What Kind of Camera Should I Buy? / by DM Heebner

What Kind of Camera Should I Buy? is one of the most common questions I get asked when people find out I'm a professional photographer. I love talking about cameras, the history of cameras, technological advances, and where the market is headed. But, most people aren't looking for me to geek out, they simply want to know what kind of camera they should buy. It's a fair and valid question considering the market is saturated with options: Nikon...Canon...Fuji...Leica...Hasselblad...Sony...the list is endless. The investment into a system can be quite expensive so I understand why people ask before they buy. A little research will take you a long way, help you find the right camera, and save you a lot of wasted time and money down the road. 

So, what kind of camera should someone buy? I know a lot of folks are looking for me to give a straightforward Camera A, Lens B, Strap C answer but it's a little more complicated than that. My response to that question is always a half smile/smirk and a few follow up questions. 

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What do you want to photograph?

People? Landscapes? Street Photography? Food? Weddings? Vacations? Nature? Wildlife? Sports? A little of everything? 

The reason why this is the most important and the first question I ask is because it helps set the foundation. A good, foundational understanding of what kind of photography a person is looking to pursue will help direct what manufacturers and camera systems they should take a look at. Technically, you can use almost any camera to shoot any subject. However, the more advanced you get, the more ease of use and technical capabilities are going to matter. If you start building the wrong foundation it could cost you a lot of money to start over. Someone who is passionate about shooting professional sports is going to need quite a different lens lineup than someone who is interested in shooting a wedding. Both avenues involve photographing people, but things like how close you can get to your subject, speed, lighting, and how dynamic your work environment is changes what you need to have ready. 

So, take a minute and think thru what kind of photography you want to pursue. It's ok to have multiple answers (I do). 

What are your long term photography goals?

Personally, I want to be Peter Lik.

Until that happens...

When I started out in photography I knew that being a pro was my long term goal. The reason why figuring this out was so important is because it affected the lenses I purchased. The first "real" camera I ever purchased was a Nikon D3200. Yep, that tiny little thing was what I honed my skills on. It was a great starter setup (at the time) that pushed me and taught me a lot. However, it was a crop sensor camera and I knew eventually, as a pro, I'd need to upgrade to a full frame body to get the most versatile options for the kind of photography I was interested in pursuing. Since I had a long term goal in mind, I purposefully bought lenses that would fit a full frame camera. I knew that putting a full frame lens on a crop sensor camera would be limiting it, but, when I purchased a full frame camera I wouldn't have to buy a whole new lens lineup (big time $$$ saver).  

As important as a camera is, your lenses are even more important. I still have my original 24-70mm Nikon lens and use it on almost every shoot I do. It has outlived 4 cameras and I wouldn't trade it for the world. "Good Glass" (a good lens) as you'll hear photographers say, is 1000% worth it. I'll be answering "which lenses you should use" in a future post. For now, just take some time and think about where you might want to go with your photography. It's always ok to change your mind, but the more prepared you are before you invest, the better. 

What is your budget?

Photography can be really expensive, if you let it. If it was up to me, I would exclusively shoot Leica. I am fortunate, for now, to have one Leica camera, it's a lone ranger in my otherwise Nikon filled squad. Don't let the perceived cost of photography scare you away. There are ways around paying full-retail for camera equipment. Also, taking the time to understand what your needs are and what camera/lens combo might fit the best helps avoid a lot of excess, unused equipment. There's nothing worse (in the photo world) than a piece of equipment sitting on a shelf, gathering dust. Take sometime to figure out what you can afford now and remember, photographers with huge arsenals of equipment got there over many years. 

Borrow or Rent Lenses
There are a number of lens rental sites and even local camera stores that offer lens rental programs. This is a great way to test out a lens before you invest. A quick internet search should provide you with a lot of options. 

Buy Used
I have a personal rule when it comes to technology: don't be the first person to buy it. Typically, the first generation of any tech will have some kinks and quirks to work thru. A lot of times the actual item doesn't live up to the marketing hype either. So, I sit back and let others buy, experience, write, and review. I follow a few channels on YouTube and read photography and tech blogs from neutral sources that give honest reviews. Usually the second production run, a software patch, or the next version of something will work out the bugs. You've probably experienced this in the world of computers and mobile phones, it holds true with cameras as well.

Waiting a little bit to buy a new piece of equipment means you benefit from other people's gas, and this is a good thing. GAS, or gear acquisition syndrome, plagues many in the photography industry. As we live in a consumer driven society people can't wait to get the latest and greatest, even when they don't need it. Photographers are often no exception. The flip side is that the used gear market is excellent. There are a number of ways I have and would recommend buying used gear. 

Your Local Camera Store: If you have a local camera store in your area, chances are they have a used gear section. Go in, check it out, ask questions, and visit often. Buying local is always the best and your local camera shop can be a huge advocate on your photography journey.

Friends: If you have friends that shoot similar systems (Nikon, Canon, etc) ask if they are getting rid of any of their gear. It's always nice to know where your gear came from. 

Major Retailers: B & H, Adorama, KEH are all major retailers that I have purchased used gear from. My experiences have been excellent across the board. Each of these retailers has a used gear rating system which gives you an indication of what you can expect. Knowing they inspect and rate each item gives me peace of mind. 

Craigslist: Always remember, be cautious and inquisitive when buying from Craigslist. Ask a lot of questions, see the item, test the item, ask the history of the item. If you know what you're looking for you can often find great deals (I have!). 

 

However you answer these questions it all comes back to one important thing, what camera do you WANT to pick up? What camera do you want to take with you? What camera feels the best in your hand and makes you enjoy shooting? You can have all the fanciest equipment money can buy, but if you don't enjoy picking up the camera, exploring the camera, and ultimately creating beautiful photographs with it, you're using the wrong one. 

Stay tuned for next week's post where I'll dig deeper into who the major players are and cover things like Full -Frame vs. Crop Sensor, Mirrorless, Fuji, Point and Shoot, and more. 


Interested in learning more about photography or need help picking out the right camera for you?

I offer mentoring sessions in person, via video, or on the phone.
Contact me to find out more info and book your session. 


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