Your EPIC camera guide for beginners!May 24, 2023
I get so many DMs asking about cameras, especially if they’re interested in our beginners photography course, Start Where You Are, so I thought...let's write a huge blog all about it ;)
The first question that springs to mind when buying a camera is....
1. What is your budget for both the camera and the lens?
This will help narrow down your options to avoid overspending. It’s also great to buy something that will allow you to grow as a photographer, and I hope this blog will help with that decision.
2. What type of camera would you like?
There are three main types of cameras:
i. DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex)
- Optical Viewfinder: DSLRs use a mirror that allows you to view the scene optically through the viewfinder, providing a clear view of the subject.
- Wide Range of Lenses: DSLRs have a vast selection of interchangeable lenses available, providing versatility for various photography genres.
- Battery Life: DSLRs typically have longer battery life compared to mirrorless cameras.
- Better Handling of Moving Subjects: DSLRs traditionally have faster autofocus and better subject tracking, making them suitable for sports, wildlife, and action photography.
- Size and Weight: DSLRs tend to be larger and heavier due to the mirror mechanism, making them a drag to carry around!
- Limited Video Features: DSLRs usually have limitations in video capabilities compared to mirrorless cameras, such as lack of continuous autofocus during video recording.
- Optical Viewfinder Limitations: The optical viewfinder doesn't show the exact preview of the final image, as it doesn't reflect the changes made to settings like exposure or white balance.
- Compact and Lightweight: Mirrorless cameras are generally smaller and lighter due to the absence of a mirror mechanism.
- Electronic Viewfinder (EVF): Mirrorless cameras use an electronic viewfinder or an LCD screen to display a real-time preview of the final image, allowing you to see the effects of settings adjustments before taking the shot.
- Advanced Video Features: Mirrorless cameras often excel in video capabilities, offering features like 4K recording, continuous autofocus, and touch-screen functionality.
- Autofocus Performance: Many mirrorless cameras have advanced autofocus systems, often utilising on-sensor phase detection, resulting in fast and accurate autofocus performance.
- Battery Life: Due to the power-hungry electronic viewfinder and display, mirrorless cameras generally have shorter battery life compared to DSLRs.
- Limited Lens Selection: Although the lens selection for mirrorless cameras is growing rapidly, it may not be as extensive as that of DSLRs, especially for certain specialised lenses.
- Cost: Mirrorless cameras and their lenses can be more expensive than entry-level DSLRs, although the prices are becoming more competitive.
iii. Point and Shoot
- Compact and Portable: Point-and-shoot cameras are small, lightweight, and easily fit in a pocket, making them highly portable.
- Simple and Easy to Use: Point-and-shoot cameras are designed for convenience and simplicity, often featuring automatic shooting modes and user-friendly interfaces.
- Affordable: Point-and-shoot cameras are generally more budget-friendly compared to DSLRs or mirrorless cameras.
- Limited Manual Controls: Point-and-shoot cameras often lack manual controls and advanced features found in DSLRs or mirrorless cameras, limiting your ability to customise settings and achieve specific creative effects.
- Image Quality: While modern point-and-shoot cameras can produce good image quality, they typically have smaller image sensors than DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, which may result in limitations in low-light performance and dynamic range.
- Limited Lens Options: Point-and-shoot cameras have fixed lenses, which means you cannot change focal lengths or perspectives like you can with interchangeable lenses.
Straight away, I can recommend striking off the ‘point and shoot’ cameras. They won’t allow you to grow, and after Start Where You Are, you will definitely be after a DSLR or mirrorless! Both of these options is what most of our students begin with, and that’s why the course’s title is ‘Start Where You Are,’ because if you have an old DSLR gathering dust, you can absolutely start the course with it - in fact, I insist!
In the first few weeks of SWYA, you will learn so much about equipment, light and composition, so much so, that camera and lens shopping will become your favourite thing. You will dream about your next lens purchase which leads me on to…
You must buy a camera (either DSLR or mirrorless) that has the capacity for interchangeable lenses! This will allow so much growth and versatility, and make your purchase worth every penny!
3. We can’t mention cameras without discussing RESOLUTION. What’s that about and why should you be considering it when you buy a camera?
Resolution and megapixels are related terms that refer to the level of detail or the amount of data captured in an image by a camera. Here's how I understand it…
Resolution: Resolution refers to the overall detail in an image. It’s measured in pixels, which are tiny dots that make up the image. A higher resolution means more pixels and, in turn, more detailed and sharper images.
Megapixels: Megapixels (MP) specifically measure the number of pixels in an image sensor in a camera. One megapixel is equivalent to one million pixels. Cameras are often marketed with their megapixel count, such as 12MP, 24MP, or 36MP. Why is this important?
Because the number of megapixels a camera has can affect the level of detail and the potential size of a printed image. Higher megapixel counts generally allow for larger prints without losing quality, as there are more pixels available to create the image. However, it's important to note that megapixels alone don't determine the overall image quality.
