How to Recommend Cameras to Other People

How to Recommend Cameras to Other People

“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.

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Stephen Ironside's picture

Great point. I've told people their budget is unreasonable for what they want to accomplish plenty of times, but everyone starts somewhere. I usually try to get them a super-budget option and then one that would be more ideal if they could swing the funds.

user-187388's picture

A good article. I have friends who have been interested enough when going on big overseas trips ask me similar questions. Some of them I have given them simple lessons with their existing cameras or recommended new ones to buy.I am staggered that people spend all that money,costly to europe from Australia, and mainly use their iphones. In ideal light for scenic shots the phones are fine. But.......the biggest issue is fill flash.They see a nice scene and want to take a shot with them and friends in the foreground. They usually end up with terrible underexposed faces and mostly washed out backgrounds,Another relative just used her phone and every shot she took came out as a movie. Hopeless to watch until she found a button on the lap top to freeze the movement. Her and her brother could not work out how to turn the movie mode off the whole time they were there.Of course if they want to get a bit more serious they will ask someone like me or yourselves for some pointers. The two guys I did some specific training with before they left had a mixed result.One listened to my advice and used the fill flash correctly. Some beautiful shots of the UK including Scotland.Not everything was perfect but most were better than the average snapper. My other friend bought a new camera and on day 2 of his trek on the Kokoda Trail(google it) he dropped his camera over a cliff into a river and waterfall.Embarrasing! He is not deterred though. He is coming for some more lessons soon.

Terrible article. Wides are not the be all and end all for landscape - you'll want to select details as often as not. And otoh you won't need a fast lens. So they're a good case for a high quality kit zoom - which are quite common with mirrorless systems. Re. travel cameras, if you're going for a small mirrorless than again a kit zoom should be an option - eg the folding Panasonic 12-32. For the obvious reason that they're smaller than a wide range zoom but give more than one focal length.

And worst of all, the article doesn't mention focus speed at all. People often want a small camera that will keep up with running children and don't care about large images, in which case one of the tiny Nikon mirrorless cameras becomes attractive. They're cameras hardly anyone on fstoppers will buy, but they're one of the best options for anyone who wants to shoot their kids and take pictures on holiday - CAF and burst rates are up with sports photography gear and the cameras slide into a pocket. And taking pictures of running children is what most people want to do.

Anonymous's picture

You: "And worst of all, the article doesn't mention focus speed at all."

Article: "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."

Good work.

>>You: "And worst of all, the article doesn't mention focus speed at all."

>>Article: "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."

Yep. The article does NOT mention focus speed. It just says "better AF" which is different - it might mean more accurate or still workable in lower light. And it restricts this to sports. A good article would have said something like "Don't forget focus speed. A lot of people will assume any expensive camera will take great pictures of running kids. Of course we know better - fast AF can be expensive or require compromises you might not normally consider, like -"

(Don't feel too bad: proof-reading is a skill in itself.)

Anyway, once again -

- The first to do when a non-photographer asks you about cameras is to find out if they want to shoot running kids

...And the second thing to do is to find out if a woman is going to use the gear, even if a man is asking. Someone recommended a fullframe body and fast zoom to a female photographer for portrait work yesterday, without thinking to tell her that the combination would mean holding almost 3kg at eyelevel...

Anonymous's picture

What an adorable grasping at straws.

You don't consider AF speed to be one of the components of "better autofocus." LOL

And wait: The first thing you should ask someone is if they want to shoot running kids? That's oddly specific. What if they don't have kids? I hope you don't deal with a lot of pedophiles.

And the next thing you'd ask is if a woman is using it? Also, a little weird (with a tinge of misogynistic presumption).

You don't seem to be all there, friendo.

>> You don't consider AF speed to be one of the components of "better autofocus." LOL

Actually I said that I did. But that doesn't mean that mentioning "better AF" is the same as mentioning AF speed. Let alone providing an adequate discussion of an essential topic.

>> And the next thing you'd ask is if a woman is using it? Also, a little weird (with a tinge of misogynistic presumption).

Women have on average 60% of male upper body strength. This is fact, not misogyny. (And, yes, it is very weird that you have failed to notice that women are smaller on average than men...) If a woman is going to use a camera then options like, say, an A7 with a 18-200 as a travel camera become a lot less attractive - you need to consider weight more and make sure the female user is consulted about system weight. You are in fact being misogynistic by not considering the reasonable needs of women and encouraging them to be considered by others.

(Actually, I know you just meant that as a cheap shot at me - but you really ***are*** being misogynistic by not thinking about this.)

