20 Things to Consider Before You Buy a Camera Whether You Are a Landscape or Wildlife Photographer

20 Things to Consider Before You Buy a Camera Whether You Are a Landscape or Wildlife Photographer

It’s daunting buying a new camera. Some cameras have features that others don’t, and they are often things that photographers only realize they haven’t got after they have spent their money. Here are some features to consider when deciding what camera to buy.

Some of these features may be important for your photography, while others are surplus to your requirements. For example, shooting 120 frames per second (fps) will appeal more to wildlife than landscape photographers. Either way, choosing cameras with the functions you need will help you keep your camera for many years.

Subject Detection

AI-driven subject detection has revolutionized autofocus, making the hit rate far higher than previously possible. If photographing birds is something you want to do, you are going to be disadvantaged if the camera does not have that facility.

Typical subject detection possibilities include people (useful for weddings, events, and sports), birds, animals, planes, trains, and motorsports.

Custom Modes

Most experienced photographers will head out to shoot one subject at a time. They will fit the appropriate lens and change the camera’s settings before they head out. Many other photographers will jump between different genres of photography. One moment you may photograph landscapes, the next birds, and soon after portraits.

It takes time to change from the settings suitable for one subject to another. Furthermore, it’s easy to get it wrong and forget you are on single autofocus when the yellow-bellied sapsucker flies overhead. Then, moments later, baby Jamie starts to smile for the first time, and you miss the focus because the camera is looking for birds and not human faces.

Programming the custom modes ahead means you can change the settings with a single click of the mode dial. In a fraction of a second, your camera has changed from being perfectly set for that glorious sunrise to photographing the shorebirds that fly overhead.

The Sony a1 has custom modes on the dial as well as programmable function buttons.

Programmable Function Buttons

Similarly, most good cameras have buttons you can program to perform different functions that save you hunting through the menus.

In-Body Image Stabilisation  (IBIS)

IBIS was first introduced in Panasonic camcorders way back in 1988. Although lens stabilization became the norm, IBIS led the way with the amount of stabilization possible. Top-quality cameras and lenses allow both systems to be employed simultaneously, reaching up to 8 or 8.5 steps on some models. That means if you could previously handhold a lens at 1/250 seconds, you possibly could manage handholding a second-long exposure in low light.

I’ve handheld wide angle shots and avoided camera shake with shutter speeds as long as five seconds, thanks to IBIS.

The OM System OM-1 Mark II has a 5-axis sensor shift IBIS that, partnered with the right lens, gives up to 8.5 steps of image stabilization.

Build Quality

Despite the occasional disadvantage of a rolling shutter, electronic shutters are becoming the norm for many photographers, so mechanical shutter life is becoming less of an issue. Nevertheless, when that figure is published, it is a good indication of the camera's build quality. 200,000 actuations should be considered the bare minimum.

I would never recommend buying a camera without discovering whether it feels well-built and can withstand the occasional knock, fall, or drenching. Are you likely to use your camera at the beach where airborne sand and salt water can ruin cameras and lenses? If so, consider a camera with weather sealing. But beware. Most camera companies claim weather sealing on some cameras without giving any empirical definition. Ingress Protection (IP) ratings are a real measure, but sadly only one company dares to include the rating for their gear.

Watch the following excellent video from four years ago by Imaging Resource explaining the level of testing an IP53-rated camera goes through.


There’s another reason for picking up a camera and feeling it. You can find out whether it feels well made, if it’s comfortable to hold, not too heavy to carry around all day, and if your fingers reach the buttons. Years ago, I had my heart set on a camera and was all set to buy it until I picked it up.

I wanted one of these now classic cameras, but it didn't fit my big hands comfortably, and I couldn't easily reach the buttons.

