So you’re about to embark on a thrilling journey—buying a shiny new camera!! Exciting! If you haven’t purchased one of these magical devices before you might be a bit intimidated. What are all the different types? What accessories do you actually need? What do all those crazy letters and numbers mean?
There are so many options available it can be difficult to know where to start.Worry not, brave explorer. This guide is designed to teach you everything you need to know about buying a camera, so you can feel confident when you make that delightful purchase.
Psst! This guide is chock full of general information about cameras, lenses, and more. But if you’re looking for specific photography equipment recommendations, you’ll want to mosey on over to our incredibly thorough Recommended Photography Equipment page! Enjoy!
Table O’ Contents
This is an absolutely epic guide. If you’re brand new to cameras and photography, we recommend reading it start to finish, for the ultimate learning experience.
But if you’re just interested in a certain topic, feel free to make use of the magical Table O’ Contents below. Simply clicky click where you want to jump!
(Pro Tip: After clicking on one of the links in the Table O’ Contents, you can hit back on your browser to hop on back to the top of the page here.)
- Types of Cameras
- Essential Features
- Additional Features
- Where To Buy
- The Big Idea
Now sit back, get comfy, and let the camera buying adventure commence! Onward!
There are a ton of different types of cameras, from little point-and-shoots to big fancy DSLRs. Let’s take a look at the different types, and what makes them each unique!
When you think of a big, fancy, expensive camera, you’re probably picturing a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera. These cameras are made up of two main parts—the body and the lens. The lenses can be taken off and changed (aka interchangeable). But you’ll need both parts – the body and the lens – in order to take a photo. DSLRs feature a mirror that allows you to actually look through the lens as you compose your image. This gives you the most accurate idea of what your final image will look like when you take the photo.
Now when you press the shutter, the camera records the scene as a digital image on a sensor. In DSLRs, these sensors are quite large (typically the size of 35mm film, or a bit smaller). The benefit of the large sensor is that it provides better low light noise performance and better background blur (bokeh).
But when it comes to image quality, a big part of the story is the lens (aka. the glass). See, the lens is what collects the light from your scene. The better the quality of the lens, the better the quality of the final image created.
And here’s the great news: With DSLRs, there are so many kinds of high quality lenses out there that you have plenty of options when it comes to getting variety and getting creative with your photography. We’ll talk more about lenses later on in this guide!
If you’re interested in pursuing photography as a serious hobby or professionally then a DSLR is what you’re looking for.
Mirrorless (& Micro Four Thirds)
In recent years, mirrorless cameras have become increasingly popular.They have a lot of the same features as a DSLR but in a smaller body, without the mirror.
(A subset of the mirrorless category are Micro Four Thirds cameras, a title that refers to the size of sensor.)
Like DSLRs, mirrorless cameras also come with interchangeable lenses. In general, the quality and selection of lenses for mirrorless bodies aren’t on par with DSLRs, but they’ve definitely been improving. And there are now mirrorless cameras that boast a full frame size, the same size as the ones found in professional-level DSLRs, making this genre of cameras even more appealing.
All that being said, most mirrorless cameras do have some downsides relative to DSLRs. Although there are now a few models out there with full frame sensors, most mirrorless bodies have sensors that are smaller than those in DSLRs, meaning that they won’t be as good at registering depth of field or at shooting in low light conditions. They also have yet to catch up with DSLRs in terms of auto-focus speed.
But mirrorless cameras do have their advantages. Most notably, they’re generally much, much smaller and lighter than DSLRs.
This format of camera is great for everyone from the casual hobbyist to the advanced amateur. As the quality of lenses increases this may even become a professional option.
Point-and-shoots are the smallest cameras dedicated primarily to photography (camera phones are typically smaller).
The big advantage of the point-and-shoot is its size. Because they’re so small and easy to carry around, you may be more likely to take more photos than you otherwise would if you had to carry a bigger mirrorless or DSLR camera around.
These cameras have permanently attached lenses (i.e. not interchangeable) that generally cover a wide zoom range. The lens retracts back into the camera in order to keep it nice and small.
But point-and-shoots have their downsides too.
Typically, they have the smallest sensors, meaning your image quality won’t be nearly as good as it would be with a higher-level camera. Things have definitely improved in recent years though, so it’s not that hard to find a point-and-shoot that produces good quality images.
Further, some models lack manual controls for key settings (like shutter speed, aperture and ISO). Autofocus speeds will most likely be lower and the lag time between when you press the shutter and when the camera takes the photo will be longer.
So why buy a point-and-shoot camera? Like we said, they’re so much easier to tote around than larger cameras, meaning you may be more likely to useyour camera.
And then there’s that matter of price. Point-and-shoot cameras are typically much less expensive than the higher-level options.
If you’re not looking for a lot of creative control or fancy extras, a point-and-shoot may be the right place to start. If you’re looking to get serious about photography though, expect to grow out of a point-and-shoot pretty quickly.
A rapidly developing genre of the camera comes packed inside of a phone.
Yep, the camera phone is becoming an increasingly viable option for getting great shots.
