One of the most frequently asked questions I get is “what camera do you use?” or “what camera should I buy?” There are so many amazing pictures on social media today and more people want to learn how to take them too. When it comes to beginner photography, there are TONS of cameras available out there. So how do you know which one is best for you? If you are looking to buy your first camera, it can be a bit confusing. I know it was for me. About a year ago I knew I wanted to start taking better pictures on my travels and share them on Instagram, but I had no idea what camera to get. I figured a good place to start would be browsing around Best Buy so I took a trip down to the store. As I was looking around the store a knowledgeable store attendant approached me and saved me from making a terrible purchase. I want to share some tips I have learned since that day that will help you make the right camera purchase decision as well. Let’s dig in!
What is the difference between all the cameras?
In order to find out what is the best camera for you, it’s important to understand what distinguishes a low-end camera from a high end one. Why is one camera $100 and another $5000? One of the main factors between a low-end camera versus a professional camera is its sensor size. What is a sensor? A sensor is the part of the camera that captures the image. The bigger the sensor, the more detail it can capture in a photo so generally the more expensive the camera is. Here’s a cheat sheet on sensor size to help you out:
Should I go with a Point and Shoot camera?
A Point and Shoot camera is the cheapest camera that you will find online or at a store. In the chart above, the red camera in this example is a Point and Shoot style camera. It is very easy to use (hence the name Point and Shoot) but it has a small sensor size meaning it takes photos with low quality and little detail. If you notice, the Point and Shoot camera sensor size is not that different than a smartphone sensor. That means that your smart phone can take about the same quality photos as a Point and Shoot style camera.
There are a few scenarios under which this camera type would be ideal. For one, not everyone has a smartphone. The Point and Shoot camera is the type of camera that my mom loves to use for family travel photos to share on Facebook. She doesn’t need anything fancy, just something that is easy to operate. Also, you may not always want to bring your smartphone everywhere with you to take photos. I remember feeling uneasy about bringing my $500 iPhone on my first trip to Europe and many people might feel the same. They would rather invest $100 in a low-end camera than bring their nice phone abroad.
What is a good camera for a beginner?
The next step up (and a big step up) are the APS-C sensor cameras most commonly referred to as DSLR cameras. These are the mid-level cameras that start at around $500 and what you see everyone using nowadays. They are a great choice for photography beginners because they won’t cost you an arm and a leg but take significantly better photos than your phone. As you can see in the sensor chart above, the sensor size jump from Point and Shoot or iPhone to beginner DSLR is pretty big. That means these cameras capture a LOT of detail in their photos.
This is the type of camera that I use as well. My Sony a5000 cost me $450 and it is very small and light-weight, yet it’s packed with many features similar to the professional cameras. Because this camera is very light, it makes it very easy to travel with whether I am heading on a backpacking trip or traveling across the globe. I bring it everywhere with me, even kayaking or paddle boarding! I have been using this camera for over a year now and I absolutely love it! Other great features are the flip screen for taking selfies and wifi connection for instantly sending photos to my phone, letting me upload my photos to social media in seconds.
Do I need a $1000+ camera?
The advanced cameras that photography professionals use come with the largest Full Frame sensor. These cameras can capture the best image detail, but are also much more expensive, usually starting at around $1000.
So does that mean that you need to buy a $1000+ Full Frame camera to take a good photo? Absolutely not. If you are purchasing an expensive Full-Frame DSLR camera for social media posting, you might be disappointed to find out that most social media apps downgrade the quality of photos anyways to reduce the file size. The super expensive cameras are great for prints and ultra-high-quality digital images, so you should only be looking into these if you have been working in photography for a while and are absolutely sure that you need it. But for social media usage this is a complete overkill.
Besides, what happens to many people is that they get the expensive camera but then they find out they have no idea how to operate all the fancy features. Or they are too afraid to take their $2000 camera on a hiking trip or abroad thinking it might get stolen, broken or draw too much attention to them as tourists. So the camera just keeps sitting in a desk drawer accumulating dust over years. Getting a nice camera is just like getting a brand new car. We are afraid to take it “off roading” and get it banged up. But if you went with a camera that is less expensive, you wouldn’t be as afraid to take it on a trip and put it to good use. Just remember, you can always upgrade to better gear down the road when you start feeling more comfortable with photography and start gaining more knowledge.
Can my phone take great pictures?
Absolutely! The smart phones these days come with excellent cameras installed. A photo taken on a smart phone with the right weather conditions and editing can look as good on Instagram as a photo taken on a professional camera. For example, check out this photo of Moraine Lake. On the left is a photo taken on my Android phone and edited with a Snapseed app (available for free on iPhones and Androids) and on the right is a photo taken on my Sony a5000 camera and edited with a professional editing program called Adobe Lightroom.
Can you tell the difference? You don’t need to spend a whole lot of money on camera gear or software in order to make your photos look great. As a beginner in photography, it’s more important to understand the basics of photography than to start “gearing up”.
What other camera gear do I need?
There are all kinds of gear you can always upgrade to as you learn more about photography. Filters, wide angle lenses, zoom lenses, tripods… there is a lot to learn about photography and it depends on what type of photography you are trying to get into like outdoors, food, fashion, portraits, etc. But until you learn how to operate a basic camera, don’t even worry about getting any of this extra gear. Focus your time and efforts on learning and understanding how to operate the camera that you choose to go with. A good place to start is to learn about the photography basics like aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Once you learn about these basics, go outside and practice in different weather conditions like during overcast, gloomy weather vs. bright and sunny. As you practice shooting during different weather conditions, you will learn what works and what doesn’t work for your photography needs. Then as you learn, you can upgrade your gear, but until you practice for a while, you will not know what type of extra gear you might need.
After you find your perfect beginner camera, first learn and understand how to operate it. No $5000 camera can save a photo from a bad angle, bad lighting conditions or poor post-production editing. A camera is just a tool for you to use in photography, but learning photography skills and editing is what really distinguishes a good photo from a bad one. If you are a beginner in photography and find that you need to step up from your phone, make the jump to a mid-level camera and just start practicing. As you learn new skills, you will feel like a pro in no time.
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Written by Laura Sausina