Frames Per Second and Maximum Exposure Times

Different genres of photography require different shutter speeds. Therefore, if you are pursuing a subject that requires a 1/8000 second shutter speed or using an ND1000 filter and taking 60-second exposures, then you want a camera that can access those in manual and semi-automated modes. You may also like more than 20 frames per second with continuous autofocus to help you capture the action. If you are an avid bird photographer, then you may want more than that.

Sequential Count Restrictor

For action photos, it’s too easy to fill up a memory card with huge sequences of images. A useful feature is restricting the number of frames when pressing the shutter button. I find this particularly useful for group shots as I can also reduce the frames per second and fire off six frames over a second. In at least one of those shots, everyone’s eyes will be open.

Buffering Images Before You Fully Press the Shutter

Human reaction time slows between 2–6 milliseconds per decade of age. Even in my youth, it was difficult to press the shutter release button at exactly the right moment when a small bird took to the wing. Having the feature that buffers the images when your finger is half-pressed on the shutter button takes away the reaction time as it records the buffered images. This is not so vital for landscapes or still life photography, but for moving subjects, it will help you get the shots you previously always missed.

An image captured where the action happened before I pressed the shutter button.

A Large, Clear Viewfinder

A few years ago, only the top-grade cameras had large, bright viewfinders. Many of the low and mid-range cameras were difficult to use for manual focusing and composing. Furthermore, what you saw through the viewfinder didn’t necessarily correspond with the photograph the camera took. One of my clients had a popular entry-level camera and when she tried to apply the rule of thirds, the horizon appeared in the middle of the picture.

Most models now have better viewfinders than a few years back, but some entry-level cameras still lack this essential feature. There are mirrorless cameras out there with low-resolution, tiny viewfinders. A 0.6x magnification and a 2.4-million dot resolution are inadequate. Moreover, the second-hand camera market is buoyant and those older models with poor-quality viewfinders should be avoided.

Focus Limiter

It’s frustrating missing a shot because your camera is too slow to find the subject. Having a focus limiter speeds up the acquisition of the subject because you can tell the camera the subject will be within, say, 10 and 20mm, or 10 and 20 meters.

Articulated Live View Screen

Having the rear screen fully articulated makes life much easier when shooting on a tripod or at a low level.

Two Command Dials

Although not universally adopted by all manufacturers, the generic term "command dial" is good for the dials controlled by your thumb and forefinger. It differentiates them from the mode dial. Controlling both the aperture and the shutter without using the +/- button first makes shooting more effortless.

There are two types of command dials I don’t like. The first is the rear dial that doubles as a button, so you press it in with your thumb before rotating it to access different functions; it’s very easy to press it unintentionally, especially as the camera becomes older and the action looser. I also find the vertically mounted dials on the back of the camera awkwardly cumbersome. Some may love them, but they are not for me, so you might want to decide whether they work for you.

The Lunix G9 II has front and rear command dials on top, but also a tiltable rear wheel on the back of the body, a type I find awkward to use but you may like.

Metal or Plastic Body

This isn’t an absolute necessity, but metal bodies are stronger than plastic. If you plan to use your camera in a rough environment, then a magnesium alloy body is worthwhile considering. However, polycarbonates are becoming stronger and those used on the better-quality cameras are both robust and lighter.

Plenty of Focus Points

Some cameras are limited to just a few focus points towards the center of the frame. Ideally, for many photography genres, the entire frame should be covered with focus points. For speed and accuracy, look for them all to be cross-type.

Having the entire frame covered by focus points has distinct advantages.

Dust Reduction Filter

I have never had to clean dust from my camera’s sensor. That's not because of me changing lenses in a dust-free environment, but its class-leading dust removal system. Some cameras do this better than others, but it is a feature worth considering.

Bracketing and In-Camera Combinations

Bracketing is a useful feature found on most cameras. However, combining exposure or focus bracketed shots into a single file in the camera is great for those who like to work with high dynamic range (HDR) or stacked macro shots.