The pros are impressive: a camera that you can carry in your pocket, giving you incredible convenience to shoot anytime, anywhere, with minimal effort. Many photographers are showing great proficiency with the camera phone, taking photos more regularly and getting in more practice, honing their skills. Some even say their camera phone let them fall in love with photography again. Not something to sneeze at!
Then comes sharing. The camera phone pretty much made photo sharing a *thing*. Now it’s easier than ever to take a shot, and then (almost instantly) get it in front of thousands of eyes with phone apps like Instagram.
But too often the cons of the camera phone are overlooked.
For one, the image quality is still behind every other type of camera. The point-and-shoot is starting to be challenged, as camera phones are coming out with bigger and better sensors every year, but mirrorless cameras and DSLRs are still far ahead in terms of image quality. They have bigger sensors, better lenses, better autofocus, more control, better response times…
But the biggest drawback of all is that a camera phone has a fixed lens. You can’t zoom without reducing image quality, so you’re left with only one focal length option. You could see this as a creative challenge. But it is, indeed, a limitation as well.
If you want to take photography seriously, you need more than a camera phone. It’s a great way to keep a visual diary, to practice your skills, and grab a snap here and there. But you just can’t beat the creative control that comes with a bigger camera.
Action cams are small, mountable cameras geared towards sports and adventure photography, and for photographers looking to use the mountable function to bring a unique perspective to their shots. GoPro and Sony make the most popular action cams on the market.
Action cams are primarily used to capture video, but they also let you create image stills and time lapses.
Though action cams have come a long way since they were first introduced, we don’t think they’re really a substitute for a proper camera. The camera settings are pretty limited, and your ability to adjust those few settings is fairly restrictive as well. Unless you’re looking specifically to get to create action cam-style shots and videos, think of these cameras as fun extras rather than your primary piece of shooting gear.
Cameras have a ton of different features—some that are essential, and some that sound super cool but that you never end up using. Here is a peek at the features that really matter in a camera.
Manual mode allows you to take full creative control over the exposure of an image.
See, in automatic mode, the camera selects aperture, shutter speed and ISO for you. In manual mode, you select those three things yourself, giving you so much more control over how the image turns out.
Now, automatic and semi-automatic (Av & Tv or S) modes can be useful, especially when you’re just starting out. But the sooner you learn how to use manual mode, the sooner you’ll learn how to create images that look the way you want them to.
Check to see if the camera you’re interested in has manual mode (usually labeled “M”). Most DSLRs and Micro Four Thirds cameras have manual mode, while fewer point-and-shoots do. If you find a point-and-shoot with manual mode, give it a try and make sure that it’s actually easy to use. Because of the smaller size of their controls, it can be tricky to change the controls on a point-and-shoot quickly, making their manual mode pretty impractical to use.
ISO controls how sensitive the camera’s sensor is to light. By increasing the sensor sensitivity you’re able to shoot in darker conditions without a flash. Look for cameras that offer ISO 1600 or higher. Some cameras can shoot as high as ISO 25,000 – 102,000!
Now, we should mention that there’s a real trade-off to using a high ISO setting. Higher ISOs usually mean more noise (coloured speckles) and grainier images.
Luckily cameras are getting better and better at noise performance, meaning you typically can get useable images even at higher ISOs. Take a look online to see if you can find some sample images taken at different ISOs by the camera you’re considering. If the images are grainy even at low ISOs, like ISO 400, and you intend to use your camera even when it’s not sunny and bright, you may want to consider a different model.
Megapixels (MP) are a measure of the resolution of a camera. Think of it like this: The greater the number of megapixels, the larger the high quality, sharp print you can make.
Now, it’s important to point out that you probably don’t need a camera that has a huge number of megapixels. For typical 4×6 inch and 5×7 inch prints you only need 4MP to get good results! And a 8MP camera will easily make 8×10 inch prints. With 20MP you will be able to create super high quality 12×18 inch prints.
You can also create large prints and still get good results, even when you don’t have a zillion megapixels, simply by reducing the print resolution. We’ve made great 40×60 inch canvas prints using a 12MP camera! Larger prints often require greater viewing distances in order to take in the whole image, so you can get away with lower print resolutions (especially if printing on a coarse medium like canvas).
Long story short, megapixels are just one part of the story of what makes a great camera, so don’t get totally distracted by them! Consider what sort of resolution you need (if you’re making huge canvases on a regular basis, you’ll want more than if you intend to print mainly 4x6s) and go from there.
A big thing to consider when purchasing a camera is how it feels in your hands. You’ll be holding your camera a lot, so get a good feel for it before you decide to buy!
Here are a few things to consider, ergonomically speaking.
Are you able to easily reach all the buttons? Does the camera feel comfortable in your hands? How does it feel when the camera is close up to your face? (Hint: To figure this stuff out, go to the store and actually hold the camera you’re considering!)
Generally speaking, cameras in similar classes will weigh similar amounts. If you’re just starting out with photography consider getting a camera that you can take with you everywhere. You’re more likely to carry around a smaller, lighter camera than a full size bulkier camera. It might mean a trade off in image quality, but at least you’ll be taking shots. If your camera is so heavy that you’re inclined to leave it at home, you’re not going to get anywhere with your photography very fast.
