What Camera Should I Buy?

I Don't Have A Problem...

At some point in time, this is a question that every photographer asks. It’s also a question that I get asked frequently — probably several times per week. And that’s totally cool! It’s just that I find myself usually giving the same answers to people. So I thought I’d wrap a few thoughts into a post for those who haven’t ventured out to ask the question yet.

First of all, you have to understand that I never give out the answer as a specific make and model. If you ask that question of anybody and they give you a specific answer, don’t listen to it. The process of selecting a new camera is so involved that somebody else can’t answer it for you. But if you’re in the market, here are 3 important things to ask yourself:

1. Do You Own Equipment?

If you already have lenses, flashes, and other accessories for a specific camera brand, it’s probably a better choice to stick with that brand. The main reason is cost — starting over with a new brand can be a real hassle. This applies to those of you who shot film in recent years, and you still have equipment that fits modern cameras. If you don’t have existing stuff, just ignore this question.

2. What’s Your Budget?

Money makes the world go ’round. Before you even start comparing brands or models of cameras, think about how much money you’re willing to spend on a camera. This is VERY important — set that limit, and stick to it. Otherwise, you’ll be having nightmares for the next two years.

3. How Does It Feel In Your Hands?

Once you get past the first two questions, it really boils down to this. If a camera feels out of place in your hands, you won’t enjoy it (and it’s all about fun, now isn’t it?). Put aside all the resolution-noise-speed-focus-format-button-menu-stabilization-etc… CRAP! And make sure you’re comfortable with how the camera feels in your hands. You’re the one who has to hold it and use it for the next long while, so you might as well make it enjoyable. Once you get a feel for the cameras, then you can jump back into all the technical stuff and proceed to torment yourself.

And if you’re looking for some follow-up reading material on the subject, here are a few good ones:

What other tips and advice do you have for buying new (or used) cameras?

7 thoughts on “What Camera Should I Buy?

  1. marctonysmith

    Play around with the settings. Change the aperture, shutter speed, timer, image stabilization, etc. See if you can interpret the settings display and menu system to make the changes you need. Different companies have different layout logics, and some people find one preferable over another for purely personal reasons. Example, I use two cameras regularly, one at home and one at the office, both for just over a year, different brands. I like the images and feel of both. However, I find the office one completely unintuitive to read the settings off of. That’s the distinguishing factor for me between these two brands.

  2. Joanie

    I ask people, "what do you want to use this camera for?" If they start reciting the latest camera review or the specs from a camera manufacturer’s website, I listen to them and then reformulate the question. "Are you going to be using the camera to document your family’s adventures? Are you going to be using it to take photos of products for eBay? Are you taking photography classes or planning to?" People often fall for the hype or believe that throwing money into the most expensive gear will produce the best results. And we all know that isn’t true. I try to help friends get the most bang for their buck and then show them how to work with the tools they have to improve their shooting, yielding better results.

  3. Nathan Marx

    Recently I gave our first digital (old olympus that has a crazy long shutter lag) to our little boy. The camera had been sitting in the closet for a couple of years. He has been going wild with that camera, taking photos of everything (copies his dad). Moral of the story, recycle!

  4. Udi

    Hi Brian,
    Feeling the camera first hand is crucial. I turned out to be a Nikon guy with F70, because the EOS300 was to light in my hands.

  5. Maureen Bond

    Thank you for this. I have been looking to upgrade soon. Will take all the advice here. I think fitting it in my hand will be key too. I know change will be hard to adapt but a bigger sensor, more pixels will be nice too.

  6. Alex

    The budget is definitely a point to consider. Imagine founding the perfect camera for you and then realizing that you must save for another year to finaly buy it :P
    But what I’m really curious about is if buying a second hand DSLR can turn out a really bad business?.. Anyway I do believe the net wondering and documentation is really necessary if you want to make the right choice.

  7. mtb

    One thing that I learned when buying my camera was to research and then stick to your plan. I did my homework and found the camera that I wanted. At the last minute in the store the salesman pushed and sold me a different make and model (I was sold on additional features). I am so disappointed that I did not follow my reaserch.

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