Making decisions about cameras and lenses is always difficult. Most of the time, we have to compromise. Finding out what you love about photography helps you making a better choice regarding your photography gear.
Which Camera Should You Buy?
One of the most urgent questions of beginning photographers is: “Which camera should I buy?" When talking to friends or giving classes, many people approach me with general questions about gear. They need advice for what is the best camera on the market. How should I know? First, you have to tell me your personal preferences. If you don’t know them, it’s time to find out. Learn what you love and then what to buy.
What Are Your Personal Needs?
Many 70-200mm lenses are definitely high-quality pieces of glass. Do you really need one? It won’t be helpful if you want to shoot environmental travel-portraits – too heavy and a narrow angle of view. That is an extreme example. But is a camera with a flip-screen really better than the one without? Is the new Wi-Fi-update even relevant for you? Do you need a full-frame sensor for Instagram-pictures?
Before you decide, it is important to know where you want to go. In every area of photography, you have different challenges which come with different solutions. It also depends on yourself and how you will deal with the challenges. There are so many ways to solve big problems with little gear. Many people claim that gear does not matter. That’s not right. You don’t need great gear to create great images. However, your decisions about gear will influence the style of your images.
But I Don’t Know What I Want!
Then I still can’t take a decision for you. I can try to support your decision-making process a little, though. Get something cheap. Get something used and try it out. Many people say that you can get a glimpse into every area of photography with an entry DSLR and a kit lens. Why not? I personally recommend everyone to think about an entry-level DSLR and a 35mm f/1.8 prime lens or maybe a mirrorless camera with a kit lens. First of all, you have to check what you like about photography.
Still, it is hard to define which brand or model is best. If you are sure that you will also use the camera for shooting video, then you definitely should go for a microphone-plug and maybe a flip-screen. Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji, Panasonic, Pentax, or Olympus? It depends on you. I started with Nikon and I am pretty happy. If I pick up a Canon DSLR, it will take a while until I look like I know what I am doing. Give me a Panasonic point-and-shoot camera and I fall into despair. Make me dependent on a touch-display and I will quit photography. That does not mean that the same will happens to you. It just means that cameras are as different as our taste is.
It’s All About Love!
It might sound weird, but it is important that you love your camera. Check all the cameras which are in your price-range and fulfill your basic needs. Out of this selection, just buy the one that looks best to you. Listen to your gut feeling. If you are a beginner, it is most important that you use your camera. The prouder you are of your camera, the more you will use it.
Never forget to check your camera in person – hold it in your hands, turn the dials, play with it. I recently wanted to buy a smaller camera, something that fits into my jacket and can be with me all the time. I flirted with the Sony a6000 a little, because it just seemed to have a great fact sheet. When I went to our first date in the photography shop, I found that we could never make a team. I simply did not like the controls. Yet, I found my new love in the same store. A small Olympus OM-D EM10. I am not paid by Olympus, but I simply love the position and look of the dials and the little clicks they make. I love to touch it and to hold it. I don’t care about a few megapixels, if I could stay with my camera all day long. Not all night, though. That’s the detriment of the Micro Four-Thirds systems. Size matters and a small sensor catches less light. Luckily, I still have my full frame Nikon D750 for the night-time.
Grow Together and Then Make Your Decision
To learn photography, you need to use your camera. Hopefully, you took a decision and proudly bring your camera wherever you can. Learn to handle the manual mode, learn when not to use it. Learn composition and most of all learn what you want to do with your camera. Only then, you are able to judge if it can fulfill your expectations. Check if you can work around its little weaknesses. It’s always a compromise. If you can’t… well, maybe you have to part and get a new system. Or you keep your camera and get a second one like me. Just use it for different situations. It’s not always the camera. Sometimes it’s you.
How much gear did I buy and sell, because I thought it will give me some benefit? A lot. It is probably a never-ending process. Gear Acquisition Syndrome is real. Finding out what you love can at least prevent you from buying stuff that you do not need.
Is There Happiness?
I hope that in the future, I will become calmer. As a photographer, I grew and I am happy with my current setup. I settled and found out about my own ambitions and got all I need… said no photographer ever.
Being happy about one’s own gear usually is the period between new purchases. Who knows what the future will bring? I might develop and need something new. Maybe the market pushes me into a new system. Luckily, cameras don’t have feelings, so we can switch them with a clear conscience.
What Do You Love?
You will always develop and need new gear. Try to find out what you want. What do you love about taking pictures? Base your opinion on that. Don’t get jealous of others and don’t let them tell you what to buy. Take advice and look if it suits your needs.
Have you ever made bad purchases? Do you suffer from Gear Acquisition Syndrome? Have you recently switched your system according to your needs? Which camera do you love and why? Share your story in the comment to inspire others.
I would suggest that in addition to "love," it's also about self-confidence. I see an incredible amount of "just in case" thinking going on, whether in equipment purchases or in usage or in backup procedures or whatever. "What if I miss a once-in-a-lifetime image because I don't have the equipment to capture it?" Or, "What if I botched the exposure?" Or, "What if I got the picture but then I lost it?"
One of my favorites is when a new photographer gets worried that there's a 5mm gap in the focal length coverage of their lens collection. "What if I need a 78mm lens?"
At my age, I've collected dozens of once-in-a-lifetime pictures, missed out on dozens more, and lost maybe a dozen more. It's not a big deal. My life hasn't been destroyed by missing or losing pictures, much less by taking pictures that have technical imperfections. I'm content to get whatever pictures I get.
Thanks for the comment! It's true, that "just in case" - gear also makes you stop developing your skills and style. There will always be images which you will miss and you will regret not having that suitable lense with you. But you will also regret losing more images when your bag is too heavy and the scene was gone while you were switching lenses. Wise words about "lost" images, Doug.
I used a second hand Nikon D610, for four or five years, with a few different lenses and it was ideal except for two things - autofocus tracking speed and low light focusing. So this year I sold all my extraneous worldly goods and bought a low mileage D850 and a new 70-200/2.8 and my woes are over - it’s the best camera I’ve owned in over thirty years. I probably loved my Leica M3 more but it didn’t take the pics I can take with the D850.
That's great. I bought so many lenses and sold them, because I wasn't as patient as you to wait for years to find out what really need.
The Olympus EM10 is just great bang for buck, ergonomics and handling are way ahead of Sony. Touch AF is great!
I also love it, even in my huge hands. Never used the touch AF, though. Prefer the focus peaking and MF.