How do I know which camera I should buy?

Of all the questions I regularly get asked, the ones about cameras are always at the top of the list…

  • What camera should I buy?
  • What camera would you recommend for someone new to photography?
  • Which camera is best?

Understandably, most new photographers want to make a good decision when they are about to spend a lot of money on one.

Up till now, many of them would have only been taking photos with their phones and now that they’ve decided to raise their game a little (to buy a real camera) something to give them greater creative control.

So which one should they buy?

The major players in cameras these days are Canon, Nikon, Fuji, Olympus, Panasonic and Sony. There are a few others, but these are probably the most popular choices.

Whilst all of the manufacturers produce great cameras, not all are necessarily good for newbies.  Sony cameras for instance, are best suited for advanced users with deep pockets.

The camera industry has just been through a major shake-up, as one by one, manufacturers have gradually stopped production of DSLR cameras in favour of the new ‘Mirrorless’ cameras.

DSLRs have been around for a couple of decades and most people are familiar with them, but mirrorless only started to appear about 10 years ago and have taken a while to perfect their game..

Initially they just weren’t good enough. But like most new technologies, as time passes so the product gets better. Eventually they progressed to the point where DSLRs could no longer keep up (technologically-speaking).

The early players in the mirrorless field were Fuji, Olympus, Panasonic and Sony.

Canon and Nikon, the market leaders in DSLR cameras were slow to join the race, but when eventually they did, it marked the death knell for the older mechanical DSLR format.

So, some of you may be asking… what’s the difference between DSLR cameras and mirrorless?

What’s the Difference between DSLR & Mirrorless Cameras?

DSLRs were the logical development from the much older SLR film cameras.

SLR stood for Single Lens Reflex.

Inside the camera, just behind the lens was a mirror. The light came in through the lens, hit the mirror and bounced up into a pentaprism. There it bounced around a couple of times before emerging through the eyepiece (or the viewfinder).

When you looked though the viewfinder, you were effectively looking through the lens. You could see the thing you were photographing through that viewfinder, you could see to focus the lens and to adjust the zoom (if you had one fitted).

The moment you pressed the button to take the shot, the mirror would hinge upwards revealing the film behind it and the photo was taken. The mirror returns to its resting position one the shot is complete. During the brief moment that the shot is being taken, the image in the viewfinder is blacked out.

On modern DSLR cameras (DIGITAL SLRs), there obviously wasn’t any film inside and when the mirror popped up, the light struck an electronic sensor instead.

Now, DSLRs were a big hit, because unlike film cameras where you had to send your film off for processing and printing, DSLRs enabled you to look at the screen on the back and immediately check the photo was ok. If it wasn’t, you just took another.

As the technology evolved, sensor technology got better and better. Image resolution improved to the point where the much-loved film (that everyone was used to) just could not compete.

Eventually by the turn of the 21st century, digital won the day and became the go-to camera that people preferred to shoot with.

 

My first mirrorless camera 

I remember buying my first Fuji Mirrorless camera around 2011. But it was nothing to do with me wanting the latest emerging technology, it was more about the fact that Fuji had designed a digital camera that looked and handled like an old, classic-looking film camera. The fact that it happened to contain mirrorless technology was irrelevant as far as I was concerned.  It looked cool and it pandered to my nostalgic whim.

As each new camera from Fuji was launched, so the new technology got better and better, and I found myself upgrading to each new model as it arrived. Jeez, that was an expensive game.

The camera below is a Fuji X100V.

This current model is the 5th generation of the camera I bought back in 2011.

It remains my favourite camera to-date (despite the fact that its lens is fixed to the body (it can’t be changed) and it has a fixed focal length too (no zoom).  Those restrictions are considered by many to be an advantage, forcing you to think about composition and to take time with your shots.

So what is this mirrorless technology then?

I guess it should be obvious really, mirrorless simply means it has no mirror.

There is no mirror inside (as in the DSLR). When the light passes through the lens, the sensor detects it and immediately converts it into an electrical signal. That signal is turned into a digital image which can not only be viewed on the camera’s back screen… but also on a tiny little screen in the inside of the viewfinder.

So there’s a key difference.

With a DSLR, when you look through the viewfinder you are looking through the lens… on a mirrorless camera, when you look through the viewfinder you are looking at a tiny electronic image (similar to the screen on your phone, only much, much smaller).

Why is that so good? Well, that image is designed to show you a representation of the camera’s exposure. So, if the photo you’re taking is underexposed, it will look dark in the viewfinder. If the photo is overexposed, it will look bright in the viewfinder.

Effectively, because you can see if the photo is too bright or too dark, you can adjust the exposure on the fly and (in theory) you never have to take a badly exposed picture again!!

That is MAJOR!!

There are other advantages that mirrorless cameras have over DSLRs too. Because they don’t have mirror mechanisms, or pentaprisms, they can be made smaller and lighter.  Much of the criticism of DSLRs is that they were getting just too big and too heavy.

