From Thousands of Models to One Choice: How to Buy the Right Camera

Which Camera to Chooseby Lori Allen

I just returned from Thailand with a group of photographers where we debated the best camera types.

  1. Shelley used to let her husband take all the photos.  He’s good at it.  So she let him.  But now he’s tired of being bossed around and she’s got more time on her hands to learn photography so she wants to explore.  She needs something easy to use and light in weight.
  2. Amy has been an amateur for years.  She’s ready to start selling her photographs professionally and she knows that an investment in a good camera will pay for itself when she starts to charge for her photos.  She’s looking for something with a full-frame sensor and is prepared to spend the necessary moula to get it.
  3. And Pat is retired.  He likes photography.  He also likes to write and has been asked on occasion to submit photos with his writing and so wants something he can travel with but also something that’ll give him images with a high enough resolution to be printed in a magazine.

Luckily, there’s a camera out there for everyone.  And there’s one that’s right for you, too.  Here’s a quick guide in narrowing down your choices…

For the Beginner Who Thinks Buying an SLR Will Make All Their Photos Look Better

First, let me say that it’s the photographer, not the camera, who will make your photos look better.  You should practice composition, learn about exposure and light, and continue to take lots of pictures to improve your skill and your eye.  But after that, it’s actually less about the camera and more about the lens.

This is what I recommended to Shelley.  She’ll get lost in all the bells and whistles of a high-end camera so she should start small with either the Canon EOS Rebel T3i or one of the new micro four thirds cameras.  I like the Olympus E-M5 but it’ll set you back an upwards of $950.  So if price is a concern, Panasonic makes good four thirds cameras, too.

I also think if the camera is too heavy, she’ll default to her husband taking all the photos and not want to lug it around.  So again, this is where the new four thirds cameras are nice.

Either way, buy the body only and put the bulk of your investment in the lens.

Camera Lenses

I like the Canon 28-135mm lens f/3.5-5.6 with Image Stabilizer ($479) as a starter lens.  And for the four thirds, I like the Lumix 14-140 lens f5.6 (an additional $699 ouch, but worth it).

These are great go-to lenses.  I’d also recommend buying used if money is a factor in your decision.

For the Pro (or Soon-to-be Pro)

This is easy.  By the time you get to this level, you already know what you want.  You’ve picked a brand – typically Nikon, Canon or Olympus – and all your lenses fit those cameras.  Occasionally you’ll see a pro switch brands.  But it’s not that common.  So you’re going to buy the top of the line best camera you can afford and you’ll rotate through your lenses.

And if you don’t have more than one lens, you say.  I’d say upgrade your lens before you upgrade your body.  Unless you’re shooting amongst the crème de la crème of photographers, no one is going to notice your sensor size over your ability to get a 1.4 exposure only reachable by a fast lens.

Get a new lens and experiment.

For the Travel Photographer Who Might Like to Sell a Photo or Two

Again, depending on your market, I’d recommend the micro four thirds Olympus or an entry-level Nikon or Canon.

Other brands make great cameras too.  But since it’s the lenses I recommend you invest the most in, you’ll do best to stay within the major brands where you’ll have more lens choices AND more opportunities to buy a used lens that saves you money.

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