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 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:
- 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 their 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. 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 are 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:
Overall this camera takes amazing photos and the 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 them. But for social media usage, this is 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.
Would you be able to tell me that this photo was taken on my iPhone? 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.
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.
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.
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.
When I first got my Sony camera, I didn’t invest in a camera bag. 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 the Lowepro camera bag and it’s been a lifesaver. It was the best money 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.
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33 thoughts on “How To Choose The Best Camera For Instagram”
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???
I have never used an Olympus Pen camera before, but it is a great looking camera! The sensor size on the Olympus (Four Thirds) is 40% smaller than the sensor on the Sony a5000 (APS-C), so you would be sacrificing some amount of the detail for the looks. At the end of the day if the look will make you want to bring it out and use it more, then hey, why not? Whichever choice you make, most importantly just get out and practice : )
Thank you for the article 🙂
You are very welcome! Please let me know if you have any questions : )
Thank you so much for this article with me
You are very welcome! Hope you found it helpful!
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.
You are very welcome! I remember it was very confusing when I was shopping for my camera. I hope this helps clear up some things : )
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, Raj! That’s awesome! I’m all about small, lightweight gear. If it fits into your pocket, even better! : )
Hey do you use kit lens or sth else?
Hi Ewelina! Majority of the time I use the lens that came with my Sony camera. I do own a Rokinon 12mm wide lens as well that I occasionally use for really wide landscape shots, but most of the time I shoot with the kit lens.
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?
I am actually working on an editing course + Lightroom presets right now : ) I will email you when I’m finished with the course if you’d like to check it out. I have also written a few editing articles on Snapseed and Polarr, my two favorite phone editing apps.
For my Sony camera most of the time I use the lens that it came with, but for the ultra wide landscape shots, I love this Rokinon 12 mm wide lens. I’ve had it for a few years and I love it.
Have a wonderful weekend,
Thank you so much for replying! Last question, what drone equipement do you recommend?
I highly recommend this folding DJI Mavic Pro drone. DJI makes the best drones out there right now and this one is great because it folds up really small so you can take it everywhere, has a great camera that can rotate vertically to take photos for Instagram, and stays in the air for a long time. They came out with a new folding one called the Mavic Air which is nice and a tiny bit smaller but the camera doesn’t rotate which is huge if you plan to use it for Instagram. And any other drone is just too big to drag around everywhere.
We love ours and use it any chance we get.
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?
I love the Sony a5100 camera because it’s so versatile and can take all types of photos easily. While I’m no foodie expert, I do use the Sony a5100 camera to take food photos as well and it can certainly create a blurry background while shooting in Macro setting (a setting that was created to help beginners shoot up-close photos with blurry backgrounds). Although I recently upgraded to a full-frame professional camera, I still find myself using my Sony a5100 ALL the time because it’s so lightweight and often I just don’t want to deal with bringing my heavy full frame camera with me. Plus, as far as using photos for social media, websites and working with brands, I haven’t really noticed any difference in picture quality between my Sony a5100 and my full frame camera.
A lot of my travel friends also love the Sony a6000 camera that’s in the same price range as the Sony a5100. Both of these cameras are very beginner friendly, easy to use and come with auto settings that will adjust the lighting and exposure automatically.
For traveling, I typically use this Rokinon 12 mm wide lens. It’s awesome because it will capture more of the scenery in one shot that’s perfect for outdoors and landscape.
Hope this helps! Let me know if you have any other questions.
Hi Laura! Thank you so much for taking the time to reply. I truly appreciate this helpful information. I really enjoy your wonderful website. Your IG pictures are gorgeous! Thanks again!
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.
I use the Sony a5100 kit lens on the majority of my pictures, including this one. We also got some pretty cool shots using our Dji Mavic drone, but it was a bit hard to navigate it between the trees.
We went in the middle of February. I’ve only been at Grutas Tolantongo hot springs once so I haven’t seen what the color looks like at different times of the year.
Hope you make it there! It’s quite the bucket list spot.
I also liked your 10 unique places in Mexico list. I’ve visited some of them and I totally agree with your tips.
Beautiful shots all over your site!
Congratulations to both of you.
Saludos desde México,
Thanks so much, David! We appreciate your support : )
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!!
Sounds like an exciting journey!! If you’re new to photography, I always recommend to start off with the Sony a5100 or Sony a6000 camera. They are soooo easy to use and produce amazing high-quality photos. While I recently upgraded to a more expensive fancy smancy camera, I still find myself using my Sony a5100 all the time because it’s just so much smaller and easier to carry around on outdoors trips.
What is your IG handle? Would love to check out your photos : )
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” camera? I am thinking of bringing my Olympus TG-5 Tough just to hang off my motorcycle tankbag to get some shots while riding. It’s not APS-C but it is micro 4/3 and it’s kind of a compromise between decent pics and 4k video without stabilization and the ability to be knocked around/waterproof. Thanks again for the great site! You guys rock!!
Glad you found our site helpful! We really appreciate your comment and the kind words!
The Lowepro bag is awesome for traveling especially if you’re always on the go. It’s small so it fits in my backpack or just over my shoulder without calling too much attention, but it also fits all of my gear like camera, filters, batteries and memory cards.
So far I’ve only used Sony cameras but if you’re looking for a small durable camera, I highly recommend the Sony a5100. It’s very cheap but still takes amazing photos and it is pretty tough. I’ve even dropped it into the water a few times and somehow it still magically works.
Thanks for the response Laura!
Excellent article. I will confirm every point. I prefer Nikon, but the Sony’s are excellent units. My only complaint is my D300 and the long lense adds about 5 lbs to my pack load. I live at the gates to the Central Sierras so the photo ops on my hikes are endless. I have decided I must decide if I’m going on a “hike” or a “photo” trip.
Hi! I also have the a5100 and I’m having trouble with images looking blurry on Instagram. I feel like I’ve tried everything at this point. Do you have any tips!? Thank you 🙂
If you’re trying to upload an image that’s too large in size, Instagram will compress it and make it blurry to save space on their servers. I usually upload my images to Instagram in portrait crop 4:5 which translates to 1080 px width and 1350 px height. When editing photos in Lightroom you can export in this size. Or sometimes I use Paint to quickly reduce the image size to these dimensions before uploading. I hope this helps!
Love this article, I have 2 questions the camera bag link is no longer valid do you recommend another?
Secondly, which tripod is used for the top photo at the opening of the article? Thank you
Thank you for letting me know! I use the Lowepro camera bag and I have updated the link to a similar item.
I used to get the Amazon Basic tripods, but after breaking a few I’ve upgraded to a Manfrotto carbon fiber tripod. They are a lot more durable yet still light weight – perfect for adventure photography.