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yelvertoft 29-05-09 20:15

Which camera should I buy?
Presumably due to the Digital Camera magazine ads, we seem to be getting the usual question a few times now. I've put together this article:

“Which camera should I buy?”

This is a question that gets asked many, many times on just about every photography forum on the web. I’ll attempt to answer it here.

“Should I buy a Canon or a Nikon?”

Sorry if this sounds harsh, but if that’s the limitation of your thinking, then the answer is a simple “Yes”. Both brands are good, any model from either brand is perfectly capable of producing perfectly good pictures. If you think that using equivalent models from either Canon or Nikon will make any difference to your ability as a photographer, then you are misguided. You may say that “My mate had a [insert name of camera to praise here] and it took brilliant pictures. My other mate had a [insert name of camera to rubbish here] and all his pictures were rubbish in comparison.” My response to that is that the first mate you mentioned was a better photographer. Give the camera used by mate 1 to mate 2, and mate 2 will still probably take rubbish pictures.

No camera will compose and frame an image for you. No camera will advise you about the quality of the lighting or the timing of the shot. No camera will tell you when the expression of the portrait sitter is “just right”. These are the things that make an image great. Only you can make these decisions before you press the button, the knowledge of how to do this well will come largely from practice, experience and exposing yourself (bad pun) to the work of others. There is no substitute – effort in equals results out. The camera will not do the work for you regardless of how much money you spent on it.

So, which camera should you buy? Again, sorry if this sounds unhelpful, but only you can answer that question. Every photographer is different, they have different styles, different abilities, different needs and different preferences. If you’re asking “which camera?” type questions, then I think it’s a fair assumption that you’re just starting out down the serious camera route and do not have a wealth of experience behind you, otherwise, why would you need to ask the question? It’s important to buy a camera that doesn’t get in the way of your ability to use it. What do I mean by that? Well, I have one friend who got rid of his Nikon D200 and moved to a camera with a much simpler set of user options. Why? Because the wealth of customisable features got in the way of his photography; he felt overwhelmed by the choices presented and needed to get a camera with a much simpler user interface. “You don’t need to use all the options, even if they are there” I hear some of you cry. Perfectly true. You can then end up like another friend who has a Canon 5D but only ever uses it for family/holiday snaps in ‘fully auto everything’ point and shoot mode. The salesman must have loved it when he walked in.

For someone looking for their first serious camera, it’s important to get a camera that YOU can use effectively without a whole bunch of features you don’t want getting in the way. If you feel overwhelmed by the options and user settings, then you’re going to be put off using the camera. If you’re put off from using it, you’re not going to become a good photographer.

Remember, for all a camera’s technical features and capabilities, ultimately, for a given set of user inputs, any camera is essentially changing a very small number of parameters
i) point of focus
ii) aperture
iii) shutter speed
iv) effective ISO
Every dSLR is still only changing these same variables, the difference is that every camera can go about doing it in a variety of different ways. Every photographer will have their own preferred way of achieving their desired settings and how one person does this may well be very different to another. What works for one person may well not work for you, and vice versa. Just because one person expresses an opinion that a particular model is brilliant because it has a particular feature, does not mean that feature will actually be any use to YOU. Even the most humble entry level dSLR has a range of features that will remain unused by most. Once you’ve developed a particular style of photography, you’ll probably only use a small subset of your camera’s features. Which subset you use will almost certainly be different to the set used by others.

Today’s dSLRs are all perfectly capable of producing stunning images. How these images are achieved varies from one photographer to the next, the important point is that the user had the skill, and more usually, the imagination, to capture the image. With few exceptions, the same image could have been captured by the same photographer using a different model of camera. There are exceptions to this, but from the material we see here on WPF I’d say the exceptions are few and far between.

The points to consider when choosing your dSLR are:

Price vs. your needs. If you’re only going to take family/holiday snaps, ask yourself “Do I really need a Canon 5D?” It’s entirely up to you to decide what you spend your money on, and if you’re happy to drop 2,500 on a camera for family/holiday snaps, then that’s your choice. Just don’t try and convince me that it will turn your snaps into commercial/artistic masterpieces. You may be better off buying an entry level model and spending the cash you’ve saved on another family holiday. Doing that, you’re going to get more use out of your camera on holiday, which will probably make you a better photographer in the long run, and have the benefit of spending quality time with your family.