Some cameras are more rugged than others, featuring sturdy magnesium alloy internal frames and weather sealing. These may or may not be features necessary to you, depending on what crazy things you’re planning to photograph!
Make sure that the menu system is straight forward and easy to use. Every camera is different, but you should be able to figure out how to navigate the menu system without consulting the manual. A camera’s menu should not be so complicated that it prevents you from using the camera!
Some cameras have the capability to save images in either the raw or JPEG format. Others will be limited to the JPEG format only.
The difference between the two is that the raw format records all the information captured by the sensor and allows you the most flexibility when it comes to post processing (especially when correcting mistakes!). Comparatively, the JPEG form discards data when it compresses the image into a smaller file.
Almost all DSLRs, Micro Four Thirds, and mirrorless cameras can shoot in the raw format (as well as in JPEG format). Very few compact point-and-shoot cameras, or camera phones, have the option to shoot in raw and are instead simply limited to the JPEG format.
If you’re serious about photography you’ll definitely want raw capability.
Proper focus is a huge part of great photography, because it draws the viewer’s eye through your image to the precise spot where you want them to look. Missing the focus is an easy way to ruin a great shot!
When you check out a potential camera, you need to seriously consider the quality of the autofocus system. Here’s what you should do:
Turn the camera on, and look through the viewfinder or the LCD screen. Press the shutter release halfway down to activate the autofocus system, and focus on something in the frame.
Now consider: Does the camera focus quickly? Does it focus accurately? Try focusing on something close to you, then something far away, and then close again. If the camera is slow to focus as you change what you’re looking at, or has difficulty focusing on the right thing, then you may want to look for another camera.
When you see something worth capturing, you need to be able to focus quickly and accurately. If your camera can’t keep up, you’re going to keep missing your shots and getting frustrated with photography.
Most cameras have some other nifty, though less essential, features. These can be really fun to experiment with and can make the camera more enjoyable to use, but they probably won’t be what makes or breaks your purchasing decision.
The best way to find out which features a camera has is to look it up! Here are a few of the features that are common right now:
This feature allows you to take multiple images of a scene and have the camera automatically stitch them together, into a ‘panoramic’ shot. This feature is more common in point-and-shoot and some mirrorless cameras, and less common in DSLRs.
This feature reduces vibration and shakiness when shooting, which in turn reduces blurriness in low light conditions. Sometimes the camera body or lens itself will contain the stabilization mechanism, which is known as optical image stabilization. This is of a higher quality than digital image stabilization, which is software in the camera that does that work.
Almost all types of cameras now feature video recording. The standard for HD (High Definition) is 1080p, which a lot of point-and-shoots (and even phones) are capable of recording, along with DSLR, Micro Four Thirds and mirrorless cameras. More advanced cameras will also offer manual control of exposure and better video quality (with greater ability to blur backgrounds). Some cameras now offer 4K, which is four times the resolution of 1080p!
FRAMES PER SECOND
This is how many photos the camera can take per second. A higher frames per second (fps) capability is useful if you’re shooting sports or other fast action scenes.
AUTOMATIC SENSOR CLEANING
Many cameras have a feature that shakes dust off the camera’s sensor using ultrasonic vibrations. This is beneficial feature, though you should note that it doesn’t always work perfectly in removing sensor dust.
Liquid Crystal Display
A liquid crystal display (LCD) is a type of screen common in cameras. But not all LCDs are created equal! Higher resolution screens will display your images better than lower resolution screens. Some screens will also be brighter than others, and/or offer better contrast. You can usually get a sense of what counts as good screen quality just by taking a look at a few different camera screens.
Some camera makers are now offering articulating screens (also known as flip screens), that allow you to adjust the physical position of the display along one or two axes. The idea here is to use the screen as a viewfinder, allowing you to see what you’re shooting in situations where you wouldn’t be able to look through a physical viewfinder. Pretty handy!
The viewfinder is what you look at when you compose your image.
With DSLRs, the viewfinder lets you look right through the lens, thanks to the handy mirror.
Mirrorless and point-and-shoot cameras may have an LCD screen on the back of the camera, in place of viewfinder. Some may also have an electronic viewfinder.
An electronic viewfinder displays an electronic image of the scene as it will appear in your photo, given your current camera settings. The advantage of the electronic viewfinder over an LCD display – which will also show you how the image looks given your current settings – is that it’s much easier to use in bright conditions.
Make sure to think carefully about what kind of viewfinder you want (as always, head to a store and give a few cameras a try).
WI-FI & NEAR-FIELD CONNECTIVITY
Some cameras are now able to connect to the internet wirelessly, making it a breeze to upload your photos to your computer or to social sharing sites straight from your camera. With some cameras, you’re even able to download apps that link your phone up to your camera, letting you do things like set a timer, press the shutter, or see what your camera sees, all from your phone.
Near-field communication is another wireless option available with some newer camera models. Near-field communication allows you to wirelessly transfer images from your camera to a wireless device (like a phone or tablet) simply by touching the devices together. If you’re planning to do a lot of sharing from your wireless devices, near-field might be something worth looking into when you choose a camera.
Global Positioning System
Some cameras include a global positioning system (GPS), which keeps track of where your images were captured (aka geotagging). This can be a handy feature when you’re travelling (especially if you’re unlikely to remember where each shot was taken), or when you’re location scouting and find an area you want to return to.
