How to Choose the Best Camera for Instagram

choosing best camera for social media and instagram

One of the most frequently asked questions I get is “what camera do you use?” and “what camera should I buy as a beginner?” Daily we see so many amazing pictures on Instagram and other social media platforms and more than ever people are investing in camera gear and learning how to take better photos.

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 to share them on social media, 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

  1. It’s all in the sensor
  2. Don’t buy a Point-and-Shoot Camera
  3. Look for an APS-C sensor
  4. Skip the full-frame cameras
  5. Use your phone until you save enough to buy a good camera
  6. 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:


Sensor Size Chart



Don’t buy a Point-and-Shoot camera

A Point and Shoot camera is the cheapest camera that you will find. 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 abroad 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 a couple of years 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.

Sony a5100 16-50mm Mirrorless Digital Camera


A couple of photos taken on my Sony a5100 camera:

Best beginner camera for Instagram


best camera for instagram


Overall this camera takes amazing photos and quality is so good that my photos have been used in magazines, published by major websites and used in prints. The way I see it, you don’t need fancy gear or spend all of your savings on the latest “trending” camera to take amazing pictures. All you need is a good beginner camera and a lot of time behind the lens practicing how to use it.


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 the Huntington Beach Pier at sunset. It was taken on a beautiful summer evening with amazing natural colors and edited on my favorite phone app Polarr.


best beginner camera for instagram photography
Shot on my i-Phone


Would you be able to tell that this photo was taken on my i-Phone? As a beginner in photography, it’s more important to understand the basics of photography than to start “gearing up”. Save your money, practice with your phone, and buy an APS-C sensor camera when you’re ready.


Buy some basic accessories

When you’ve purchased your first beginner camera, 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 basic accessories should be in every starter kit:


A good 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. Having a tripod also comes in incredibly handy when shooting pictures on your own. I highly suggest getting a lightweight tripod otherwise you’ll end up leaving it at home or in your car most of the time. Instead of getting expensive gear, get the type of gear that you’ll actually end up using. For myself, the weight of the gear often plays the deciding role and this tripod is light enough that I don’t mind carrying it around.


best tripod for waterfalls
Shot on my Sony a5100 camera using a tripod


Circular Polarizing Lens (CPL) Filter
Polarizing filters help to reduce glare in water and bring out the best colors when it’s bright outside especially in the daytime. Having a polarizing lens is a must if you like to photograph water like lakes, ocean, rivers, and waterfalls. This is my favorite polarizing lens filter to use with my Sony camera. It’s very easy to attach to my camera lens and small enough to store in my camera bag when I don’t need it. When buying a polarizing filter note that they come in different sizes so make sure to find one that fits your camera lens.

Best polarizing lens for social media photos


Neutral Density (ND) Filters
Just like sunglasses for your eyes, neutral density filters darken the image to be able to shoot in bright conditions. They work similar to polarizing filters and attach at the end of your camera lens. This awesome filter starter pack comes with a neutral density filter, a polarizer filter, and a UV filter to improve your image quality during harsh shooting conditions.


Extra Batteries
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. I love this Sony battery packet that comes with extra batteries and a car charging adapter which is great when I forget to charge my batteries the night before and allows me to charge them as I drive to my shooting location.


Extra Memory Cards

Just like batteries, it’s always handy to keep a few extra memory cards on hand. I’ve made the mistake of getting to a location to realize I’ve left my memory card in my laptop so now I always bring a few backup memory cards in my camera bag. My favorite memory cards are these by SanDisk.


Camera Bag

When I first got my Sony camera, I didn’t invest in a camera bag and instead I would just toss my camera in my car, carry it in my hand or throw it in a backpack along with other belongings. Without having a proper place to store it I would get my camera scratched, sandy or even occasionally drop it. Eventually, with time, I broke my lens and had to get the entire camera replaced. It was an expensive lesson to learn and one I will never repeat again. After I got my new Sony a5100 camera I got this amazing cheap camera bag and it’s been a lifesaver. It was the best 20 bucks I’ve spent to protect my camera gear.


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.


Shop my camera:


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Related Article:

How To Take Better Instagram Travel Photos

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Great article, just what I needed thanks, I have looking to get the Olympus Pen….what are y thoughts on that versus your Sony?
I love the retro look of the pen – mistaken for looks over function???


Thank you for the article 🙂


Thank you so much for this article with me

Ciriaco Filho

I was just scooping around your blog and I found this great article you wrote about cameras and it was just what I needed. Thank you. You made things much easier for me when I buy my next camera. Thank you for the information.

Raj Mahal

I take a lot of pics and over the last 1-2 years have started using a DXO one. Plugs into the bottom of my iPhone or stand alone if needed. Takes amazing photos and fits in my pocket. Totally worth it.


Hey do you use kit lens or sth else?


Do you have any advice on how to edit pictures? I have the song mirrorless camera as well. I got a lens to take pictures with a blurred background and I love it. Do recommend any particular lenses?


Hello! Great article and thanks for sharing this useful info. Is the Sony a5100 good for taking food pics and close-up photos with blurry background? Also, I see this article was written over a year ago. Is the a5100 still a great camera for travelers or are there better alternatives within the same price range? I’m looking for a light camera and takes high quality photos for my website and instagram. What lens (lenses) do you recommend to bring when traveling? Lastly, how easy is it to use?


Great article.

What lens did you use for the Tolantongo shot mentioned in this article?
You used the Sony a5100 camera, but did you use the standard 18-55mm lens ?

Also, do you rember what time of the year you visit the site?
I hear the color of the water may change in different months.

I’m planning to go there some time this year or next year.


Mandy Pl

Hi there Laura!! So I’m on a solo adventure at this exact moment…driving thru most of the west…in Taos, NM now and loving it….I was just about to go get a fancy smancy camera to get some good Rio Grande pics….thanks so much for your input, I’m gonna get the one you have now. You’ll have to see some of my stuff, I would greatly value your opinion. Safe Travels!!


Great information on what to bring. I just clicked on your link for the LowePro bag and ordered it to replace my other carry bag. I like how that bag sits as well as the smaller size. I’m almost debating getting a Sony APS-C camera used because I’m kind of afraid of bringing my Fuji XT-3 with me. That camera is my favorite camera and I adore it. However, it would probably be near perfect since it is an APS-C sensor, it’s water resistant and it’s kind of resistant to being banged around. Have you guys ever considered a “tough”… Read more »