What matters in buying a camera

Tips from a pro to avoid the hype
Buying a New Camera? Let's Make It Easy

Colin showing off the big Canon SLR style camera vs the small ‘mirrorless’ Fuji cameras we love.

Gimmicks vs Good Advice:

There’s a LOT of sales gimmicks, fallacies, YouTubers trying to get views, and just bad advice out there on camera buying.

Here are some of the gimmicks that are promoted in selling cameras, over real quality features:
  • digital zoom (what you want: a real zoom with the lens is called an ‘optical zoom’)
  • high frame rate to ‘catch all the action’
  • X amount higher resolution is SO much better (ignore talk of megapixels)
  • Instagram-like effect settings! (Instead, you can do that better in Instagram or a computer app)
  • direct printing from camera to one brand of printer
  • bundled kits full of stuff you’ll rarely use (what you really need: 2 good batteries, UV glass filter to protect the lens, 2 or more camera cards)
  • “I switched from THIS brand to THAT brand” videos on YouTube (often for reasons YOU don’t need)
 
 Things you’ll see advertised that are actually useful:
  • built-in Wi-Fi/easy phone connection
  • face recognition & eye focusing
  • touchscreen focus (and anything that makes focusing easy)
  • flip screen to get creative angles
  • easy computer (webcam) hookup for upping your Zoom calls game
  • better low-light focus & low-light image quality
 
 

Take Better Photos:

More than any amazing ‘feature’ of the camera, is you learning how to use it, and setting up your photo situation for success.

Check out my FREE hour talk “No Fear Photography” video at the bottom of the page (or HERE)

two people's hands holding cell phone cameras snap happy graduate couple's photo

As the saying goes… “the best camera — is the one you have with you at the time”.

These folks will be perfectly happy with the memory they are snapping on their phones.

Is it OK to just use my phone camera?

You bet!
But upgrading gives you the ability to:
  • zoom in with a real lens
  • take clearer photos in dim light
  • give you more control of camera settings

— If you really enjoy photography, it’s a  slam-dunk to upgrade from your phone camera.

Caveat: But do consider how big of a camera you are willing to cary around.

Quality:

To answer the biggest question you probably have — Most camera quality and brands are fine today. 
So don’t worry too much about the brand name… if it’s one you’ve heard of, it should be a decent camera  (Canon & Sony are the biggest names today, but Fuji, Panasonic, Nikon, etc are all fine).

General Tips:

Colin Huth holding a large SLR camera and a small Fuji mirrorless camera

big vs small… it’s up to you which camera has the features and quality you need— we love them both!

On Camera Sizes:

You’ll see 3 basic camera sizes/systems today:

  • phone camera (really SO good now for snaps… but you want more, right?)
  • mirrorless “4/3rds” cameras (smaller body & usually interchangeable lenses)
  • SLR cameras (mostly replaced by mirrorless cameras now)
  • See the ‘Putting It All Together’ section for details on each camera type.
Your real decision is if you want to carry a big SLR camera body or a smaller camera, & what the tradeoffs are in image quality.

image of the Adorama website with text about their VIP360 program

If you are buying online, Adorama & B&H Photo are real brick-and-mortar stores, and are the spots where the pros shop.

Buy Local:
With all this confusion on features, there’s still a great value to buying from a camera store if you are unsure of what you need. 
If you are in the Raleigh or Durham area, I love Southeastern Camera for friendly service, used equipment and variety of brands.
You might pay 10-20% more, but you’ll avoid a $1000 mistake (that camera that you just leave in the closet!) and you’ll support a local business.

What Makes A Camera Usable & Good Quality?

top dials on a Fuji camera for setting exposure and shutter speed
manual dials on cameras like this Fuji mirrorless make changing settings SO much easier

  • Think about how big a camera you want to carry around
  • How good it is in low light (research ‘high ISO noise’ and lens brightness ‘F Stops’ for your camera choices)
  • Sensor Size = Key Quality Differentiator (more info below)
  • In general, price usually does equate to quality
  • How easy are the controls to find and set
  • Does the physical camera build quality feel like it’ll take a few drops (if you are that sort of person)
  • For action photos of kids/sports— fast/consistent focusing is another quality that really matters 
  • If you want to pursue a photo hobby, can the camera be set to Manual mode? Do you have to dig through 100 menus to change useful things?
 
For bonus points: Learn a bit about lens brightness by reading tech reviews on DPReview.com or in my video below.
 

The Pro Look:

photo of girl holding a fossil toward the camera

a mirrorless camera will give you that soft ‘pro look’ background that your phone is trying to fake with software

The amount a camera photo looks good in low light, and has that ‘pro’ look of a soft background and sharp subjects relates to the sensor size. The sensor is what actually records the photo inside your camera.

As you go up in camera size, the sensor gets bigger as well. Your phone’s camera sensor is tiny, your phone’s is around 6mm, but then an SLR sensor is 35mm in size. Each increase in size brings better quality images (and of course costs). See sensor size chart and more info HERE.