Remember, a lot of these additional features become “selling points” when the salesperson is discussing cameras with you. They sound fancy, and can be a lot of fun, but make sure to consider them in conjunction with all the essentials we talked about previously. It’s the basic stuff that really matters.
The brand of your camera doesn’t have much to do with the quality of images you create. That’s all about you as a photographer! But brands get a lot of attention in the photography world, so let’s talk about them.
Canon and Nikon
Canon holds the largest market share around 44% (2010) with Nikon following with 30%. Both make cameras along the entire spectrum, from point-and-shoots to high end DSLRs. By choosing a Canon or Nikon camera you’ll find the widest selection of compatible lenses and accessories (both brand name and 3rd party).
Canon and Nikon both build solid cameras that function well, and each have their own pros and cons. It’s generally agreed upon that Nikons have better build quality and focusing, while Canon has a better selection of lenses. They each seem to render colour differently as well.
Your best bet in choosing will probably come in trying out each brand, and seeing which ones feels better to you. Don’t get peer-pressured!
Sony is also aggressively pursuing the DSLR market, and are fashioning themselves as a serious competitor to the Canon/Nikon domination. The cameras they offer have some innovative features that seem ahead of where Canon and Nikon are, and at cheaper prices. They’ve also developed a pretty competitive line up of lenses.
Other camera manufacturers like Pentax and Sigma do make DSLRs, but their selection of lenses is pretty limited compared to the other manufacturers – something to keep in mind if you’re interested in using multiple lenses with your camera.
In terms of Micro Four Thirds and mirrorless cameras, Panasonic, Olympus and Sony dominate the market. Olympus and Panasonic have a good head start with Micro Four Thirds cameras but Sony is rocking the mirrorless segment. They have options that feature a larger sensor than Micro Four Thirds cameras, and some really neat features. Lots of great options here!
Finally, when it comes to compact point-and-shoot cameras, it seems as though every manufacturer has their hand in that competitive market. If you are interested in a point-and-shoot then your best bet is to find a camera that you’ll take everywhere with you. Brand name shouldn’t play as big a role in your purchasing decision.
Every camera needs a lens, whether it’s permanently attached or interchangeable. See, the lens contains pieces of glass that focus light onto your camera’s sensor. Without that light, you don’t have an image!
Not all lenses are created equal, and they’ll have a big effect on the look of your final images.
To feel confident picking a lens for your camera you should first know a few basic things about lenses!
The focal length (measured in mm) determines the angle of view that a lens will capture. A wide angle lens will capture a lot of the scene, and a telephoto lens will capture only a small portion. Wide angle lenses range from 15mm to 35mm. Normal lenses are around 50mm, and most closely resemble what your eye sees. Telephoto lenses range from 85mm to 200mm+.
The aperture is the hole inside the lens that opens and closes to control the amount of light entering the camera, and it is represented by f values (like f/2.8 or f/5.6). Lenses are described by their maximum aperture, which is the widest opening possible for that lens. So a lens might be a 50mm f/1.4, which means the focal length is 50mm, and the maximum aperture is f/1.4.
Now this might be a bit confusing: The larger (more open) the maximum aperture, the smaller the f value, and the more expensive the lens will be. This is because it has the ability to collect more light, allowing you to shoot in darker conditions, and it can also give you more background blur, which is awesome!
Image stabilization (IS) helps to minimize blurriness that can occur when your camera moves at the same time that you take a shot. This is handy when you’re shooting in low light conditions (where you typically use a slower shutter speed), or other situations where you’re using a slow shutter speed without a tripod and want to avoid blur. IS can also be helpful if the lens is particularly heavy and therefore more likely to move around as you shoot.
A lens with image stabilization (typically labelled as an ‘IS’ lens) will be substantially more expensive than an equivalent lens without IS, so it’s worth considering carefully whether you’re likely to benefit from IS.
A zoom lens covers a range of focal lengths (eg. 24mm – 70mm) and allows you to shift (zoom!) between any focal length in the range. Convenient! The downside to zooms is that they usually have smaller maximum apertures. Zooms with larger maximum apertures (like f/2.8) tend to be very expensive.
A prime lens has a single fixed focal length (eg. 50mm or 35mm). If you want to change perspective you have to move closer or further from your subject, or switch lenses. Prime lenses generally have larger maximum apertures, giving you better background blur, better performance in low light, and usually better image quality!
Most DSLR, Micro Four Thirds, and mirrorless cameras have the option to purchase the camera body with what is known as a “kit lens”.
A kit lens will typically be a cheaper, mid-range zoom lens (the most common range being 18-55mm). When you’re just starting out with your DSLR, a kit lens should serve you well. But as you progress with your photography, you’ll probably want to experiment with different lenses, like lenses that blur out the background more, allow you to get closer to your subject, or help you to zoom in on objects that are farther away.
The quality of the glass in kit lenses is also generally lower than lenses that don’t come with a DSLR, so you’ll find that kit lenses don’t always render colours well, and don’t produce the sharpest images. Basically you can expect to upgrade from a kit lens pretty quickly!