Factors such as sensor size, image processing, lens quality, and low-light performance also play significant roles in determining image quality (which we discuss more in Start Where You Are)
When buying a camera with quality image processing, considering resolution and megapixels is so important, but it should be balanced with other factors. Higher megapixels can be beneficial if you plan to print large images or crop extensively without losing detail. However, if you primarily share images online or print smaller sizes, a moderate megapixel count can still produce excellent results, while potentially offering other advantages like better low-light performance or faster image processing.
It's important to consider all of these things that relate to image quality before buying a camera (apologies, that was a lot of information but I hope you’re clearer on pixels!)
4 - What are your lens options?
It’s useful to think about a camera body and lenses separately, and understand their purpose so can buy the best kit, to take the pictures you desire. We explore lenses in way more detail during the course and what each one is meant for, but if you’re buying a camera, it’s useful to Google the corresponding lenses and find out how expensive and common they are. For example, I used to shoot with a Canon DSLR and the lenses were so much cheaper (lots of third party options) compared to my current Sony mirrorless.
If you are a beginner, I always recommend the 50mm lens f/1.8 prime lens which is the cheapest across camera manufacturers and a great place to start. You don’t need to have this to begin SWYA (a kit lens is fine) but down the line, you’ll be after it (I promise!) I started my photography career with a 50mm, then a 35mm (very versatile) then a 85, before going wide with a 16mm, and then last year, I purchased some Zoom lenses, but I’ll be honest, I’m a prime lens girl!
5 - What is your camera's sensor size?
It’s worth knowing whether you have a full frame sensor (more expensive) or a cropped sensor (most entry cameras have these) within your camera. Let me explain further…
The field of view is the area of the scene that the camera and lens can capture. It determines how much of the scene is included in the final image. A larger field of view means a wider perspective (16mm lens for example), capturing more of the scene, while a narrower field of view captures a smaller portion of the scene (85mm and upwards for example), resulting in a more zoomed-in or cropped look. What does a camera’s sensor have to do with this?
When you mount a lens on a camera with a smaller sensor, the field of view of the lens appears narrower or cropped compared to using the same lens on a camera with a full-frame sensor. This is because the smaller sensor captures only a portion of the image projected by the lens, effectively magnifying the focal length of the lens.
For example, if you attach a 50mm lens to a camera with a 1.5x crop factor, the equivalent field of view will be similar to that of a 75mm lens on a full-frame camera. The lens's focal length appears longer or more zoomed-in on the smaller sensor camera. If you have a cropped sensor, you will need to buy a wider lens which takes into account the crop factor.
6. What are you camera's features and shooting modes?
What matters to you in a camera? Personally for me, I want the best autofocus system I can afford because it makes my life so much breezier when I'm shooting, particularly when I'm capturing moving objects that need tracking. Do you want image stabilisation and different shooting speeds? You might want video capability or the function to do double exposures in-camera. It might also have inbuilt Wifi for easy image sharing - is this important to you? And battery life? Check these things out!
7. How easy is the camera to use and what's its size?
DSLRs are heavier which sometimes mean they get left it at home, but the lenses are far more accessible, and it's so easy to learn on (much like Nikon). I switched to Sony because I was carrying two cameras on a harness at a wedding and the weight of DSLRs hurt my back after an hour! The choice was easy and it has transformed the way I shoot, but I do miss the double exposure capability my Canon had! If you want to feel the weight of your potential buy and see where the buttons are, it might be worth dropping into a local camera shop or Wex. We have one nearby and they're great for advice and helping you find the kit.
8. And lastly, does your camera provide future growth?
Does the camera you're about to buy allow for skill expansion and can you upgrade in the future by selling it? When I trade my old kit in, I always use mpb.com who are amazing. I rarely buy anything new because MPB provide a 6 month warranty. If you've picked a camera, it's worth searching second hand sites like MPB or Wex to save pennies.
PHEW...I know that was A LOT of information to take in but I hope I've demystified some camera jargon and made your choice a tad easier. To help further, here are a few cameras recommended by our past students...
- Canon 5D (mark ii, iii or iv), 6D, 750D, 850D, EOS RP, EOS Rebel T7i, M50, M200, R6 mirrorless
- Nikon D780, D750, D3500, N50, D5600, Z50, Nikon Z6 ii
- Sony A6500, A7 + A7r, Sony Alpha a6000, Sony A7iii & A7iv
- Panasonic Lumix GX85
- Fuji XT4
Before I go, I just want to point out again, if you have a dusty DSLR in a cupboard, please use it. This information is purely for those interested in Start Where You Are who want to buy a camera before the course begins, and why not make it the best investment possible.
If you have any camera questions, please email me at [email protected] - I'd be happy to help.
Our signature beginners photography course Start Where You Are goes live on 5th June and we'd love you with us. It's changed so many lives and has been running for almost 3.5 years! It's my baby and I put my heart and soul into it, so you can live your very best life.
It's more than just a photography course - it's life changing! All the information here