Bulb Mode With Image Preview During Exposure

Sadly, many cameras are limited to a maximum of an inadequate 30-second exposure in manual mode. For those doing long exposures, that means resorting to bulb mode. This can be a bit of a hit-and-miss guessing game unless you have an external light meter that records longer times. The alternative is to have a feature that allows you to watch the photograph develop on the screen and the histogram move to the right during the exposure. It's a feature I find invaluable when photographing at night.

A 2019 12-minute exposure shot in Live Time where I watched the exposure gradually develop on the rear screen and the histogram move to the right.


Do you want to shoot videos? If it’s something you want to do seriously, look for cameras that will produce the quality of video you want. If you want 8K or 4K LOG footage, you need a camera with that ability. Video is a hugely varied topic and much more than I can cover in a small article like this, but it is something you may want to research before buying.

Unique Camera Brand Features

Searching through different cameras’ unique features for this article, some are made out to be unique but are commonplace. For example, a few cameras from various brands now buffer the shots before pressing the shutter and they claim it is particular to their cameras. But that used to be a unique feature of Olympus when it introduced Pro Capture in 2013 and has since been adopted by several brands.

Nevertheless, some new features stand out. Nikon introduced the camera’s ability to be triggered by movement. Now, the camera can be used like a trail cam. So far, this feature is only on its $5,496.95 Z9 model. (If you want this facility on your camera, you can buy a Pluto trigger that does that and much more.)

The Nikon Z9 has a mode button and not a dial and can be triggered by movement in the frame.

It’s mostly the smaller, specialist camera companies that shun the mass market that develop and implement these innovative features. Fujifilm, for example, has excellent film emulations and uses an X-Trans sensor. Pentax introduced star tracking using its sensor shift technology when using a GPS module. Meanwhile, OM System (formerly known as Olympus) now has built-in ND and Graduated ND filters and other unique functions.

In Conclusion

All the major camera brands make good cameras, although some have made a few bad ones too. Not all models will be perfect for you because not every camera is right for every type of photography. Cheap, entry-level cameras often fail to deliver and lack features you may soon find invaluable. Meanwhile, some advanced cameras have functions you may or may not need for your branch of photography.

Some brands can lack advanced features even on their higher-end models, which is fine if you just want control over the shutter, aperture, ISO, and focus. After all, we manage with just that when we use a film SLR.

In short, take your time. Do your research, and base your buying choice on what you need. Avoid going for the most affordable or trendy camera. Finally, never ask your friends what you should buy, as they will always recommend what they own.

Ivor Rackham's picture

A professional photographer, website developer, and writer, Ivor lives in the North East of England. His main work is training others in photography. He has a special interest in supporting people with their mental well-being. In 2023 he accepted becoming a brand ambassador for the OM System.

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Alot to consider today for the somewhat beginner. Yes a good list to go by for buying and due to very few camera stores today hard to find so holding and playing with a camera also hard to do. Another problem is all the YouTube reviewers never show all functions or using for multiple genres. Renting can give clues to how good or bad the feel.
There is one thing to consider with today's move from dslr to mirrorless by some of the leaders in brand names. Those with dslr models and wanting to go mirrorless will have to give up their collection of lenses, yes adapter have been made but adapters may not be full function. The one thing is lenses are forever but not for future camera models of same brand. Also cameras are forever as long as hype can be dismissed.
I still use and carry my 2000's model Vivitar 8300s and Fuji waterproof cameras a key reason is software gets better every month and year after year making even an old camera found at an estate sale still gold for a good user.

Something to look for on the used market is the Sony mod 1's and 2's is on camera apps if a used store has not zeroed the camera. Like the very sharp A7RM2 if with the "Digital Filter" app there will be no need for filters and holders and is processed in camera in jpeg/Raw/or both. But a number of apps that are great to play with also. Like always invest in a long lasting camera and collect the forever lenses as you may need or play with.

A good place to see some cameras not so much the latest and greatest is a photography club.

All good points, Edwin. Thank you.

