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 Instagram and more people than ever 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.
A couple of years 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.
If you’re in the same situation, don’t sweat it. It’s actually pretty easy.
Let’s dig in!
Choosing the best camera for Instagram
- It’s all in the sensor
- Don’t buy a Point-and-Shoot Camera
- Look for an APS-C sensor
- Skip the full-frame cameras
- Use your phone until you save enough to buy a good camera
- Buy some basic accessories
It’s all in the sensor
In order to find 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 differences between cameras is its sensor size, which 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:
Don’t buy 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 smartphone 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.
Look for an APS-C sensor
The next step up (and a big step up) are the APS-C sensor cameras most commonly referred to as DSLR cameras or mirrorless cameras. These are the mid-level cameras that start at around $400 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 a5100 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.
Skip the full-frame cameras
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.
Use your phone until you save enough to buy a good camera
Smartphones these days come with excellent cameras installed. A photo taken on a smartphone 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? As a beginner in photography, it’s more important to understand the basics of photography than to start “gearing up”. Save your money, skip the point-and-shoot cameras, and buy an APS-C sensor camera when you’re ready.
Buys some basic accessories
When trying to shoot outdoors photography, it’s important to start with a basic set of accessories that will make capturing the moment much easier.
No matter what camera you choose, these accessories should be in every starter kit:
A tripod is essential in getting images in low light conditions, such as during sunset and sunrise, or creating smooth water effects such as when shooting waterfalls. It also comes in incredibly handy when shooting pictures on your own.
Circular Polarizing (CPL) Filter
This filter really helps to bring out the colors when it’s bright outside. It makes lakes look blue instead of mirror-like and makes the sky look blue instead of bright.
Neutral Density (ND) Filters
Just like sunglasses for your eyes, these filters darken the image to be able to shoot in bright conditions.
There’s nothing worse than running out of battery just when your best images are being captured. Get a few extra batteries and always keep them fully charged.
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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