The Megapixel Myth:

IGNORE megapixel count. It’s fudged a ton of ways.
A lower MP camera with a really big sensor will take better photos every time… so a 48 MP phone camera won’t give you pictures you like as much (particularly in low light, etc) as a 12 MP mirrorless or SLR.
Larger sensor cameras, (like in a mirrorless) = better image quality, more of a ‘pro look’ to photos, better images in low light.

Do Frames per Second Matter for Still Photos:

IGNORE cameras saying they’ll give you more frames per second.
Any camera today will take a couple of shots per second just fine. It’s usually the FOCUS being slow that’s the real issue (or human error ;-P)
If you are truly shooting sports as a pro, that’s different, but unless you’re looking at a $6,000 camera, the frames will never beat just becoming good at taking one or two frames at the right time.
Ken Tip: practice taking lots of photos and earn to catch a nice moment. Check the photos right away and see if you are consistently too early or late and adjust. Make it fun!
Don’t let the tech terms throw you— just remember that the bigger the camera sensor, the better the photo can be, in several key ways.

Get Great Light

How much will you take photos indoors without flash, and how good is the camera in low light?
Please consider getting a small add-on flash with your camera that can bounce light into the ceiling. That will improve your photos more than any other piece of equipment you can buy.
 
Good high-ISO performance, which helps you take great photos in dim light, is critical. This is totally forgotten as most people shop.
The better a camera is in low light, and the brighter the lens is (read DigitalPhotoReview for info and samples on this) the more useful it’ll be .
 
 

 

image of a photo flash with the top able to point toward the ceiling

Putting It All Together: Summary

Sensor size = Better Quality

  •  Phone cameras have the smallest, so worst in low light, least ‘pro’ look to the shots.
  • Mirrorless cameras (also called 4/3rds): a really nice compromise on size, quality in low light, pro looking images and since they are a premium camera, they tend to have better lenses, etc.
  • Full-Frame Mirrorless cameras Current top in 2022 is Canon & Sony. Good in low light and the companies are focusing on making mirrorless cameras 100% now.
  • SLR (like a Canon Rebel, etc) : pretty much dead. Go for mirrorless.
  • Pro SLRs: This has been replaced with good quality full-frame mirrorless cameras. We own and love the Canon R5. The R6 is great too.

More light:

Get a camera that you can add a bigger flash for better light.
It is the #1 biggest tip I give to improve photos. Don’t just have a tiny built-in camera flash… get an add on flash that can bounce light into the ceiling (it can point up).

Easy to Use:

This is what’s lost in most camera design today… the simplicity is gone.

Look for a camera with easy to find key settings that really will improve your photos. The + – buttons for changing exposure, the white balance settings and the mode settings.

A camera should be easy to set, and, you know… just feel good to hold.

It’s Here: Mirrorless Cameras:

Well everyone…I said it was coming for years — and we’re here now.

If you want a more pro camera, (and aren’t a working sports shooter), you’re now looking first at ‘Mirrorless’ cameras.

This has been the biggest change since cameras went digital.

They are high-quality, easier to find settings on, more compact than SLRs were, and face/eye focus will give you more in-focus images — Love it, right??!

We love the Canon R series and the whole Fuji line, but Sony’s are also terrific and used by pros.

 

Ken Tip: Best Site to Research Cameras:

image of cameras and text for 'Buying Guide' on DP Review website

The absolute best site for researching cameras, seeing what’s coming, doing comparisons, and seeing example photos is Digital Photo Review.

What did I miss?

Feel free to get in touch or tweet at me  or better IG DM me to let me know what’s not clear in this guide, so I can improve it, help you & maybe save you some money!  

Ken Teaching: Take Better Photos

No Fear Photography

(5/5)
Don’t miss my highly-reviewed (by both RIT & attendees) FREE 1 hour talk on taking better photos below!
… just scroll on down…

— Ken

Free Learning with Ken:

My FREE 1 Hour “No Fear Photography” Talk on Taking Better Photos

Get the handouts:

I created special, simple photo formula handouts for my class. They also included links to some of the ideas we discussed above.

Get the handouts from my 'No Fear Photography' talk:

How to organize all thos photos?

photo gallery of images from My Fair Lady

coming soon….

We hear so often from clients that they are just swimming in photos, so we consult with them (as well as RIT, the Durham Chamber, and other organziations) on how to easily manage photos coming in from a number of sources.

This setup can even include the nifty facial recognition, so you can automatically find all the best shots of your CEO, or that donor for the social post, etc.

Stay tuned…. 

Best Cameras 2022 Video:

Best Site to Research Cameras:

image of cameras and text for 'Buying Guide' on DP Review website

The absolute best site for researching cameras, seeing what’s coming, doing comparisons, and seeing example photos is Digital Photo Review.

Example Photos:

 

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