camera and super fun and simple to use. The color renditioning is fantastic. I would recommend it’s use to any newbie. See how it feels and then, if you like outdoor photography in inclement weather, pick up a used x-t2.

Buy a smartphone with a good camera is my answer to any of my friends asking me this question. You can shoot raw, you can get lenses, filters, tripod mount... If you really want to try to see what is photography all about and how to create images you see online this is tge best you can do. Start with composition first, learn exposure triangle and practice... Train your eye. Edit photos on your phone, first to get the taste of it. If you still love all the tech and stuff after some time, get a camera. If you dont like it after a while you'll still own a great smartphone

Fuji has been around like forever, my first was the Film days Canon Ftb in the 70's to the 2000's for Navy liberty time, then digital 2006 Vivitar 8300 for a trip to Hawaii, then 2009 Canon T2i when the wife wanted to do some Caribbean Cruises but after Canon left it behind I went Sony A7s 2014 and more later. The point is I still have all and use all. My beginnings was when a 19 year veteran First Class asked if I wanted to remember my time and places in the Navy, after my first time in Naples on shore patrol watching drunks and then a MWR tour on my first liberty day in Rome a $10 tour w/meals, Camera/3 lenses $150 (a steak dinner w/bottle wine $5 [1975]). When you first pick up a camera you start to see things differently for you can take pictures or photos. There are many pictures on cellphone's but few photos! A photo is something you just see and want to capture. Pictures are like old slides of places that people fall asleep or yawn through! Not everything you capture will be a photo, but a photo will inspire for more. Also most pictures can be made into a photos.
The point here is yes a camera of any type or maker can capture but what a new person TODAY has is a computer and software that will make a photo out of a picture like a darkroom of old. Before PS/Lr (was $800 and every update too!) cost was like a new camera even today and makers of cameras had their own software. I started with software less than $100 but Sony started with ON1 for $30 for users. I have many years behind a camera and my suggestions:
Everyone today has a cellphone with a camera and if you capture photos and people think your eye is good then go to a Goodwill or even Flea market the best places are Estate Sales, play with some, a maker really does not matter at first.
What will happen is no matter the weight you will have it near, I carried my Ftb and lenses all over Europe/Africa/Middle East in a backpack. On your way to work or on a weekend off you will get up early to capture a sunrise someplace or after dinner you will go capture a sunset. Captured Aurora Borealis with aircraft flying in it with Ftb on USS JFK flight deck. Example when I found out my A7S was great for astro Milky Ways I was up with no alarm at 4am in February and out all night in June and July after my first capture during a June evening with noseeums. What you will start doing is thinking and dreaming of places and things with great lighting. And maybe you will find some income to pay for more gear that is newer but the joy of the capture will drive you. Dream, Plan and Know your gear - Just remember ever shot is an experiment!
The third photo is of oil leaking from the USS Arizona using the Vivatar 2006, can you see the faces I saw? The 4th T2i bracketed shot with the Promote Control, 7 images +/- 1ev processed in Photomatix Pro, planed with The Photographer's Ephemeris 2014

The xt-2 is a great choice, I just think that full frame is more versatile, especially in terms of focal length, so I usually recommend a brand that has a full frame camera line to move to.

Suggesting a beginner goes full body when there are excellent compact cameras that can shot RAW, be programmable is already going to put the stoppers on any number of photographers who will find they don't own the right lens, or haven't got it fitted.

I use a Lumix TZ90 even though I have a Canon with a full set of lenses and a GH3 also with lenses for reasons irrelevant here.

The TZ90 goes everywhere. It's fundamental limitation is sensor noise - everything else it does well enough - lens distortion is contained to the extent I never an conscious of it for my purposes. It has a massive zoom range so I've always got the right lens in seconds. It can point and shoot, but it can be programmed to start experimenting with cleverer shots.

The biggest upgrade that has made the biggest difference is moving from Photoshop Elements to Lightroom. I'd discovered the satisfaction of working with RAW but I hadn't really grasped how poor Elements was until their last upgrade downgraded the cut down RAW processor to being unusable. I looked a couple of alternatives but then bit the bullet and I've found the rapid ability to work thorough my glorified snaps was worth it. I have my own profile that gives my basic starting point (boosted contrast and significant sharpening and noise reduction that gives a balance to resolve the sensor limitation), but mainly it's the graduated filter that I find is the landscape rescuer in many shots. Even though I use about 10% of the features, getting hours of time back is a wonder.

So I'd say beginner camera the key is usability. Secondly, with digital photography, the processing is an important element of learning photography and the only way that it will be worthwhile is with RAW. You can learn nearly all technique with the above and you don't have to unlearn anything. Go full body, the initial barrier to getting results is quite high, especially as a beginner may not have settled on what their photography thing is.

So light, wide zoom range, RAW shooting camera, with Lightroom (shame about the cost) is probably the best way to genuinely begin photography.

The XT2 is a good choice.

XT-2 is great. it takes awesome photos and you can even do 120 fps 1080p video if you get the latest firmware upgrade although it's a bit convoluted to set it up in camera. My primary beef with the XT-2 is it's GARBAGE battery life. You have to seriously power manage that camera or battery will only last you about an hour of light use. Way less if you are using it heavily. If it wasn't for that absolute trash battery life i would recommend it as a beginner camera because for it's current price and the time it came out and the features it offers it is an almost perfect camera.

That is true. The battery life definitely leave something to be desired.

"Fuji X-T2"

That's an APC camera if memory serves (correct me if I'm wrong). You can get a full frame camera for around $500 on eBay (Canon 5D2). If someone is going to be doing a lot of video, yeah, definitely look at the mirrorless Fuji. But someone just starting out, at the absolute beginning of their photography hobby likely won't need to do video.

I started out back in April of 2020 and my first camera was a Canon SL3 (APC). I very much regretted the purchase and ended up selling it a few months later to get a 5D2. I'm absolutely in love with this camera. The lens selection is phenomenal, it's weather sealed and you can unlock/add tons of new features with Magic Lantern.

Good suggestion