Updated: Apr 1
A few tips to help you if you're thinking of buying your first, or upgrading your current digital camera
I often get people contacting me asking for advice on buying a camera – which I’m always happy to give, so I thought I would do a quick section on choosing a camera in case you’re thinking of buying or upgrading one soon.
The first thing I would say that you don’t have to spend a fortune on a camera to take great photos; with a bit of knowledge, you can take great photos with a camera phone or the camera that you already have, so as a starting point it’s best to think about spending some money on improving your camera skills before you spend any on a new camera. However, there are some things that a ‘proper’ camera allows you to do, that camera phones or simple ‘point and click’ camera simply can’t do. So, if you’re convinced you want to upgrade, here are some pointers to help you decide.
“You don’t have to spend a fortune on a camera to take great photos; with a bit of knowledge, you can take great photos with a camera phone or the camera that you already have.”
First of all, let’s look at the various types of camera and their main advantages and disadvantages:
Mobile phone cameras
The main advantage is that it’s almost always with you, so available to take photos any time anywhere. The main disadvantage is the inferior-quality sensor and optics compared to dedicated cameras. Also, depending on the model you have, you may have little control over how the photo is taken, which limits creativity and the conditions in which you can take a good photo.
Compact / ‘point and shoot’ digital cameras
The main advantages of these cameras are their small size, ease of use and low price; simply point and shoot and the camera does all the work deciding on what scene it is looking at, and what settings to use. The main disadvantage is that there is little or no ability for manual settings that can give you more creative freedom, and no ability to use different lenses. They also tend to have limited resolution sensors.
These are cameras that literally ‘bridge’ the gap between compact point and shoot cameras and more professional DSLR / Mirrorless cameras. The main advantage over compact cameras is that they allow some manual control and therefore give a little more creative control, however they have one fixed lens that cannot be changed so are not future-proofed as you develop your photography and want to move on in skill level.
DSLR / Mirrorless cameras
These are the high end of photography, although there are plenty of well-priced entry level cameras aimed at beginners. DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras are the modern equivalent of the original film cameras, just with electronic controls. They still have a mirror which flips up to allow you to see the real world through the lens. An increasingly popular alternative (and the type of camera that I use) is the Mirrorless digital camera. The same as a DSLR in most respects but it no longer has the physical mirror mechanism, and the image that you see on the screen and through the viewfinder is in fact a TV picture. The advantage of DSLR and Mirrorless digital cameras is that they allow full manual creative control (although they still have many of the automatic features of compact and bridge cameras). They also have interchangeable lenses, so you can upgrade the camera body or use more than one camera body, and keep the same lenses. The key advantage of mirrorless over DSLR cameras is that they are usually slightly smaller and lighter, and have a few technical advantages e.g., eye and face tracking is limited to mirrorless cameras. Both DSLR’s and Mirrorless are the best choice if you want complete creative freedom and the ability to allow you to increase that freedom by moving off of auto modes onto manual modes as your skills develop. However, they are the most complicated to understand and use, and can be significantly more expensive especially as you start adding lenses to your collection. There are however, plenty of entry level versions with a standard ‘kit’ lens that are little more than some high end compact or bridge cameras.
Camera features to consider
So, you’ve decided which type of camera you want, but how do you choose between the huge number of models on the market? Well, that’s hard to answer definitively, but there are a few things that it helps to consider when you are trying to choose:
Price! Of course, you have to choose something that fits within your budget, but also consider how much you need to spend to get something that meets your needs. There is little point for example in spending several thousand pounds on a high end professional DSLR if you only ever use the fully automatic modes. There is a large second hand market for camera equipment, but be wary of any cameras that have very high shutter counts, as these have a higher risk of mechanical failure.
Do you need manual shooting modes? If you think you will want to learn how to take creative control at some point, and not just point and shoot, make sure your choice of camera has these features.
Don’t scrimp on lenses! The quality of photos is very dependent on the quality of the lens. Most interchangeable lens DSLR / Mirrorless cameras come with a fairly poor quality ‘kit’ lens. If you’re buying a DSLR / Mirrorless camera and think you are likely to want to develop your photography, it’s always good to buy the best lenses you can afford, even if that means you buy a cheaper camera body; I have upgraded the camera body several times, but still use the same high quality lenses that I invested in several years ago.
Think about what size meets your needs. When I was walking the Coast Path and doing 20 miles a day, I bought a large entry level DSLR, however after a few miles of this banging against me as I walked, I put it in my rucksack and didn’t use it; I would have been far better off with a small but good quality compact camera that I could have fitted in a pocket.
Sensor size and number of mega pixels: Unless you are going to be printing out your photos at very large sizes, don’t worry too much about the size of the sensor and number of mega pixels. Professional cameras have full size (35mm) sensors, which are high quality and can give up to 50 megapixel images, but are expensive and the file sizes are very large. Smaller sensors and lower Megapixel count are fine to start with.
Brand: I’m a huge fan of Sony, however there are a large number of very good camera brands (the most ‘famous’ being Canon and Nikon). The main consideration to bear in mind if you are buying a changeable lens camera, is that different camera brands have different lens fittings, so if you change camera brand you won’t be able to use lenses from your old system without additional converters, which can degrade camera functionality; so, it’s usual to stick with the same brand and lens fitting system.
Speed and performance: If you’re planning on shooting lots of moving subjects (from wildlife to sports) then the number of photos that can be taken in quick succession (frames per second) really matters, as does how competent the camera is at focus tracking moving subjects.
Touch screen: Personally, I find touch screens annoying as all too often you change things accidentally, and so I switch mine off. But, if you’re a fan of touch operation over buttons then look for this feature.
Will you use video? Many camera models also offer video, but this can be of variable quality. If you think taking video is important to you then make sure you check out the quality of video functionality.
WiFi / Bluetooth: If you’re keen to be able to post your images straight away on social media, you will want to make sure that the model you choose has good connectivity.
Raw image format? If you want to maximise the ability to post process your photos, it’s important that the camera you choose is able to output raw camera files, rather than just compressed photo formats such as jpeg.
It's a minefield, so if you need some more help, get in touch
Choosing a camera is a bit of a minefield, but hopefully this helps a little if you’re currently considering buying one. If you need more advice, feel free to contact me; I’m always happy to help if I can.