Do I get on with the user interface? Probably the most important single thing to consider IMHO, but not something you can quantify on a spec sheet. What works for one person may not work for someone else, the user interface is a very subjective thing. Because it’s not quantifiable as a marketing feature, it’s something that is often overlooked by people doing their research on the internet. “Should I buy model X or model Y? I can’t make my mind up between these two.” is the usual question. Someone has done the research and narrowed the choice down to two. Good start. Once you’ve got it down to two models that are so close that you can’t decide, then you have to go and get your hands on them. Once you’ve held them in your hands, used the controls, seen how easy it is to select the features and modes that you want to use, it may become blindingly obvious which model is the one to go for. At this point, you may also find that you don’t get on with either of your two choices shortlisted. If this is the case, don’t be afraid to look at something else. If you don’t get on with the controls, using them the way YOU want to use them, then you won’t be encouraged to get out there and use the camera.

What features does each brand have relative to the kind of photography you want to do? When you buy a particular brand of camera, you are very much buying into a photographic system. This can result in quite a significant investment over time and make it a major decision to change brands once you’ve built up a lot of kit. Think about the kind of lenses you’re going to want to use, are they available in the focal lengths/apertures you need. Think about add-ons such as flashguns, or other accessories, are they available in the system I’m looking at if I need a particular feature/accessory?

But which one should I buy? Really, don’t get so hung up about it. If you really, really can’t decide after considering all of the above, then you’re thinking along the wrong lines. If the choice between buying either camera X or camera Y, after taking everything into account, is so close, then you’re just going to have to make a decision. Regardless of which model you chose, bear in mind it’s YOU that takes the photo, not the camera. Your decision on when to press the button will have far more impact on the results you produce than the badge on the front of the tool you are using.

Whichever model you end up buying, get out there and use it. It’s what cameras are made for.

Moonlighter 02-06-09 19:36

a profound guide for beginners..

andy153 02-06-09 20:44

Excellent Duncan. Superb advice for all asking that question and a great summary of the help many have given over the years.

Birdsnapper 02-06-09 20:47

Very well put, Duncan. Can I add that nobody should get hung up on megapixels. A 6mp camera will do a very good job, whilst 8mp will deliver images that are sufficient for most amateurs who do not do any severe cropping, and 10mp is generally more than you NEED.

gordon g 02-06-09 22:43

I agree with all the above. I would add that you should always consider the secondhand market. Lots of people get caught up in the upgrade race - another bonus for the salesman - and trade in perfectly capable cameras when a new model comes out. Buying a secondhand body will save you some cash to spend on good lenses, which is where it will really make a difference. (But that's a whole other story!)

graham harcombe 04-06-09 06:23

Thanks Duncan for an excellent letter. Quite understandably you address dSLR only as that is, of course, the preferred option for most 'serious' enthusiasts.

The biggest hurdle for attaining the goal of good quality equipment is a financial one and many camera manufacturers produce a range that embraces compacts, the so-called bridge range (mega-zooms included) before reaching the more expensive dSLR range.

So what do you lose when opting to purchase a lower-end camera? Ignoring the technical comparisons which are legion, I feel that the following points represent the 'tangible loss' that one has to consider:-

(a) speed range; can't freeze shot anything faster than a pedestrian.

(b) light tolerance; poor light, poor shot. That may well include limited flash coverage in that the low-power built in flash is inadquate for all but a small arc and range.

(c) depth of field settings: maybe some can provide this control, but most do not.

And is there anything to gain? Well, apart from the cash aspect, it is a smaller bundle to carry protect and 'hide'. Plus there are no extra bits of kit to carry around. A further consideration - which is very close to my heart - is that they are replaceable. My wife and I live aboard an ocean going yacht and electronics usually need replacing regularly due to the salty atmosphere.

Next is to ask ones-self "can I live with these limitations and save money".

Summary: There is no comparison between a half decent dSLR and a 'compact' type. But there is a perfectly valid and rewarding photographic world out there for those owing cameras in the cheaper end of the market.

colorz 23-06-09 12:24

maybe check a sigma dp-1, great photos

yelvertoft 26-07-09 10:20

An opinion from Benjamin Kanarek, a highly published top fashion photographer:

Benjamin Kanarek 27-07-09 20:34

1 Attachment(s)

Originally Posted by yelvertoft (Post 37864)
An opinion from Benjamin Kanarek, a highly published top fashion photographer:

Wow...Isn't it great to be famous for being well known...:)

yelvertoft 27-07-09 21:31


Originally Posted by Benjamin Kanarek (Post 37887)
Wow...Isn't it great to be famous for being well known...:)

Hello Ben,

A very warm welcome to WPF.

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