Choosing your camera
What to Look for and Things to consider before you invest in a camera! Finding the right camera can be tricky. There are always trade-offs. The biggest thing to consider before making an investment is deciding where and how you’re most likely to use it. And don’t just think about today – consider long-term over the next 5 years. Are the kids playing sports? Are they about to graduate? What do you love to do in your “free time”?
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Let’s get started thinking about some of today’s amazing options:
Choosing the right Digital SLR
SLR cameras like Nikon & Canon have been around for decades. They offer great flexibility for beginners in AUTO, as well as tons of capability for seasoned pros. You can find a nice SLR system for any budget, typically averaging around $500 for camera body and 2 lenses, depending on features. (More later)
- FAST RESPONSE best for sports, kids, action photos. When you press the shutter the camera tries its level best to nake the shot – as close as possible to the split second you wanted to capture
- SETTINGS like focus, exposure and more are WAY easier to access and give you great control
- FLASH – this is HUGE. You can decide when this happens. And if you invest in a speedlight the world is your oyster. Many smaller cameras are limited in this important ‘upgrade’.
The built- in flash is limited to about 10-12′, and only straight ahead – lacks bounce, swivel, color, and diffusion options. You’ll need an ‘extra’ flash to cover telephoto distance, and most offer these 4 options. Pro models also talk to each other and can be set remotely as well as ‘off-camera’. My personal favorites are Nikon’s SB700 ($280-330), Canon 430EX.
- LENS CHOICES – ALWAYS take a look at the options available for any camera body. Just because a camera and a lens both say Nikon does NOT mean they work together (stay tuned for more later). Some ‘systems’ give you more choices, more affordability, or mire PRO options (with the accompanying higher $$ of course).
- Real Viewfinder! Don’t underestimate being able to hold a camera ip to your eye (which is MUCH steadier anyway!)!!
The ‘live view’ feature should be used for low or high level shots when your body can’t get there and for video.
- Features for PROS – pro bodies matter! full frame sensor, weather resistance, easier-to-access external buttons, & high speed flash sync are available in some camera bodies (at a higher price point obviously). I’m planning a more in-depth post on these difference so stay tuned. I personally LOVE crop frame instead of full frame but that discussion is for another day – you don’t really need to invest in a full frame system for pro quality images (but they ARE more gorgeous). If you have no idea what full frame is and the difference don’t worry!
Filters – some smaller camera offer filter capability but many don’t. A protective filter for your expensive lenses might be a good idea if you have kiddos, or are hard on your gear like we are. There are quite a few options: UV, Haze, Skylight, … ALWAYS get the best quality you can afford. Look for Multi-coated in the description. This filter can usually be left on at all times, unlike the other 2 below.
If you shoot landscapes and gardens, or any water, a circular polarizer (one of my “must have” accessories) does wonders for great color.
TIP! If you have several lenses, purchase 1 circular polarizer to fit the largest one, then use a step-up ring to fit it on the smaller filter thread lenses. For instance, we have large telephoto lenses that use 77mm filter, and smaller lenses including 62mm and 52mm filter sizes. So we would need a 52-77 step up ring, and a 62-77 step up ring. Step up rings are REALLY cheap! About $5. Much cheaper than buying another filter, $25+!
If you plan to shoot video, a neutral density filter is ideal
- Size can be a slight deterrent, especially if you frequently travel. But consider responsiveness – slr cameras are designed to capture split-second action.
MAKE SURE it’s comfortable to hold for long enough to photograph whatever you love.
- Weight Can you hold it up for a whole game??
- Price can be a factor of course! Consider long-term “kit” including lenses and flash options. PLAN AHEAD! Add it up NOW (then add a piece at a time). Slr kits are great but does 200mm give you the best zoom for sports or wildlife (300mm is probably better). overall might not offer all the long-term options you’ll want.
- Updates! Plan to replace your camera body about every 5 years to take advantage of current technology (latest advances in low light shooting are mind-blowing compared to the camera models 5 years ago). Keep in mind (some) camera manufacturers are always updating – newer bodies & lenses may be incompatible I’m still using 10 year old flashes but our old lenses won’t autofocus on the newer bodies so we needed to update.
SLR Features to look for
- Comfort! Consider weight & size. For instance there’s a huge difference in a Canon 5D and a Nikon D7200. Dont just buy online. Go hold one! Or better yet rent one for a week if you’re planning a big investment. It wont take great photos from the closet! You have to want to carry it!
- Controls & Size. I have small hands. Some of the larger cameras are just too big to reach settings. Conversely a larger person may find the Nikon D3300 too small to grip & set controls.
- Frames per second. Look for a camera body that will shoot fast if you’re into sports, action, or wildlife
- Zone focus – also for sports & action – do you need to be able to track erratically moving subjects? Then contact me BEFORE you buy. Some are way better than others!!
- Compact for Travel. I carry a Sony a6000 in my bag when I need a bit more zoom than my iPhone6. Perhaps when I upgrade to the iPhone7 Plus with the 2nd camera with the 55mm f1.8 lens that will be less if an issue.
- Immediate feedback. While you’re NOT looking through the lens, electronic displays show white balance and exposure issues before you shoot – which means I’m usually getting more of what I want on the 1st shot, fixing color & exposure compensation immediately. With my SLR I have to shoot and check on playback.
- Fast continuous shooting electronic shutters allow iPhone and mirrorless cameras to shoot quickly. The Sony a6300 will shoot up to 11 frames per second. which can be great for sports. High end SLRS like the Nikon D750 do HALF that at 6.5
- Customizable. For the experienced photographer there are many options to set up & customize. Double edged sword. See Con.
Difficult Menus off AUTO. Great for beginner who might never take it off AUTO because menus and settings tend to be much more Complicated and best left to very experienced users. READ LOTS OF REVIEWS! These are NOT designed like SLRS.
- Learning Curve. Because menus have so many options, buttons can be mapped & customized, settings are so different than slr, it can take some extra time to set up your camera for YOU. Once you do it’s great but finding that 1 setting you want to change can be tough.
- Small print. Compact cameras gave very small text – harder to see settings on the screen.
- Screen only. Harder to shoot in bright sun which can make the screen very hard to see. Most don’t have a viewfinder I can put up to my eye.
- Wake up! When I pick up my slr & press the shutter it’s ready to fire. With my Sony a6000 I have to wake it back up many times. Not a big deal for casual shooting but if you’re shooting news, sports, wildlife, you might have missed your shot. This is my least favorite! (& a big reason I heart my slr – see #1 above
- Too small? Small cameras can make it tough to operate with larger hands.
Mirrorless Features to look for
- Viewfinder to be able to see what you’re shooting in bright sun. Most small cameras just have a screen.
- Easy let me again stress to look for a model that has easy, understandable menus & settings
See also! Check out our post on our favorite goodies of 2016!
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