Thanks for the interesting read. One point though is how long vivitar plan to upgrade the software. I live in fear of it ending at some stage with my Canon 5d Mk1V.
Apple have done it with computers. After a few upgrades thats it going forward.
Leaving you also not supported with editing software which is advancing all of the time. If you are unable financially to get these upgrades its tough.

Ivor sometimes it's actually good to ask your friends, because they will let you use their lenses if you decent enough person. But Edwin is right. Camera clubs are full of different brands. I don't think ppl would be going to expensive on first camera anyway

That's a good point. If you can borrow a range of cameras from friends and find out which works best for you is a great idea. I just meant asking people. Rarely will people own one brand and recommend another. Psychologically, people like to prove to others that they made the right choice so will invariably recommend what they own, even if it's not the best option.

I am a big believer in people who are determined to be photographers, as opposed to someone with a camera, should buy the best camera they can afford. The people who come on my basic workshops invariably find their low-end models are inadequate for what they want to do with them.

I think most of ppl wouldn't even know other brands and what they offer... I am on Canon but I would have no problem to get someone into any other brand if I see it makes more sense to them. You need to be really technically knowledgeable and have interests in new tech to tell ppl what could be best for them. I mostly see ppl having funny reactions to "upgrade your phone" as they think that dslr/mirrorless will teach them faster and help them to get better results... That is a key point where I know that they either want to learn and progress or they only want to go out with big camera and big lens so ppl see them as pro photographers 😉

Definitely enjoyed the article. It made several excellent points, but I would like to mention one thing. IP53 isn’t the only build indicator for ruggedness of a camera. Remember that NASA recently selected Nikon as its "space camera”. That doesn’t necessarily mean “full mil-spec”, but it does indicate that the Nikon cameras selected are robust enough to endure the extreme shock and vibration of lift off and still provide reliability in a harsh environment.

Thanks, Larry. IP53 is only a measurement of water and dust ingress resistance and not ruggedness; it doesn't rain in space and I think the ISS is a pretty sterile environment with no grit blowing around. They don't fall to the floor either! The Z9 that NASA is taking (I think) is a fine camera, nonetheless. What a gig that would be, photographing from the ISS.

A good list of things that matter when choosing a camera. Almost fell from my chair when you talked about the viewfinder and the ones to avoid. “ A 0.6x magnification and a 2.4-million dot resolution are inadequate” , you know that includes your beloved OM systems EM-5. (Viewfinder magnification 1.37× (0.68× 35mm equiv.)
Viewfinder resolution 2,360,000) .

Yeah, I know when you compare to 35mm it looks less, but it isn't a 35mm camera and the larger magnification is apparent when you look through the viewfinder. I found the OM-5's viewfinder seemed superior to me than the R10. But, it could be better. The OM-1 is streets ahead in comparison.

I have used but don't own an OM-5. Despite that magnification issue, I keep considering getting one as it fits in my pocket. It's a super little camera for the type of photography it's designed for, but there are compromises as there are with every camera no matter what brand. For instance, the more modern OM-1 viewfinder is far superior and has greater functionality, but it is larger and costs more.

Looking through the viewfinder though, the OM-5's is larger than many others I have tried. Some manufacturers don't advertise the physical size of the viewfinder nor their refresh rate, making it hard to compare.

I always advise people to get a better camera if they can afford it, and the viewfinder is one of the things I would suggest checking (as per the article). The OM-5 was a modest evolutionary upgrade from the E-M5 Mark III. I hope when the OM-5 Mark II comes along it'll be one of the things they upgrade. It's been nearly 2-years since the last release so I have my fingers crossed for the big revolutionary change that comes with every other camera, the system that most brands employ. Saying that, a PEN-F Mark II would be even more welcome. (Don't read anything into this, I have no insider knowledge.)

Thanks for the comment.

Other thing to consider are weight and volume. Having a camera that is light weight and takes up a minimum of pack space is a key consideration for me.

Thanks, Weston. That's a very good point.