A common question I get asked is, “Jimmy, I’m buying a new camera, which DSLR should I get to take better photos?” In all honesty, this is one of the most difficult questions that I can answer without knowing much about that person’s shooting style and goals.
One way to look at it, is that photography is a mostly a personal, and to an extent, and artistic expression of one’s view on the world, where no two approaches to photography will ever be the same. For example, take a group of artists and put them at a lakeside location and ask them to paint their best representation of it. Some may use acrylics paints, water colours, lead pencils and even use spray paint. The same can be applied for photography. Some use, DSLRs, film, medium format, polaroids (yes it’s still a format!) and even experiment with pinhole still.
So when presented with this question on what to get, I try to avoid naming specific formats or brands of cameras and ask them the following five questions before they should even consider what kind of camera to buy.
What are your current and future photography needs?
What are you currently taking photos of, and do see yourself moving beyond that in the future? You may be just taking images of your children/pet, food and whenever you’re on holidays but are hoping to expand your repertoire into street photography or landscapes as well?
If you’re looking to focus on children or street photography then you may want to look at a camera that is compact, a lens with a shallow depth of field, image stabilisation and that is easily accessible. If you prefer landscape photos, you would want a camera with a lens that has a wide angle lens as opposed to a camera or lens with a zoom. You would also want to be able to manually control your depth of field which is important for landscape photographers.
Who will see your photos and where?
Are you only uploading your photos to the social media and mobile applications such as Facebook Instagram? Or are you thinking about printing your images to hang up on the wall?
The most basic of cameras and even camera phones will do a fine job for taking images that will be uploaded to the web. Even at the highest resolution from the most expensive cameras, the image quality will stripped from them when uploading to social media as Facebook will compress the image to optimise the site for speed, not quality.
If you will be printing your images, a higher megapixel count will be more important as the larger the end print will be, the more megapixels would be required to fill in the space. The following could be used as basic guide for print quality:
For an high resolution image print on a A4 (8.27 × 11.7inch) sized print, you would want a minimum of 8 megapixel count which most cameras and smartphones now achieve. For a larger A3 (11.7 × 16.5inch), a minimum 16 megapixel camera is required which would be more at the medium to higher end range of cameras.
The above estimates are based on the the assumption that would be view the images would be close, such as a photo album and that no cropping has been done to the image prior to printing. If you’re printing something to be hung on the wall and viewed from a distance, there would be buffer where not as many megapixels are required.
What else do I require, based on my photography goals?
It’s important to set goals so we can track our development, especially if we’re considering investing a hefty chunk of cash on new equipment. It also makes us think about what else do we need or don’t need other than a camera to improve and meet those goals. Most of us, and myself included fall into the trap of gear lust and end up buying things that we don’t really need.
If your goal is to be a better landscape photographer, do you have enough budget left over to invest in a tripod, filters and a remote? Or if you want to take better portrait photos, maybe an off camera flash, diffuser or a reflector will improve your craft.
Have you reached the limitations of your current camera?
It’s easy to feel compelled that we need to continually upgrade our gear. Every year, companies release new phones, cars, computers and other gadgets and bombard us with clever marketing campaigns to convince us that our life is inadequate without these things. While it’s nice to upgrade to a new camera because it has GPS, built in WiFi and is gold plated, but at the end of the day, will it actually make you a better photographer?
A good starting point that I ask of people is: Are you shooting in Auto mode still? If so, then perhaps try mastering your skills in Aperture or Manual Mode. Before you know it, you’ll be questioning yourself as to why you ever shot in Auto mode for some long in the first place.
It’s it me or the camera?
Sometimes we need take a look inwards and ask ourselves, how much of the basics do we really understand? How much do I understand about composition, exposure, white balance, aperture, and shutter speeds? These are the basics that every photographer should understand and consider before taking every single photo; otherwise our photos are merely a bunch of snapshots.
I always remind people that it’s important to invest both time and money into your education. Before the internet, in order to learn, you either had to attend photography classes or read books. Now, it’s easy to search on Youtube to find a tonne of free video tutorials and literature on photography and post processing. I would use this as a starting point before considering buying new equipment. There is no limit to learning and it’s something we should incorporate into our goals to continually improve.