I noticed the difference immediately.

 

The most noticeable difference 

Before I started using mirrorless cameras on wedding shoots, I would be lugging around two huge DSLR bodies with large heavy lenses. When I got home at the end of a full-days shoot I would feel the pain of carrying it around for anything up to 12 hours.

The moment I switched to mirrorless, it was a whole new experience. I could barely tell I was carrying anything, they were super light. And on top of that… because I could see the exposure for each shot in the viewfinder before I pressed the button, I found I took a lot less shots during the course of the day.

Typically, I would return home after a full day’s shoot with my Canon DSLRs with something around 1200 photos to sift through. With my Fuji mirrorless that number dropped typically to around 750!

And of course, this meant I had a whole lot less work to do in the editing stage.

Result!!

 

There are more differences between DSLR and mirrorless today

  • Advance focusing with face and eye detection
  • Focusing points that cover the whole image area (Rather than just the centre – which is all DSLRs could manage)
  • In Body Image Stabilisation (IBIS). Perhaps more useful for video users
  • Incredibly fast burst modes
  • Silent, electronic shutters

And a whole lot more…

So as you can see, the technology has raced ahead, vastly outpacing anything that DSLRs can do.

But here’s the thing. DSLRs are not dead. More photographers are still using DSLRs than there are mirrorless owners. And… not all DSLR owners want to change. They want to hold on to their simpler, less complicated cameras.

There is something quite satisfying about using a DSLR, where technology has a lesser role to play. I find them quite cathartic. Mirrorless technology, which seems to increase exponentially, can sometimes be a bit overwhelming, especially for new photographers.

Some cameras have reputations for being complicated on a Biblical scale. Sony are a prime example, the complexity of their menus is legendary.

The Perfect Camera?

So where does this leave us in our search for the perfect camera?

There is no such thing as the perfect camera, if there was, everyone would be buying it. But we can say that some cameras are better suited to us than others.

In an ideal world we would get the chance to try out a range of cameras before we buy, but that’s not always possible, unless we live near a camera store (and then, most of them don’t carry a full range of models).

One thing I will suggest though, don’t be afraid to use used, older cameras… especially while you’re learning. Provided you buy from reputable dealers you should be fine, I would always recommend a few dealers you can try. I’ve bought from all of these in the past and been really impressed with their service and integrity.

WEX I’ve been buying from WEX since around 2005. Their reputation in the industry is unsurpassed. Their used gear is extensive and having sold to them on more than one occasion, I can tell you they are very thorough in their quality control. Do not be afraid of buying from WEX

MPB (Based in Brighton) buys and sells used gear online. Another company with a great reputation. Excellent service that is genuinely impressive.

Park Cameras in Burgess Hill. You have to visit their store if you want to try a full range of products. It’s huge and like an Aladdin’s Cave for gear fans.

 

Want to know even more?

This is just and introduction to the digital camera.  It’s a big subject and I have only really scratched the surface.

If you are new to photography and you’d like to know more, can I suggest our one day Introduction To Photography course.

Based at our training Centre in Fleet (North Hampshire), you’ll learn the foundation, the building blocks of Photography at a much deeper level than we covered today.

Not only do we look at the camera, sensors and lenses, but you’ll also go deep on the Aperture, Shutter Speed and the mysterious ISO. We’ll cover shooting modes and how to deal with difficult lighting situations, so that you always get the best exposure.

 

Photography Assessment Tool:
Use this online tool to assess your photography knowledge and get a snapshot of your strengths and weaknesses.

Hampshire School of Photography (HSP)
Hampshire School of Photography is based in Fleet, Hampshire, on the border with Berkshire and Surrey.

Its wide ranging curriculum teaches photography to enthusiasts at all levels – from complete beginners and advanced amateurs, through to those who want to go professional.

It does this through workshops and year-long courses that provide solid foundations in (amongst other things): photography theory, composition, portrait & landscape photography, working with flash, macro photography and editing in Lightroom and Photoshop.  Some of our courses go even deeper… to stretch students with challenging assignments, forcing them out of their comfort zones.

Founder of HSP, Kevin Ahronson, also offers private mentoring to a small number of people each year, as his busy schedule allows.

For more information, email HSP: support@gohsp.com

 

Listen to our Tog-Talk podcast

The Tog-Talk podcast covering this subject and many others is available at tog-talk.com

Kevin Ahronson

Kevin is a full-time professional photographer and has been teaching photography since 2009. He founded the Hampshire School of Photography where he runs photography workshops and gives one to one mentoring to photographers at all levels, from complete beginners through to those who want to turn professional

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2 Responses

  1. Blake says:

    My 2 cents: A used Fujifilm XT2 with the kit lens would be an ideal first camera. This can be picked up on ebay for about 350 and will compete with the best cameras out today. The fuji dials are a brilliant way to learn the exposure triangle before buying an expensive full frame camera with PSAM.

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