Let me try to dumb this down so you can understand:

Imagine you had a friend, and this friend told me to let you to meet him in NYC. And instead I told you to meet him in "America". Yes, NYC is in America... But I didn't really pass on the message. Communication must be specific enough to useful. "Better AF - for sports!" is not adequate or useful in this context.

Stephen Ironside's picture

I assume that many/most readers on this site (including yourself!) know at least a little bit about photography, so when I say something to the effect of "consider autofocus needs when recommending a camera to someone," I assume they will understand that subset of variables.

But, you know what assuming does.

If you're going to assume people don't need telling the basics, why tell them something as basic as "You need better AF for sports"? Either don't say anything, or say something worthwhile.

Which in this case means, I would suggest, that many people will want fats AF for shooting children and assume that any "expensive" camera will have it - which isn't the case. And I very much doubt that most people here have any ideas which small, reasonably priced cameras do have fast AF.

Another thing this article didn't mention was video - and the related topic of stabilization. And for a wide group of users a camera like a GX85 will jump waaaay up in appeal if they're told it can not only shoot decent video but provide stablization while doing so. Honestly, this article is worse than useless. It doesn't consider the most common use for such cameras - shooting children - or the needs of women, video, or such obviously important topics as the quality of the kit zoom available with each system - something where Fuji and Panasonic score very highly compared to Canon and Nikon. And it doesn't mention fill-flash, which can be a damn good reason why ordinary users should buy a leaf shutter compact like an LX100 instead of a DSLR.

Anonymous's picture

Yeah! This article was so stupid. It didn't mention how you should ask what their kids' lap times are, what their major was in college, or how much their wife can benchpress! Useless.

This was an article describing how to begin the process of recommending a camera for someone (anyone) interested in photography. These were Stephen's three MAIN questions he asks, not all of them. Your overly specific points show your inability to grasp a fairly straightforward concept.

So here's what my first question would be to you: how much of this is you being a sad angry contrarian vs. you being being an unintelligent stubborn blabbermouth?

Anonymous's picture

You could simply ask the person if they would feel comfortable holding a heavy camera for an extended period of time, rather than making assumptions based on gender. That's what a reasonable and intelligent person would do (hint hint).

Oh and please respond to that weird first question you'd ask someone regarding their desire to chase children. I'd love to read your awkward back-peddling of that statement as well.

user-156818's picture

Whoa! Did you just suggest a woman can't handle the weight of a full frame camera with fast zoom? Wow...didn't realize for the past 35 years, I've been using the wrong camera combinations, including the tank of a RB67. My bad for being a weakling woman using heavy gear...

Anonymous's picture

Quick! Someone tell Dorothea Lange she's not strong enough to use that camera! She needs a man to help her!

user-156818's picture

Not only is she a weakling woman, but she contracted polio that left her with a limp. How did she ever make it as a photographer?

Anonymous's picture

Amazing. It's almost like she's just as capable as a man!

Anonymous's picture

Oh no be careful, Diane Arbus! Your poor little girl-bones are going to break under the weight of that Mamiya!

Wasting Time >> Whoa! Did you just suggest a woman can't handle the weight of a full frame camera with fast zoom?

No, but if you have a low literacy level, I can understand you thinking that. What I said was that women were more likely to not WANT to hold a 3.5kg at eye level, as it's the equivalent of a man doing the same with 5kg.

(Btw - no, I don't believe you're a woman. Leaving aside that the silly profile name reeks of Loser Male, any woman who used that camera combination would understand why weight needs discussing - it's almost literally impossible for a woman to be as stupid as you are pretending to be. See eg

Allen Morris >> Dorothea Lange

Lange used a TLR, genius. Firstly, you DON'T HOLD A TLR AT EYE LEVEL. Really. (This may explain why that Rollei didn't shoot well for you when you tried it?)

Secondly, they typically weigh about ONE kilo. Not THREE...

(One thing can be as big as another without weighing the same, Allen. And smart people use google rather than making silly assumptions)

Allen Morris >> Diane Arbus!

Ok, so this time there is a picture showing that you don't hold the camera (which despite being large still weighs a fraction of that DSLR) at eye level and you're still confused..

>> One thing can be as big as another without weighing the same, Allen.

To point out what should have been obvious, Allen, a DSLR is a box literally crammed with electronics, batteries, possibly motors, and heat sinking. A TLR body otoh is almost literally bloody empty - it's a mostly a space that keeps the lens the right distance. A TLR lens is typically 6 or 7 rather thin elements, no focussing motors, and a small shell. Not 17 elements, some of them bloody huge, a whacking great shell plus motors...

Obviously it's annoying to you when people have different opinions to you. Try not to let that stop you thinking rationally and checking facts, yes? Having differing opinions is fine. Not checking facts is not.

