“What kind of camera should I get?” is probably one of the questions I get asked the most often. So, I’ve become pretty quick at coming up with recommendations, and I figured it might be nice to share how I come up with them.
When someone asks me for a camera recommendation, chances are they are someone who either wants to “get into photography,” “take nice pictures,” or “have a good camera for traveling.” Most of the people who ask me for help fall into one of those categories. But the questions I ask them before coming up with a recommendation are usually the same. They all get at the root of where they see photography taking them in the future.
Here are the three main questions I ask when I’m trying to come up with a solution for someone interested in photography.
1) What Do You Want to Shoot?
Before I can recommend a camera to someone, I always ask this question first. It’s the biggest factor in determining a lot of camera variables, from the focal lengths of the lenses to the frames-per-second the camera can shoot. It’s, in my mind, the most important question to ask.
For someone who says they’re interested in landscapes, I just recommend a wide-angle lens. For someone who says, more generically, “nature stuff,” I might recommend a wide-angle lens and a telephoto lens with a macro function. For those interested in portraits, I’d recommend a cheap 35mm, 50mm, and/or 85mm prime lens. You get the idea. Those who are interested in shooting sports will need a camera that has better autofocus and a faster frames-per-second than someone shooting portraits.
If they say they just want something for traveling, I lean towards smaller options such as mirrorless cameras or sometimes even a point and shoot. For a lens, I’d recommend either a small prime or something with a wide zoom range, like an 18-200mm.
If you get a feel for what they want to be able to take photos of, you'll be better able to recommend a suitable setup for them. Of course, all of these things depend greatly on the next question, which is,
2) What’s Your Budget?
For some reason, people seem surprised when I ask this question, sometimes more often than when I ask the first question. I’m not sure if they just don’t want to share how much they can/will spend on camera equipment, or if they think all of the cameras are generally the same price, or what, but it’s an important question to ask.
I’ve never had anyone who asks me for a camera recommendation give me a budget of over $1,500. Therefore, I’ve never recommended a large DSLR to anyone. If only they knew that just one of my camera bodies was $7,000 new…they might just back away very, very slowly.
These days, most people are giving me a budget in the $500-800 range. While this is tricky, it can also be kind of fun to learn about what smaller consumer-oriented cameras are out there. I view this whole process as a way to keep up to date on the camera market and sometimes find interesting things that are out there that I wouldn’t have heard about if I hadn’t been looking.
3) Are You the Type of Person Who Would Read the Manual?
This question really throws people off. When people ask me for photography or camera help, usually my first response is to ask them if they’ve read the camera’s manual. Usually, most of their questions can be answered by looking in the manual, and they can pick up other tips along the way.
If the person tells me they would read the manual for this new camera, I feel more comfortable recommending a more complicated camera to them. If they say they probably wouldn't, then I’d lean more towards a point and shoot or something more simplistic. The last thing I want is people coming to me asking how to change the shutter speed on their camera. If they're going to need to leave the camera on auto and have no desire to get more complicated, that's something I need to know up front.
After I’ve gotten those answers, I generally just start an Amazon wish list for them, which is an easy way to throw some things in a “cart” and send it over for a recommendation, telling them that they may find a better price elsewhere, such as B&H or another photography-centric dealer.
Next, I start searching for lists such as “Top 10 Mirrorless Cameras of 2018” or “Best DSLRS under $1000.” These lists are a great starting point to see what’s out on the market for lower-budget options, and a quick way to get an overview of what might work for them. Once I find a decent camera body, if it’s one that takes interchangeable lenses, I start looking into those. Oftentimes, finding a camera with a decent-sounding kit-lens is all I need, especially if it's for someone who just says they want to, in general, have a "nicer camera" to "take better photos." But sometimes, depending on what the person wants to shoot and their budget, I find lenses that fit their needs a little better.
Don’t forget to throw in an extra battery, a memory card recommendation, and always a couple of cleaning items such as a LensPen or rocket blower. Maybe even a book on how to use that particular camera, if one exists. If I’m feeling nice, I might look into a bag that would fit it all, too. And remember, they might need a way to edit the photos. Depending on their comfort level with computers, I might recommend a monthly Photoshop/Lightroom CC subscription, or just recommend they use the Photos application on their Mac, etc.
But Why Go to All This Trouble?
Obviously, giving someone a detailed recommendation like this takes some time and effort, but everyone I’ve done it for has always been extremely appreciative. Little things like this can leave a good taste in someone’s mouth when they have the opportunity to recommend your business to someone, and who knows — they might come to you and pay for some photography lessons in the future, which is a great way to fill in some slow-times during the weekdays if you don’t have any shoots scheduled or editing to do. I’ve even booked sessions from people who got the cameras I recommended but then wanted me to do some portraits of their families.
You never know where a little extra boost of customer service, even for non-paying customers, will get you, and it’s a great way to stay up to date on the market. Going the extra mile for people you barely know is the quickest way to make friends, promote your business, and to be a nice person.
Lead image by Sam Walker.