Our recommendation is always to start off with an affordable prime lens.
As we talked about before, a prime lens is a lens with a single, fixed focal length (which means you can’t zoom in and out). This forces you to physically move around in order to compose your images, which gets you more involved in the process of taking a photo.
With prime lenses, compared to zoom lenses (kit lenses included), you typically get better image quality and more ability to blur out backgrounds.
In short, with prime lenses, you’ll create higher quality photos and spend more time thinking and learning about the process of creating images than with zooms. Win-win!
Great prime lenses to start out with include the 50mm f/1.8 lens and the 28mm f/2.8. These lenses run in the $100-200 range and both Canon and Nikon offer affordable versions.
Eventually, you may find you want to upgrade your introductory lenses for higher quality models.
See, like we said earlier, the quality of the lens will have a large impact on the quality of your photos. With pricier lenses, you’ll be getting faster apertures (for better low light performance and more background blur), higher build quality (with the possibility of weather sealing), and better glass that produces better color and sharpness. For zooms, you may also get image stabilization.
Knowing when to shell out the big bucks (and sometimes we’re talking big, big bucks) for these lenses isn’t easy, and it has a lot to do with how important those improvements are to you, your images, and your business.
Above all, remember that a better lens won’t automatically take better photos. It can help you create better image quality, but ultimately you’re the one calling the shots!
Beyond the range of lenses designed for regular use, there’s a whole world of specialty lenses out there, meant to produce particular effects or to be used in more niche sorts of situations. We generally consider these lenses to be extras, but depending on what kind of photography you’re into they may be your kind of essentials!
Macro lenses are designed to allow you to get extremely close to your subject, letting the subject occupy much more of the frame than they would with a normal lens. Macro lenses are commonly used in advertising and food photography, as well as in nature photography, where the photographer needs to get closer to the subject to show details. Macro lenses are made for a range of camera types, including DLSRs, mirrorless systems, and even point-and-shoots and camera phones.
Tilt shift lenses (also known as perspective control lenses) allow you to control the plane of focus in your image by bending the angle of the lens relative to the sensor (fancy!). They’re typically produced to work with 35mm DSLR cameras, as well as medium format cameras.
Tilt shift is commonly used in food and architectural photography, where it’s important to control the plane of focus or the appearance of converging lines, and is becoming more popular as an artistic tool in portrait photography.
Tilt shift lenses aren’t cheap, and it takes a lot of practice to learn how to use them well, so we recommend renting (or borrowing) a lens before you buy, to make sure it’s going to be worth the investment.
You can learn more about tilt shift photography in our two-part series from the blog:
Fisheye lenses are ultra wide angle lenses that create dramatic distortion, producing images that look almost semi-circular in their perspective. Though you’ll see them used in a variety of contexts, the photographers who get the most use out of them tend to focus on landscape and extreme sport photography/videography. Fisheye lenses are made for a range of camera types, including DLSRs, mirrorless systems, and even point-and-shoots and camera phones.
Super telephoto lenses are lenses whose focal length extends beyond 300mm. These lenses effectively let you get close to things that are very far away, without physically moving yourself. Super telephoto lenses are very, very expensive. Unless you’re a serious wildlife or sports photographer, chances are you won’t ever need one of these – but you’ll probably want one. ;)
Pinhole lenses let you mimic the aesthetic of classic pinhole cameras (think grainy, sort of mysterious) using your interchangeable lens camera. Inexpensive pinhole lenses exist for a range of cameras, but a quick web search will show you that it’s pretty easy to create your own pinhole lens!
Lensbaby is a lens manufacturer that creates inexpensive special effects lenses for a wide range of cameras (DSLRs, mirrorless, camera phones, etc.). These lenses can be used to create effects similar to fisheye, wide aperture and tilt shift lenses. The resulting image quality generally won’t match what you’ll get with the more expensive specialty lenses, but they can be a fun way to experiment with different effects without shelling out a lot of money.
Contrary to what the salesperson might say, you don’t actually need a lot of accessories for your camera! Don’t get pressured into buying lots of gizmos you don’t want. Shop around, and start by getting only what you absolutely need. You can always get more toys as you shoot more!
Here are the essentials that you’ll need to keep your camera going.
You’ll need a memory card in order to record images taken with your camera. Try to stick to a major brand name (like SanDisk or Lexar). In our own experience, brand name cards are more reliable and less prone to errors. They cost more, but we think they’re worth it!
Cards are generally classed into different categories, depending on how fast they’re able to read and write data. The ‘Extreme’ (formerly ‘Ultra’) class of card, made by Sandisk, has always suited our purposes well (portraits, weddings, travel).
Note that there are also different types of cards out there (SDHC, SDXC, CF, etc.). Make sure to check which kind of card your camera needs before you buy anything.
Regarding capacity, if you’re shooting raw, or taking a ton of photos each time you head out to shoot, you’ll need more memory space than if you’re shooting JPEG or shooting quite casually.
It sucks when your camera battery dies right when you are about to take an epic shot. Don’t let it happen to you! Make sure to keep a fully-charged spare battery on you anytime you’re shooting.
