So You’re Looking for a New Camera?

I often get asked the question, “I have a point & shoot now, but I want to get a better camera. What kind of camera should I buy?” I just recently answered this question for a close friend who suggested I post it, so here it goes…

I’m a Nikon guy, so I have a natural bias towards Nikon products. Not that there’s anything wrong with other brands. I just shoot with, and therefore advocate, Nikons. However, with any brand of DSLR (Nikon, Canon, Sony, etc), the camera bodies are all quite good and take excellent photos. Don’t get pulled in by megapixels (MP). More megapixels is NOT always better. That really depends on the camera. In general, 10-12 MP cameras are quite adequate (my pro body is “only” 12MP but takes amazing photos). There are lots of technical reasons for this, but I won’t get into that here. Just don’t let a salesman try to sell you on a camera based on megapixels alone.

Not knowing how advanced you may be with photography, I can’t point you towards any one particular camera. So, I’ll give you general buying pointers that I give my students.

With most DSLRs under $1,000, the main difference is not the quality of the photos they deliver; it’s in the controls on the camera. Entry level (i.e., the lowest priced) DSLRs such as the Nikon D3000 or D3100, hide the major setting controls (ISO, white balance, drive, metering, etc.) within menus because most beginners basically want a point-and-shoot with interchangeable lenses. You can still access all those camera settings, it just takes a few more steps to dig through menus. These cameras are fairly small and light, too, compared with their upper line brethren. Beginner photographers are often put-off and intimidated by big, heavy camera bodies (particularly females).

Upper end, consumer level DSLRs like the Nikon D90 or D5100 ($800- $1,000) have more controls readily available to the user. More controls means the photographer can easily and quickly change settings without digging through laborious menus.

Next up the line, “pro-sumer” bodies such as the Nikon D300S and D7000 ($1,200-2,000), have lots of buttons and dials, and more features.

Top-of-the-line pro level bodies like Nikon’s D700, D800, D3X, and D4 ($2,500-$10,000) have even more controls, plus more advanced features that pros demand (full frame, high ISO capability, fast frame rates, better software, etc.). These cameras also take better quality photos, but unless you have a job that demands such quality (or deep pockets and a “Corvette” mentality – if you know what I mean), it’s not worth it.

What is really important are DSLR lenses. In the “razor-and-blade” marketing strategy, the camera body is the ‘blade’ and the lenses, the ‘razor’ – not the other way around. Buying into a camera brand (NIkon, Canon, etc.) is a marriage of sorts. While you may upgrade the camera body later on, you most likely won’t want to buy all new lenses. Lenses follow you for life as long as you stick to the same brand (they are not interchangeable between brands). So, buy a Nikon kit now, and you will likely buy a new Nikon body when you outgrow that starter camera.

Most entry level camera bodies come teamed with one or two lenses in a convenient ‘kit’. Known as “kit lenses”, they are great for beginners. While they are cheaper lenses, they still take great quality photos. Pro-sumer, and pro bodies often come with a choice of better lenses (or just the body alone). All better lenses from the namesake manufacturer are expensive. Many aftermarket lenses are also very good (Sigma, Tamron, Tokina) and often cheaper than the namesake brands. Better lenses have their advantages, but until you learn what you need for your style of shooting, kit lenses should suffice.

Oh, and to add to the confusion, many new DSLRs also have video recording capability, too. That may or may not be a deciding factor, depending if you want to shoot video, too. Again, something that can be in your next camera body if you don’t need it now.

If you are familiar with using camera settings (aperture, shutter, ISO, white balance, etc.), then the higher line consumer body might do you well. If you are used to shooting in Auto or Program mode, an entry level camera kit would be good starter system.

Keep in mind – and I can’t emphasize this enough – every single camera out there can take great photos. That includes point-and-shoots and even many camera phones. It’s not just about the hardware. It’s mainly about the ‘software’ (i.e., YOU) looking through the viewfinder. Great photos come from great photographers, not great cameras. The most famous photographers in history did not have all the digital technology we have today, yet their photos are timeless. I’ve taken amazing photos with my iPhone and I’ve seen terrible photos come from people with $10,000 worth of camera gear, who didn’t even know how to get off program mode. You simply cannot buy the ability to take great photos. It just don’t work that way.

So, along with getting a camera, one should also take classes such as those offered through my photography meetup group, “The Chicagoland Digital Photography Meetup Group” is in our 6th year and we now have over 4,500 members. Most members are beginners and serious amateurs. We just like to go out and shoot (and that’s the only way to become a better photographer). It’s free to join. No meetings, No egos. Go to: