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a simple guide to choosing a camera

I am asked fairly regularly which camera I would recommend for a particular budget, or something along those lines. While I have my personal favourites in terms of make and model, I am always hesitant to recommend a specific camera without knowing much more about what will be required of it as how we use our cameras varies greatly. I think you need to ask several questions before you even begin to look for a camera make and model.

Both of my current eCourses have a more detailed look at cameras - how they work - and other equipment you may need, so I will share a simple guide to choosing a camera here (hopefully) without too much tech speak.

pressed flowers on a white table with a Leica d-lux 109, a simple guide to choosing a camera

I'm sure you have a rough idea on what type of camera you are looking for, from a basic point and shoot compact camera, to one which gives you manual control of settings. Large or small. Packed with features and extras or with a focus on image quality. So as a starting point to choosing your camera, ask yourself the following questions:

what is your budget?

Your starting point, of course, will be how much you want to spend?

But before you get carried away, ask yourself this too...

what other equipment might you need?

SD cards are essential and can be expensive, remember to factor them into your budget. You can decide on the memory size you need depending on how many images you capture, how many you are likely to take before you have a chance to transfer the images to other storage and how many MB of memory each uses. It is worth considering a second memory card just in case you fill one before you have the chance to transfer the images.

You will need a case of some sort for your camera - it is essential, unless you plan for your camera to sit idle on a shelf.

Any further equipment is up to you - a tripod? Lenses? The list could go on.

what will you be shooting?

The requirements may change with the subject you shoot. Many cameras can cope with a lot of situations, but be mindful if - for example - you are looking to regularly shoot in low light, or choose fast moving subjects. There are instances when the subject you shoot requires a specific camera capability.

dslr or mirrorless?

This is a question I am asking myself currently as I am considering whether I want to invest in more lenses for my current DSLR or should I swap to a mirrorless set up. So, what is the difference?

The difference is the mirror. In a DSLR there is a mirror which reflects the light to a viewfinder giving you an instant look at what the camera sees - this is known as an optical viewfinder. They can be heavy.

In a mirrorless camera - as the name suggests - there is no mirror. Instead the viewfinder is digital, showing a preview of the image the sensor is seeing (the sensor is what records the photograph).

There are some great guides out there to the differences, pros and cons. The biggest issue I personally have had with a mirrorless camera - and I have tried a few, see this post for one, is the (much) shorter battery life - but you could always buy extra batteries. That said, the image quality on a mirrorless camera can be just as good as a DSLR.

I found this guide which may be useful when deciding which type is for you.

megapixels & raw

Megapixels are important, the more the better! And the ability to shoot in RAW is also desirable. RAW enables you to edit the entire recorded image, a JPEG has already been processed by your camera. I explain this further in my eCourses, suffice to say that RAW images have more megapixels and which gives you more to play with.

It is all relative though, if you are wanting a camera after using only a phone then many compact cameras may well do the job perfectly well for now as they are mostly a step up from a phone camera anyway. If you have a compact camera and are looking for something that will take a better photograph then this is something you need to think about more, particularly the number of megapixels.

interchangeable lenses

Not essential, but if you can afford a camera with an interchangeable lens I would recommend it. It is likely to serve you better and keep you happier over time than a camera which is limited to one lens.

Further to this, does the camera you are considering have a digital or optical zoom? A digital zoom simply enlarges the centre of the image you see through your viewfinder / on screen. Therefore it uses less megapixels and consequently it enlarges the remaining pixels and can mean your image appears slightly blurry. An optical zoom changes the focal length (without getting to techy, from 24mm to 50mm for example) but still uses all the cameras megapixels so the image is likely to be clearer.

manual settings

As above, not essential, but a camera with manual settings will potentially keep you happier for longer. All cameras come with some auto settings, but to really learn photography you will need to understand the manual settings (ISO, shutter speed and aperture).

consider second hand

Cameras can be expensive. My currrent DSLR was second hand, as was its lens. There are some amazing deals to be had if you are buying from a place you trust and the camera has been checked and listed with full details of it's condition. Of course there are many ways to buy second hand, but I prefer to stay away from the auction sites and use a larger dealer who I already use trust.

I have used both Wex Photo Video and Park Cameras myself, though I am sure there are plenty of retailers selling used cameras and recommend you shop around if used is your choice.

try it on

Once you think you have an idea of the model you would like to buy, find a retailer and have a look at the camera in the flesh. Ask them to show you how it works. Get a feel for the camera - even if you are shopping around for the best price elsewhere - hold it and try it on before you buy.

And once you have bought a new camera, do remember it can take a while to really make friends with it. When I switched from Canon to Nikon, the key functions were entirely confusing and it felt wrong. Now though, I find it much more intuitive to use and we get along very well! I like a camera without frills, you may want something fancier. In camera processing and filters, flip screens. You name it, it's probably available somewhere.

Happy hunting!

J x


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