Now, most cameras take special batteries that can’t be tracked down in grocery stores. But here’s the good news: Generic camera batteries can often be purchased online for a quarter the price of original batteries. They may not last as long, but sometimes the cost savings still make them a worthwhile purchase.
Finally, just a heads up that not all cameras come with wall chargers. Without a wall charger, you’re going to have to plug your entire camera in (typically to a computer) anytime you want to charge the battery – not very convenient. Having a wall charger will allow you to keep using your camera (with a fresh battery) while the exhausted battery charges up. Wall chargers generally run about the same price as batteries.
If you’re going to be using your camera away from home frequently, you’ll need to get a camera bag – both to keep the camera safe and to make it easier for you to carry. Look for a bag that’s small enough (and stylish enough!) that you’ll be happy to take it with you everywhere.
Before you buy a bag, check out the review site CamBags.com to see what other photographers think of the model you’re considering. Pay attention to their comments about ease of use – can you quickly and easily get the camera out of the bag when you need to take a photo? Are the different compartments easy to access, and are they large enough to store your accessories (spare lenses, spare batteries, spare memory cards)? If you’re planning to do a lot of outdoor photography, find out how the bag holds up in the rain and how well it cushions your gear.
Another option instead of a dedicated camera bag is an insert. An insert is a protective case that you can slip into an existing backpack or bag, and can be a great option. We’ve often used these when travelling.
Long story short, finding the perfect camera bag for your needs is a challenge, so take your time looking around!
MEMORY CARD READER
Most cameras include a USB cable that you can use to connect your camera to your computer in order to upload your photos. We’ve found these to a bit clunky to use, so we now use a memory card reader.
Check your computer and your monitor to see if they have a built-in memory card reader. If you’re looking to buy a card reader, a basic model should cost you only $15-$25.
Keeping your camera clean is important! You don’t want to spend hours editing out dust spots in all your awesome photos, after all. Happily, you need only a few tools to keep things spiffy.
A lens pen allows you to clean smudges and dust off your lens. This is a must-have! We keep a few extras in our camera bags at all times.
You’ll want a microfiber cloth for cleaning everything from lenses, LCDs, camera bodies. Easy, cheap, and versatile.
A rocket blower is great for gently removing dust from lenses and sensors.
The simple, clear adhesive screen protectors that you stick right onto the LCD can be fantastic little accessories. We didn’t use them when we were first starting out, and we have the scratched up screens to show for it!
These accessories can certainly be useful, but don’t feel like you have to purchase them in order to get by!
Many new photographers think a tripod is a necessity (we did when we were just starting out!), and spend a considerable chunk of money on one. Then that fancy stand just sits in the closet collecting dust! Unless you’re planning on doing a lot of landscape or long-exposure photography, you don’t need an expensive tripod.
If you want to try out landscape or long-exposure photography, pick up a cheap tripod and see if you use it enough to make the more expensive model worth the investment.
Another option is a GorillaPod. It’s far more portable than a standard tripod, meaning you’re more likely to take it with you and actually use it!
A battery grip lets you power your camera from multiple batteries, seriously extending the time you can shoot before changing the battery. It also changes the shape of your camera body, making it more comfortable to shoot with the camera in the vertical position.
But battery grips tend to be expensive, and make your camera heavier and bulkier. We’d recommend trying out your camera without a battery grip first to see if you think you really need one. From there, see if you can borrow one from a friend before you finally decide to buy.
When we were starting out, we purchased battery grips, gave them a try and then quickly returned them!
Filters attach to the front of your lens, and serve a variety of purposes.
At the most basic level, filters protect your lens from scratches. But their real purpose is to improve the look of your images, primarily by influencing light. The most common type of filter is the UV/Haze filter, which acts to reduce the look of haze in your images, particularly when you’re shooting landscapes. Other common types of filters out there include neutral density, and polarizing filters.
The downsides to filters is this: When they’re cheaply made, filters can actually reduce the quality of your photos. Not good! If you’re going to spend the money, make sure you buy a high quality filter that won’t adversely impact the look of your shots.
When we were starting out, we didn’t bother with filters. Now that we’re using more expensive lenses, we do use filters, particularly to reduce the chance of scratches.
Photography is all about light, so you might feel like it’s important to have an external flash. But whether or not you need a flash is really going to come down to where you are shooting.
Available light is everywhere, from the sun to indoor lighting, and it can produce incredible results. In fact, learning to use available light is one of the first skills a new photographer should develop, long before you start thinking about a flash!
If you’re frequently shooting in very dark situations (like wedding receptions) then an external flash will be useful. But you don’t always need the most expensive model. It’s more important to learn about light, and how to control it, than to get a super fancy flash.
Remote controls can allow you to trigger the shutter wirelessly. This can come in handy for self-portraits, for photo booths, or if you’re creating stop motion sequences. They can be lots of fun, but they’re generally not a necessity, especially given that most cameras have a built-in self-timer.
You may want to check to see if your camera model allows the use of a smartphone app as a remote, which can be a cheaper and more convenient option.
If you’re planning to shoot in raw or take a lot of video, chances are your digital storage needs will quickly expand beyond what your computer can provide. If that’s the case, you’ll need to invest in an external hard drive or two.
