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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72 Comments

Previous comments
Anonymous's picture

Look in the mirror on your first point.

Second, I don't take issue with the facts you've presented, but for the final time (as the writing column and my patience are both thin) it's your pompous presumption and delivery method to ask if a woman is using the camera, rather than to simply asking about the strength of the user that's the problem. There are many other factors (age, as you mentioned, also being one of them) that would affect a user's comfort with a system.

Again, it's presumptuous. Although your social skills do seem a little off, so I can understand why you wouldn't see that.

>> Again, it's presumptuous.

No, it's presumptious to assume that women have significantly less upper body strength than men. It's what science says and what every bloody ergonomic textbook tells you that you have to take into account.

What is presumptious and horrible is not considering the different physiological needs of women users at all and then trying, hypocritically, to pass it off as a form of equality.

Because if you really expected to protect women by enquiring about the strength of the likely user, then the article would have contained a reminder to do that! It didn't. It just assumed everyone using a camera would be a man.

Anonymous's picture

Jesus you're still posting about this? Move on already.

I guess I'm just used to strong Eastern European women. Know any single Bulgarians? :P

Anonymous's picture

And since you decided to add more to your post after I responded, I'll address the extra material:

Weight is a consideration for all photographers. Your pointless desire to single out women on this is the problem. Women should consider the weight of a camera, as should men. Pretty simple.

And this should give even the slow class some idea why gear weight needs considering for women:

>>>>
https://www.photo.net/discuss/threads/holding-heavy-camera-taking-its-to...

So I'm now shooting almost every weekend, and am noticing that the weight of shooting with my 24-70L and the 580EX flash is starting to take a toll on my right hand (particularly my middle finger). I'm trying to do a better job of supporting the camera with my left hand, and did one outdoor event recently using my monopod all day trying to take some of the load off, but that didn't really seem to do the trick. Are there any wrist/finger braces you use, or maybe taping techniques or additional equipment you use or means of holding the camera that take the load off? Any suggestions are much appreciated. I'm only 29 and don't want to be giving myself a lifetime of arthritis in my hands if there is some easy solution to this problem that isn't, stop being a photographer.
<<<

...If you tell a woman to buy shoot a full-frame body and fast zoom without at least mentioning the weight - not to mention that the gear might not fit her hands well - you are simply not being responsible. An honestly, an article that excludes any consideration of the needs of half the human race is deeply problematic.

>> it's your pompous presumption and delivery method to ask if a woman is using the camera, rather than to simply asking about the strength of the user

This is, again, stupid. Once again -

- If a man is asking you about a camera for his own use and weak enough so that he's in the strength range of an average female user, he will tell you - because he'll have a fairly severe medical condition

- If you just ask about "strength of the user" and a man is asking about a camera to use with his partner, there's a good chance that he won't know how significant the strength difference between make and female users is when it comes to holding objects at eye level. After all, ***you*** don't.

And not only only that, I started this by saying that a group of men on this forum had just made recommendations to a female user without considering likely strength differences - including the use of a full frame body and f2.8 70-200mm! So again, yes, people like you - who either assume photographers are exclusively male or don't consider the likely implications of being female - need reminding to do this.

Dumbing this down to the very minimum -

- If you tell a guy to buy a 3.5kg camera that needs holding at eye level for long periods, he almost certainly won't have real medical problems

- If you tell a woman to do this, then the odds are VERY high that she will have a medical problem or have to sell the camera.

Anonymous's picture

Look man, it's clear you're not gonna to change your mind and neither am I. So best to just end this dumb exchange.

BTW you use *** rather frequently in your posts. Did you know that's called a "dinkus?"

I think "dinkus" suits you well!

user-156818's picture

Haha! So now you are saying that women don't use pithy pseudonyms online.

As for the rest of your comments, I won't reply. When someone resorts to insults, they aren't worth my time. Respectful debate is a good thing, insulting comments are not. Nowhere in my reply did I resort to calling you unintelligent, "stupid", "pretending", or lying about gender. Yet, that is exactly where you went with your reply.

Stephen Ironside's picture

David -- First of all, of course I know that wide-angle lenses aren't the only thing for landscape photography. Many of my best landscape shots are shot at 50mm or longer. But for a beginner doing landscapes, a wide-angle is a great place to start and probably what they're interested in in the first place. And I mention that oftentimes I just recommend a kit lens (if it's a good one). All I'm saying is to get a feel for the person, what their motivations and needs are, and what they want to shoot, and then recommend a starting point.

And fast autofocus is most definitely included in "better." Speed, not just accuracy, counts. I figured that was a given. Sometime's it's difficult for people to read between the lines, I guess.

And I know a freaking plethora of women who hold full-frame bodies and correspondingly larger lenses with no problem. There's no place that sexism here.

Basically, what Allen said.

Anonymous's picture

Yeah, what I said!

user-156818's picture

Good starting point to help with recommendations. I also tell anyone who asks to go to the local camera store (if there isn't one, then the local box electronics store :) ) and hold the cameras, use the switches, buttons and dials, and determine which one feels most natural. The reality is, all of the camera makers are one upping each other with each release they come out with. All the cameras are of good quality and no one can go wrong with whatever they choose.

Stephen Ironside's picture

Great point, and one that I forgot about and should have mentioned. I also routinely tell people to go hold the cameras and see what feels best in their hands. It's a critical factor!