Talking cameras is a sure-fire way to start an hours-long conversation with any photographer. We love talking gear; we all have our favorite brands and we all think we know best. Sure, we have invested way more time than is healthy in researching and messing about with gear; but here’s the biggest secret: there is no magical camera or lens, it’s really all about you.
You all know I am a Fuji person. Fuji fuji fuji all day long. But I started out with a Nikon and it was a good camera, too. I know great photographers who use Cannon or even… a Sony! *Gasp* If you are thinking of buying a fancy camera, there are more practical and important questions you should consider than what brand is “the best.” I hope these 5 tips empower you on your journey to become a fabulous artiste.
1. (And this is for serious) Is there a camera you really like the look of?
I know this sounds shallow and petty, but hear me out. The best camera you can buy is the one you will use. It’s that simple. If you love looking at your camera, if you think it’s cute, you will want to use it more. The more you use it, the more you’ll understand all the knobs and menus. Using it often–and with purpose–will develop your eye. Pretty soon you’ll be working each shot without thinking about your settings, and just enjoying the experience. That is how you become a proficient artist.
2. Will you really take a big camera with you?
DSLR cameras take beautiful photos and they have lots of lenses you can play with. But… they are bulky; and all that gear gets heavy. If you are looking for a camera to document your family’s story, will you groan at the thought of lugging your gear to the playground or on a vacation? If you expect you’ll want to shoot mostly near home or go out on photo taking excursions to relax, it probably won’t matter much. If, however, you dream of capturing candid moments while out and about, or don’t want to have to carry another large bag everywhere, think smaller. Mirrorless cameras produce images of the same size and quality of most DSLR cameras and are much smaller and lighter. When you think about your next camera, think about what kind of photos you are hoping to take, and find the gear that leaves no excuses to not take those photos. If everyday photography is your dream, I really encourage you to look into a mirrorless camera… hopefully one you think is cute (See tip #1!).
3. Let’s be real about a budget.
I’m guessing that you, gentle reader, are a real person with a real budget. Sure… if you want the best camera out there, the answer is the $10,000 Leica, right? I mean, maybe? That’s a long term goal; but we want to get you snapping now. Set a budget. I know looking at the major retailers online might make you nervous about how you can afford this hobby, so don’t look at them; unless you are looking at their used inventory. Lots of photographers cycle through equipment quickly, which means there are lots of options for buying slightly used equipment that will work perfectly. Most usually even include the original boxes. It’ll even feel brand new. Check out your favorite cameras on eBay and Amazon. As long as you are okay with not getting the very latest model, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised and excited about the deals you can score. (Maybe even save enough to get an additional lens!) The newest features are probably really awesome, but is it $400 awesome when you are just starting? Probably not. I recommend researching cameras that have been on the market for a couple of years so there is an inventory of used bodies and lenses. Of course, the common sense online buying rules apply: only buy from reputable people/companies and read descriptions very carefully. If the price is really low, you might be getting substandard equipment. Additionally, a few years later when you are ready to upgrade again, there will be a market for you to sell your equipment to offset that bigger purchase.
4. Have a plan to get it off the auto mode.
Now that you have your heart set on that super cute fancy camera, let’s be real about this not becoming a super cute fancy point-and-shoot camera. Sure, all these lovelies come with auto mode; and that’s a good place to start. But consider investing in yourself as an artist. Make a plan to learn how to shoot manually, that is truly the only way you can become a great photographer. I don’t just mean figuring out aperture and shutter priority modes or the dial with all the little pictures of different presets; that’s still limiting you artistically. There are lots of resources for learning out there, the inter-webs has tons of info! Maybe find a mentor, take a class, or mess around with that cute new toy a whole bunch. Remember, it’s not the camera that takes the amazing photo, it’s the photographer who knows how to use her tool.
5. Budget to buy and learn some editing software…get those pretty pictures off your SD card!
The best way you can improve your photography is to take long hard looks at your work, and you can’t do that on the camera display. If you are nervous about others seeing what you’ve done, plan some alone time, pour your favorite beverage, and remember to be kind to yourself. There will be some wonderful photos. After you’ve done that, then you’ll want to play with them. Edit them, and give them a look that is all your own. Share them. Better yet, print them. I totally get it… some editing software can be really intimidating. If you are just starting out, don’t feel pressure to get the latest, greatest version of Photoshop; it’s a huge thing to learn right out the gate. Instead, try starting with some simple editing programs; even apps for your tablet! You can upgrade to Photoshop when you have the time. But until then, just play! Make it fun and not too hard. Most of all, be proud of your work!
In the end, the gear you buy is just a tool. As long as it makes you happy, and you are getting where you want to be as a photographer, you’ve made the right choice. Just do you.
So… what kind of camera is on your dream list? I’d love to hear from you! And if you have any questions, please comment or contact me… let’s chat!