External hard drives are also a must if you want to reduce the risk of losing your images in the event of computer hard drive failure or anything else that can wipe your computer out, like theft or disaster.
Portable external hard drives are a very handy type of hard drive. They’re smaller, making them easy to travel with, and a great option for offsite backup.
As you get more serious about photography, chances are you’ll want to start editing your images. Editing allows you to do things like adjust exposure, contrast, colour and much, much more. This can be used for dramatic creative effect, or it can let you create natural-looking adjustments that subtly enhance the look and feel of your shot.
Most cameras will come with some form of free editing software, but it’s likely to be much less powerful, and much less intuitive to use, than the paid options out there. If you want to upgrade from the basics, here are some of the pieces of photography software you may want to consider.
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (commonly known simply as Lightroom) is a image editing and management program.
Lightroom allows you to make a wide range of adjustments to your raw or JPEG images in a non-destructive fashion (meaning that the editing changes you make won’t overwrite the data in your original image – you’ll always be able to go back to the original).
With Lightroom, it’s easy to make adjustments to individual images, or to apply adjustments or presets to scores of photos at a time. Unlike Photoshop (more on that in a minute), Lightroom does not allow you to work in layers, or to do advanced retouching.
Another key feature of Lightroom is its management capabilities, which allow you to access your entire library and organize your images using things like keywords and star ratings.
Lightroom also allows you to print or upload your images to social sharing sites directly from the program.
Adobe Photoshop (commonly known just as Photoshop) is a pixel-based image editor. (Pixels are the tiny dots that make up a photo.)
Photoshop allows you to make basic edits to an image, but its real strength is as a tool for powerful retouching (removing distractions, smoothing skin, whitening teeth), compositing, and creative editing.
Be warned: Photoshop is not an image management tool. Unlike with Lightroom, you cannot view your library or organize your images in Photoshop (though there are other programs, like Adobe Bridge, that can help you sort and organize your images before you bring them into Lightroom). Photoshop also lacks the printing and sharing functions in Lightroom.
All that being said, Photoshop is a must if you need to do advanced retouching or editing. Lightroom takes home the prize for ease of use and versatility, but it comes nowhere close to Photoshop when it comes to retouching, compositing and other dramatic photo manipulation!
For photographers who don’t need all of the horsepower that Photoshop offers, Adobe offers a consumer/hobbyist level version of the program, called Photoshop Elements. Photoshop Elements offers a good number of the essential editing and retouching features a hobbyist would need, at a much lower cost than Photoshop. Photoshop Elements also includes basic organizing and sharing functions.
New photographers may want to consider picking up Lightroom and Photoshop Elements, and deciding whether to upgrade Photoshop Elements to Photoshop from there.
Anyone looking for powerful, advanced retouching may need the full version of Photoshop. It’s worth comparing the specs of Photoshop and Photoshop Elements to decide which will best fit your needs.
Aperture/iPhoto & Photos
In the past, Apple has offered two types of photo software: iPhoto and Aperture. iPhoto is an inexpensive, basic all-in-one editing, organizing and sharing program meant for hobbyists. Aperture is a more advanced editing program, similar to Lightroom but for 1/3 of the price.
Recently, Apple confirmed that iPhoto and Aperture are being phased out, and will be replaced by the new Photos app, which will go live next year. A preview of Photos for iOS is out now, but no word yet on what the full, computer-based program will look like.
Anyone thinking about investing in iPhoto or Aperture may want to hold off until more news has been released about Photos.
The internet has opened up a huge market for photography enthusiasts worldwide!
The biggest name in online camera sales is B&H. This is where we purchase most of our equipment from. They stock the widest selection of camera gear and offer the best prices. They also have a physical store in New York – it’s a photographer’s wonderland!
Amazon is another option when you want wide selection and low prices, particularly if you’re in the United States. International customers may find less selection and higher prices.
Of course, the obvious downside of buying online is that you don’t get to see gear in person before you purchase it, so it’s best to make sure that any online shipper offers a fair return/exchange policy.
In North America big box stores like Best Buy probably see the bulk of consumer camera sales.
Heading to a box store to learn about the cameras out there can be a frustrating experience, as sales people may not have a lot of experience with photography, or may try to push products at you in order to get the commission. The selection may also be quite limited, especially when you’re looking for advanced lenses and camera bodies.
On the upside, box stores generally have lower prices than small, dedicated photography stores, and can have sweet sales too. Plus, the return policies are often quite favourable to the customer. If you know what you want and the box store has it in stock, it may be the best place to make the purchase.
SPECIALTY CAMERA SHOPS
Almost every city has a specialty camera shop. These shops cater to advanced hobbyist and professional photographers. Here you’ll find higher end cameras and a greater selection of lenses than box stores. You’ll also find a wider variety of higher quality accessories.
Our experience with speciality camera stores is that the prices are a little more variable (sometimes as low as online, sometimes not) and the service can be mixed.
But if you have an awesome speciality camera shop in your city, definitely consider supporting it. It can be worth paying a premium on your gear when it gets you access to knowledgeable staff and gives you ability to check out expensive gear in person.