Anonymous's picture

Let's talk about checking facts:

1) Lange isn't holding a TLR in this picture. It's a Graflex SLR. They can weigh upwards of 3 kilos.

2) You can (and I have for years) hold TLRs to eye level. Nearly every Rollei WLF comes with a sports finder built in for moments when then waist level angle does not fit your desired composition. So you hold them up to your eye. They also can come with the option to use a prism finder to hold them constantly at eye level.

3) Arbus is using a Mamiya C33 in this photograph (which, just like a Rolleiflex, you can hold to your eye). They weigh 2040g (not including the accessories she is shown using in this photograph). A Nikon D850 weights 1000g. A Nikon 24-70 2.8 weighs 900g. A top-of-the line modern full frame DSLR with a fast zoom weights about 150g less than what Diane Arbus is holding in this picture.

Now let's talk about differences of opinion. Go back to the Buzludzha monument article and read the two separate conversations I had with other posters where we differed in opinion. They both ended cordially, with both sides recognizing each other's views.

I don't have a problem with different opinions. I have a problem with pompous, ignorant trolls like you who talk out of their ass on topics they objectionably have no knowledge of, and who–when presented with facts that contradict their stupid opinions–are too cowardly to admit they are wrong. So quit being such a goddamn jackass.

And for good measure, here are two images of women holding heavy cameras to their eye:

user-156818's picture

Exactly! And my RB is the same as those other cameras you've mentioned with having different accessories. I happen to have a prism finder for it so I am holding it to eye level...and that prism finder adds a lot of extra weight, too. :)

>> I happen to have a prism finder for it so I am holding it to eye level...

Yes. But again, this is not a smart argument. Because Abus and Lange didn't shoot that way, and because a TLR does NOT weight 3.5kg

>> And for good measure, here are two images of women holding heavy cameras to their eye:

Yes, but again that is not a smart argument. I didn't say that women could never hold heavy cameras to eye level, but (for something like the third time) that it is an extra issue that needs seriously considering.

(Also the way the WAC is standing is going to seriously damage her spine, and the second shot looks like someone modelling a camera for a shoot not using it - the viewfinder isn't on her eye, people don't grin like that wihile shooting, and her grip on the camera looks rather unfamiliar)

And, no, I didn't say that woman never use a profile name as stupid as yours. But combined with everything else about your post - Nope, you're a guy. The odds against a woman not understanding holding a 3.5kg camera at eye level being problematic for a lot of women are much too long. You really need to be both of dim-witted and male.

Anonymous's picture

RB67 is a wonderful system. Ironically, I personally couldn't handle the weight; and I'm a big hulking man with man-hands! Although according to our resident troll, so are you.

Happy shooting!

AM >> 1) Lange isn't holding a TLR in this picture. It's a Graflex SLR. They can weigh upwards of 3 kilos.

My bad - you've said so many stupid things it gets rather wearisome. Once again - so what?

- It's a camera that you generally don't hold to your eye. Holding 3kg at waist level and at eye level are very different things ergonomically. Your own body sense (let's forget about common sense at this point...) should tell you this. (Actually let's try common sense for the sake of it. You're carrying a heavy bag of shopping home. Do you carry it with your arm relaxed and your hand lowered or raise it to eye height???)

- Again, you can't disprove the argument that women need to be warned about possible ergonomic problems shooting with heavy gear by pointing out examples where women did use such a camera. Yes, it would disprove the claim that women NEVER shot with such a camera - but that's a very different claim. What you are doing is logically identical to trying to prove that no one in New York died of a gun shot wound ever by citing an example where someone survived living in the city without being shot. Stupid is actually too weak a word for such appalling mis-cognition.

...It also, for extra idiot points, ignores the possibility that women who shot with such gear did suffer such problems - in fact they're very common among female wedding shooters! Again, that doesn't mean that women shouldn't use such gear - just that they should be warned of potential problems so they can research them and decide for themselves.

Anonymous's picture

You're the troll who brought all this up, so you don't get to yet again awkwardly back-peddle on a comment or say "so what" to a stupid post you've made. That reeks of being a cowardly man-child.

Fact is you're constantly proving yourself to be a sad, angry, person wholly ignorant of what they speak about.

I'd say quit while you're ahead but you always been behind. Try to learn about something before you post on it in a public forum, fool.

>> You're the troll who brought all this up

Allen - People are trolls just because you disagree with them. Take some Grow Up Pills, please.

>> so you don't get to yet again awkwardly back-peddle on a comment

I haven't back-pedalled (correct spelling, Allen..) at all. I acknowledged a minor mistake and explained why it didn't benefit your argument. Ie that when the point is that holding a 3.5kg camera at eye level is likely to be awkward showing that one woman once held a 3.5kg camera at waist level is irrelevant. It doesn't even matter that if a woman held a 3.5kg at eye level - it doesn't prove that women on average are more likely to suffer injury from holding that amount of mass in that position, so it is an issue that a non-idiot will consider.

