In search of the perfect camera.
When people ask me “what camera should I get?” I tell them all the same thing: go to the store and try them out! This is truly the best answer I can give because they all feel, work, and look completely different. Put a camera in your hands and actually see how it feels. For example, you may say “I want the new Fuji X-T3 camera because of all of the manual controls!” When you actually get it in your hands, it may not be what you expect, at least it wasn’t for me. The grip is a little shorter than other cameras on the market, and you may have to buy another grip that sticks out to ensure your hand doesn’t cramp up. Now, this was my take on it. There are so many people that say it fits perfectly in their hands and that is the point.
If it doesn’t feel good in your hands, you’re less likely to want to use it. I could go on forever and discuss menu systems, viewfinder size, button layout, but in the end it’s all a personal decision. Cameras from the last 5 years are all capable of getting you “the shot”, the rest is all personal preference and up to how you like to use them.
What to consider before buying a camera:
Ergonomics and Weight:
How does it feel in your hands? Grip style, button layout, and material (metal vs rubber) all play a factor on how you use your camera.
Weight. Full frame cameras are heavy, especially if they are hanging on your neck all day. At the same time, some people perform better with a little more weight in their hands and may be able to take a sharper image.
Medium Format vs. Full Frame vs. APS-C vs. M4/3 vs. Phone?
If you are just starting out with photography, there is nothing wrong with getting an entry-level (cheaper) Nikon or Canon. Do not spend all of your money on the most expensive gear. Some of the best instagram accounts are taken with an iPhone only. The cheaper DSLR cameras will be able to do (almost) anything that you want and have full manual controls to learn how you actually like to shoot! I would suggest even buying a used camera to save more money. All of the cameras that I own are refurbished models, and they are all in perfect condition. Once you get the photos on your computer or printed and hanging on your wall, you will be able to tell a difference with these photos compared to your smartphone.
If you mainly shoot wildlife, street, sports, or anything telephoto, your best bet might actually be M4/3 (Olympus or Panasonic) or APSC/crop-sensor. These crop cameras have 1.5 to 2x the reach of a full frame camera at the same megapixel. The zoom lenses are considerably cheaper (or use the full frame lenses on these cameras as well!). Lens sizes are also significantly smaller, lighter, and more manageable.
If you mainly shoot portraits, highly-detailed landscapes, or want to really control depth of field (background blur), either buy very fast lenses (F1.8 or lower), or consider buying a Full Frame camera. This is the most popular format that people tend to gravitate towards. These cameras are the heaviest, and most expensive (along with Medium Format).
In the end, if you stack up photos from M4/3, APSC, and Full Frame, you most likely will not be able to tell the difference which is which when shot at the same (relative) settings, especially if you are viewing it on a smartphone! The lenses that you use are the most important factor 100% of the time. If you can, buy a cheaper camera model and more expensive lens because you will be able to tell the difference when you use better glass.
Mirrorless vs DSLR
The main and best difference is the EVF (electronic viewfinder) vs. OVF (optical viewfinder). Optical viewfinders show you exactly what you are seeing, while EVFs show you what the camera is seeing. This can be interesting and important if you are changing your exposure, DOF, or white balance in camera.
Size is becoming less important because camera manufacturers are starting to build lenses that are bigger than their DSLR counterparts. As a rule, mirrorless cameras usually should be smaller and lighter than DSLRs.
If you’re like me, you take way too many photos than you need to. I like to take photos as I hike. Whatever catches my eye, I might take a shot of it. I’ve been trying hard to restrain myself lately but when the light is just right, my shutter button is almost constantly held down! Official batteries almost always last longer than cheap knock offs, so be prepared to have multiple spares! The newest mirrorless cameras (outside of the Sony A7iii) get approximately 200-600 shots per charge pending how much you are using the viewfinder and screen. Full frame cameras like the Canon 5Dm3 or Nikon D800 series get approximately 1000-1500 shots per charge.
Always check if your camera is rated as “weather resistant”. Honestly, all DSLR cameras have a bit of weather resistance. My old Nikon D5000 was able to withstand snow and light rain and never broke. Maybe I got lucky, but honestly no camera is safe. This does not mean waterproof. There have been many youtube videos taking “weatherproof” cameras apart a year or two after heavy use and they have corrosion in them. It’s always best practice to protect your expensive gear! The cheap method is just put a plastic bag over your camera when you are shooting, bring and umbrella, and wipe off your gear often to prevent water damage.
Price is one of the most important factors. Overall, camera bodies are getting cheaper and cheaper however there is absolutely nothing wrong with buying used! Almost all of my camera bodies have been bought either used or refurbished.
Things to consider when buying used:
Shutter count (camera bodies are rated to approximately 100,000 shutter clicks)
When in doubt, ask the seller for more information and more photos of the camera!
Check out the lens selections on every model of camera you are interesting in! Some camera systems (such as Sony) may have a cheaper body (like the A7iii) however the lenses cost more than the camera itself!
Buy better glass when you can. Lenses last a long time. Some lenses out there like the white 70-200mm’s have been going strong for 10+ years and still work on all of the newer cameras, and have retained their value. If you use your lens anymore, you can sell it for practically the same value you bought it for years later!
Hopefully this helps you in your camera decision hunt! Over the last few years, I have changed camera systems and always have sparked new creativity each time I have done it. As a rule, camera resale value is great and you will certainly not lose that much money by switching systems. There are a lot of rental sites out there to truly figure out what camera suits you best!
Just as an example, what camera do you think I took this photo with?
The answer is that I used my iPhone 8 to take this shot! I’m sure you’ve heard it before but it’s true, the “best camera is the one you have with you”. As long as the lighting is good, you can use any camera to take a perfect photo.