You can save yourself some serious coin by buying used gear. Check out B&H, KEH, and eBay, or your local classifieds (like eBay Classifieds, Craigslist, Kijiji or the good old newspaper). With B&H, KEH and eBay, you can usually be sure of the seller’s reputation and the quality of the gear. When you’re buying from classifieds, make sure you get the opportunity to examine and test the gear before you agree to purchase anything.
If you’re considering purchasing a new camera or lens, you may want to rent it first to make sure it’s worth the investment. You can often rent from a local camera shop. There are also online rental options, like LensRentals US, LensRentals Canada, and Borrow Lenses.
Warranties & Returns
Most cameras come with a warranty (usually 1 year). This is generally long enough to catch any serious problems with the equipment. Make sure to find out exactly what kind of warranty your gear comes with and what it covers – check the manual, read the fine print, or ask a salesperson.
Most stores will also offer the opportunity to purchase an extended warranty. It’s up to you whether you think it’s worth the price. Consider how careful you are with your gear, and whether you’ve needed warranties in the past. Also consider the replacement cost of the item – an extended warranty will make more sense for a pricey piece of gear you’re hoping to hold onto forever compared to an inexpensive item you’re likely to want to upgrade in a couple years.
If you’re considering a warranty, see if you have the option to purchase the extended warranty at any time within the first year. If your camera breaks within the first year and is covered by the warranty then you might want to consider getting the extended warranty in case it breaks again after the 1-year warranty expires.
If you’re purchasing the camera with a credit card, check to see if your credit card company offers any sort of automatic warranty extension. Some credit card companies will match the original warranty.
It’s a good idea to find out what a store’s return policy is before you purchase, in case you’re not satisfied with the camera. If a store doesn’t offer refunds, think carefully before making any big-ticket purchases from them, even if they offer slightly lower prices than other places. We’re always happy to pay a bit extra if it means we have the option to send something back.
Take your time to do some research before you purchase a camera, lens or any other pricey piece of gear. Read a review or two and see what other people are saying. When it comes to cameras, features and stats are awesome, but what matters more is how the camera performs in real-world situations!
DP Review is a great place for thorough reviews of virtually every camera! Just a note that the site is owned by Amazon, but we find the reviews pretty balanced. Be warned that there are often a lot of reviews, so it can be easy to get overwhelmed (information overload!).
AMAZON and B&H REVIEWS
Another good place to check is the customer reviews on Amazon and B&H. Hearing the real life experiences others have had with the camera you’re interested in can definitely help you make an informed decision.
DxO Mark has an exhaustive list of technical reviews of camera sensors and lenses.
Cameras can range dramatically in price, and you can find something for any budget. Here are some general price ranges you can expect:
Compact point-and-shoot: $90 – $900
Micro Four Thirds and Mirrorless: $350 – $2,300
DSLR: $400 – $7,000
Something to keep in mind with DSLRs is that the largest investment is generally with the lenses. As you grow as a photographer you’ll find yourself spending far more on glass than on the body, so be sure to factor that into your budget if you get a DSLR.
When trying to decide how much you should spend on something, you’ll need to take your unique situation into account. How much can you comfortably afford? Is this gear absolutely essential, or is it just “nice to have”? How much extra money will this piece of gear help you make, if any? Are there other things you should spend the money on first?
Someone else making the same purchase has a different set of answers, so never just follow another photographer’s buying decisions. Even if they swear it’s the best purchase they ever made in their whole entire life.
Gear can be a very, very expensive habit. If you carefully consider the cost and benefits for you, you’ll make good decisions.
As a photographer, a lot of your time will be spent on gear: thinking about it, looking it up on B&H, reading reviews, talking to other photographers about it, testing it out, purchasing it (woo!), and then actually going out and using it.
And this is all good fun. After all, without our cameras we couldn’t take photos! We are inexorably linked to them in our pursuit of great images.
But it’s all too easy to get sucked into the “new gear vortex”, spending all your time wondering what new piece of equipment you should get in order to take the photos you’ve dreamed of. And after you do manage to snag that new lens or camera? Well, it doesn’t take long before you realize that it wasn’t the magical solution after all. So you start wondering what other piece of gear you need. And so on, and so on, down and down you go.
Gear is only a tool. It doesn’t make a great photo. You do that! You make all the decisions that go into the shot, like which lens to use, where to stand, when to shoot, and so on. Enjoy your gear, but remember that it’s only one small part of being a great photographer.
In fact, many great photos are made with the simplest gear. And in many ways it’s actually better to start simple. Use what you have until you’ve absolutely pushed it to it’s limits (and then some). Once you’ve absolutely mastered it, consider adding a new piece. Bit by bit, you’ll become a true photo ninja.
The most important part of all is to take your gear, and get out there and shoot!
We hope you enjoyed this guide, and that it helped answer your questions about gear! As you head out in search of a camera for yourself, remember that there are no right answers, and no one camera is the best. Consider what you really need, do your research, and then go have some fun with it!
If you’d like to know what specific photography equipment we recommend based on years of research, testing and experimentation, check out Our Recommended Photography Equipment page! It’s both incredibly thorough, and incredibly useful!
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And if you have any questions, notice an error or something missing from this guide, or just want to say hi, feel free to jump over to our contact page and drop us a line!
Thanks for reading, and happy photographing!
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