To give an idea of how strange your argument is, try reading this -

Basically, the amount of weight you can safely carry is a function of your healthy weight. Even for camera bag weight, you should be trying to keep the load to 10% of healthy body mass or less. Women have lower body mass than men, Allen. And the amount you should hold for long periods at eye level is less than you should carry on your back, Allen...

So again: when recommending gear to women, remember that women have on average 60% of male upper body strength. Which means that the same piece of gear weighs almost twice as much in functional terms. So don't assume that because a piece of gear isn't a problem for you that it won't be for a woman - for heavy gear, mention the weight and possible problems.

I don't see how any responsible grown-up could have a problem with this. ???

..I have no idea why are behaving this way, but I'm not going to label you a troll - I'm sure that you are doing your best and any problems with your argument are the result of genuine limitations you can't overcome.

Anonymous's picture

The Grown-Up pill thing is cute, but it's getting old and doesn't help your argument.

Thanks for correcting my spelling, I misspelled "back-pedalled" See: that how people should act when they are corrected.

And you didn't make a minor mistake, you showed a complete lack of understanding of camera systems you pretended to know about, with multiple inaccuracies and misstatements (my personal favorite was your "you DON'T HOLD A TLR AT EYE LEVEL" emphatic response. That was impressively bullheaded).

We're down in the muck, buddy. There's no high-road by not labeling me a troll with the other nasty negative things you've said to me and others. I told you why I'm behaving this way: see my earlier post.

And yet again, the problem isn't putting weight into the mix when considering a camera system, it's the unnecessarily blanket statements that women need to consider it more than men. Over-generalizations like that speak to an inability to recognize variations. Of course some women will have an issue with heavy cameras. As, however, will some men. So the distinction in this context is presumptuous and not helpful without further examination.

You don't just ask if a woman is going to use the camera, (as per your original comment "And the second thing to do is to find out if a woman is going to use the gear, even if a man is asking") you ask about how strong the user is, and how much weight they would feel comfortable carrying.

It's fine–in fact it's a very helpful proposition–to add that weight should be a consideration here. Your prickly, pompous manner is why I and others react negatively to your posts. Now, you can go ahead and say you don't care, or to grow up, etc. etc. but you don't get to act like a dick and then be surprised and defensive when people call you out on it.

Re-evaluate the way you interact with others.

>> The Grown-Up pill thing is cute, but it's getting old

I imagine you hear it a lot, yes. Try to debating on facts instead of calling people dicks and trolls and you'll hear it less.

>> Of course some women will have an issue with heavy cameras.

So why didn't you admit this?

>> As, however, will some men. So the distinction in this context is pointless.

Nope, this is stupid. The distinction is only "pointless" if the overlap between male and female body strength is quite large. If just "some women" meaning, say, 1%, are as strong as average men, then that is practically irrelevant. Obviously (to anyone except a moral coward trying to save face) it is the average that matters.

So let's look at facts rather than hiding behind cowardly generalities: -

FEMALE UPPER BODY STRENGTH IS 40% LESS THAN MALE UPPER BODY STRENGTH - for the same healthy body weight! So a camera that will be fine for virtually all men between 15 and 60 can actually be deeply problematic for most women.

To give a worked example of how stupid you are being, we can average out healthy body weight at around 150 and 110lbs for male and female. But upper body strength ratios get applied like this: 150 X 1 => 150, 110 x 0.6 => 66. That's such a profound difference that the two groups don't really have overlapping gaussians.

To quote one study: "Less expected was the gender related distribution of hand-grip strength: 90% of females produced less force than 95% of males. Though female athletes were significantly stronger (444 N) than their untrained female counterparts, this value corresponded to only the 25th percentile of the male subjects". (You can easily google that quote to check the study.)

I.e. even an exceptionally athletic woman would still have the same ergonomic problems (and associated exceptionally high risk of injury) as an abnormally unfit man. And an average woman is so different ergonomically that you can only compare her to a male who would be in need of medical treatment.

Or to dumb this down to the lowest level - which I think is needed for you - you always have to ask if a woman is going to use the gear you are being asked about (what with wives and girlfriends sharing cameras, yes?) and if they are, then you ALWAYS have to consider weight in the way weight in the same way that you would only in the most abnormal cases - eg a male who was recovering from an injury.

If you don't do this - and I started with an example from just a couple of days ago where people didn't - then you are pushing someone into blindly embracing a serious risk to their health.

So, again, you are being a bit of a thicky. (As well as rude and childish.)

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