What kind of camera should you get?

It’s no surprise that people ask me for my opinion on the kind of camera they should buy when they are in the market for a new camera – there are so many options available these days that it can be hard to narrow the list down to the one perfect camera.  Fortunately, the question has an easy answer – this camera is the perfect choice for you.

Hasselblad H5D-200c http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1078381-REG/hasselblad_3013708_h5d_200c_ms_digital_camera.html, accessed 6/26/15

Hasselblad H5D-200c
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1078381-REG/hasselblad_3013708_h5d_200c_ms_digital_camera.html, accessed 6/26/15

The Hasselblad H5D-200c will allow you to create images of the highest quality and you can have this amazing camera for just $45,000.  Oh wait, you don’t have any lenses – no problem, just add another $2000 – $20,000 depending on the focal lengths you want and then you’ll be all set.

Okay, yeah, it’s a bit out of my budget too but even if it wasn’t, it still would not be the perfect  camera for every kind of work that I do but I’m sure I’d find many ways to put it to good use.

The H5D-200c would be an excellent camera for this kind of image because of its advanced bit depth and dynamic range.

The H5D-200c would be an excellent camera for this kind of image because of its advanced bit depth and dynamic range.

So then, what is the ideal camera?  The only real answer is that it depends but fortunately there are just three things that you need to consider:  your budget, your intended use(s), and camera size.

I think for most of us, budget is the easiest part of the equation – do you want gear worth more than a car?  Less than $100?  Maybe somewhere in between?  Size is important too because if it is too small, it will limit its capabilities and if it is too big then it’s more likely that your camera will be at home, in your trunk, etc. when you really need it.  Be realistic about what you are willing to carry around when you make your decision and you’ll be much more likely to have your camera with you when that Kodak moment presents itself.

Once you’ve decided on how big of a camera you are willing to carry around and how much you can afford to spend, then you need to spend some time deciding how you want to use your camera keeping in mind that if you only need a fancier setup from time to time then you might be better off renting that gear as you need it rather than purchasing it outright.  There are many online rental houses online that will ship what you need right to your door.

Interested in making studio portraits of your dogs?  Then a studio camera might be the right choice.

Interested in making studio portraits of your dogs? Then a studio camera might be the right choice.

So what interests you most?  Do you want to snap photos when you are out and about enjoying life?  Do you want to make portraits of your family, friends, or pets?  How about sports?  Fine art still life photography?  These are the kinds of questions that will help you narrow down your list.

Once you decide on the budget, the size of the camera, and the kinds of things you want to photograph, then it is time to narrow down the category of camera that will best suit your needs.  At this point I’ll say that there are six different categories of cameras to choose from:

  1. Smart phone cameras – don’t dismiss the Samsung Galaxies or iPhones out of hand, they are more than adequate for certain types of photography.
  2. Point and shoot cameras – these are dedicated cameras and come with a huge array of features that may or may not suit your needs.
  3. Mirrorless cameras (might also be referred to as compact system cameras) – these have interchangeable lenses but you have to compose your image using an LCD rather than visualizing the scene directly through the lens.
  4. Digital SLR (single-lens reflex) – these cameras have interchangeable lenses and historically had larger image sensors than the first three categories however mirrorless cameras can now have the same size sensors as dSLRs so the main difference is that when you look through the viewfinder, you are using a mirror or pentaprism so you are actually looking through the lens at the scene without any electronic enhancement.
  5. Medium format – similar to the dSLR but with a larger sensor and a larger price tag (see the Hasselblad above) – probably not the camera for you.
  6. Large format – if you are reading this then definitely not the camera for you.
Do you like close up or macro photography?  A digital SLR might be the right fit for your needs.

Do you like close up or macro photography? A digital SLR might be the right fit for your needs.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that you already know enough about your camera’s phone and that you are not interested in medium or large format cameras so I’ll skip those going forward.  I’ll wrap things up this week listing some of the pros and cons of the other categories and next week I’ll write about some popular camera options and why they may be well suited for certain kinds of photography.

Point and shoot cameras

The advent of quality smart phone cameras has somewhat diminished the market for this class of cameras but I think they are still worth consideration because the image quality can be better than phone cameras in certain conditions and because they often come with optical zoom lenses (as opposed to digital zoom which is a trick of the processor that results in significantly lower image quality).

Some of the potential pros:

  • They are compact and can fit in your pocket or purse
  • Most have lenses that go from wide angle to telephoto
  • They have a wide variety of features including allowing you to send images to your smart phone or directly to social media sites, some are waterproof, some are durable enough that they can survive being dropped, and more
  • Some allow you to capture RAW files in addition to or in place of JPEGs
  • They have powerful flashes (but that might also be a con)

Some of the potential cons:

  • They have small sensor sizes which might affect image quality
  • They have fixed lenses so you can’t exchange them for specialty uses (like macro or super zoom)
  • They have powerful flashes that are close to the lens (so red eye is a real concern)

Mirrorless cameras

Some of the potential pros:

  • The sensor size is larger than the point and shoots meaning better image detail
  • They have interchangeable lenses so you can find the perfect lens for just about any use
  • They are a nice middle of the road size – big enough to easily hold for most people yet smaller than dSLRs so they are not as heavy
  • The lenses sit closer to the sensor than dSLRs so they can be physically smaller (good for weight and for price)
  • They can make use of gear like flashes and strobes

Some of the potential cons:

  • They are still a relatively new category so there is not as much gear made for these cameras compared to dSLRs
  • They might have a smaller sensor size (compared to dSLRs) so they are less sensitive to light
  • You have to compose your image using the LCD on the back of the camera or on an electric view finder

Digital SLR cameras

Some of the potential pros:

  • They have interchangeable lenses so you can find the perfect lens for just about any use
  • You can look through the lens to compose your scene (or use the LCD on the back of the camera)
  • They’ve been around for more than a dozen years so the accessory market is fully developed
  • They are fast
  • The image quality is excellent due to larger image sensors and a well established market (which is great for competition)
  • They can make use of gear like flashes and strobes

Some of the potential cons:

  • They are relatively expensive compared to point and shoots and mirrorless cameras
  • They are relatively large and heavy

I think that’s a good place to wrap things up for the week.  Check back next week to see some current cameras for each category and a list of reasons why those cameras are well suited for certain kinds of photography.

All cameras are pretty well suited for taking photos of pretty flowers.

All cameras are pretty well suited for taking photos of pretty flowers.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)