This is a repeat question I receive from friends and family, but it’s a hard one for me to answer. I work with professional camera bodies that alone cost several thousand dollars, and individual lenses that can each climb well above $1,000 each. Most likely, that is not the level of camera that you are in the market for! So while I cannot recommend a specific consumer camera kit for you to buy, I hope to give you some factors to consider in your purchasing decision.
Should I purchase a DSLR Camera, a Mirrorless Camera, or a Point-and-Shoot Camera?
A DSLR camera (digital single-lens reflex, or other words, a camera with a detachable lens) boasts improved image quality, higher shooting speeds, and is bulkier in size. DSLR cameras are ideal if you want to learn how to control your own camera settings for depth of field, speed capture, and other factors that allow for more artistic photography capture. Simply put, DSLRs produce better photos, but at a higher cost more and require more skill.
DSLR cameras have a reflex mirror inside them, which bounces light up into the optical viewfinder. With mirrorless cameras, light goes directly into the image sensor. The DSLR offers a wider selection of interchangeable lenses, longer battery life, and better low-light shooting thanks to the optical viewfinder. On the other hand, mirrorless cameras are lighter and more compact, more portable, offer better video quality even in lower-end models, and can shoot more images at faster shutter speeds. You might even look into the newer mirrorless cameras, because many feature AI facial recognition focus, which is a priceless strength. (As of Jan. 2022, I have my first mirrorless camera with AI focus and it’s INCREDIBLE!!)
If you plan to shoot on manual mode, you may want to keep it simple and purchase a point-n-shoot camera. Even current smartphones have incredible cameras! My smartphone camera can even produce a great 4×6 print and decent 5×7 print.
The type of photography you wish to shoot will help you determine which lenses to invest in, based on your focal length needs. For example, while a 50mm lens will give you a field of view of just under 40 degrees, the 35mm lens gives you 54.4 degrees – significantly wider.
The “crop” of your images will vary if you have a “Full Frame” vs. a “Crop Sensor”. Most consumer level cameras are not full frame. Sensor size affects price, and full frame cameras are typically more expensive. If your camera has a crop sensor, it just means that the edges of your photo will be cropped for a tighter field of view. So if you love the look of a 50mm lens, you may find that a 35mm has a similar feel on a crop sensor camera.
There are Zoom Lenses and Prime Lenses. May pros rely on Primes because prime lenses are significantly sharper than zoom lenses. That is due to the fact that they don’t have extra glass inside that moves in order to zoom. As a result, you get better quality photographs due to less diffraction, which increases with higher number of lens elements inside as in the case of zoom lenses. But most consumer shooters want to have the flexibility of a zoom lens. Most if not all “kits” (a camera and lens combo purchase) include a lens with some zoom range. Having a range around 24mm (wide and zoomed out) to maybe as high as 200mm (close and zoomed in) if you’d like to cover some distance would be a good-for-everything type of lens.
If you are looking to do LANDSCAPE photography, wide angle lenses are ideal. They allow you to capture grand scenes. While you may not want to go for any extreme wide angle lenses (like 24mm, 20mm, 16mm, and wider), they can be fun! Super wide-angle lenses are categorized as “Fish Eye Lenses, and they often have some warping of elements around the edges of your photographs.
If you are looking to do PORTRAIT photography, 50mm to 100mm is a fantastic range for true-perspective portraits.
If you are looking to do MACRO (close-up) photography, purchase a lens that specifically lists “Macro” capabilities. Macro lenses allow you to photograph within inches of your subject, ideal for when you want detailed shots of flowers, insects, textures, and other small subject matter.
If you are looking to do WILDLIFE photography, you probably need the ability to shoot subjects in the distance, which means you need zoom and stability. I would say your lens should start at an absolute minimum of 100mm and can go into the hundreds (200mm, 400mm, 500mm, +).
ZOOM is an important factor whether you are working with any camera type: DSLR, Mirrorless, or a point-n-shoot. However with a point-and-shoot camera, keep an eye on the product’s advertised “Digital Zoom” vs. “Optical Zoom”. Optical zoom is what counts, digital zoom simply crops your photo file – a pointless feature in this professional photographer’s opinion!
While Canon and Nikon have been the camera leaders for years, other popular brands have been making a strong comeback. Olympus, Sony, Sigma, and other brands are climbing to the top too.
Circular Polarizing Filters
Filters are an accessory that you add to the front of your DSLR lens. Most photographers will tell you to purchase a UV Filter – its purpose is simply to protect your lens glass against scratches, bumps, drops, and such accidents… it’s less costly to replace a filter than a lens! BUT I PREFER to keep a “Circular Polarizing Filter” on my lenses, because it offers many benefits in certain shooting conditions.
A circular polarizer is designed to do one thing: remove or control reflections from reflective surfaces. At the right angles, reflections can be reduced or completely removed from surfaces such as water, glass, paint, snow, leaves, sky, buildings, windows, woodwork, pavement… even oily skin! When light hits those surfaces they create glare that increases highlights, reduces color and detail.
Because it is reducing glare, one of the favorite affects of a Circular Polarizer is to darken blue skies when you are shooting landscapes 90 degrees from the sun. The difference is astounding!
While my husband raves about his Amazon Basics Circular Polarizing Filters, I opted for a pricer brand, B+W Circular Polarizing Filters. Both products have served us well.
Comfort Neck Strap vs. Spyder Holster
Cameras, especially DSLRs, come with a very basic canvas neck strap that isn’t comfortable for long term use. For a small upgrade, consider a gel/padded neck strap, something that will be soft and cushioned against your neck.
If you are looking to blog a little budget, I LOVE the Spider Holster. They sell many options, but I stuck with the single camera Spider Holster kit. And their Spider Camera Hand Strap is fantastic too – it makes me feel that my grip is super secure and even acts as a back-up if I let my camera go.
Air Blaster & LensPen Cleaning Kit
Keeping your lenses dust and smudge free is very important. NEVER EVER use just any fabric laying around. The wrong fabric can scratch your glass over time. Instead, I have two products to help you get the job done.
While most camera users will keep a lens cleaning cloth on hand, I prefer another method. First, use an air-blaster for contactless power to remove loose dust and debris. Then I use a LensPen Cleaning Kit to gently brush off stuck debris and to gently rub off any smudges or speckles.
Your new gear may require a carrying case! This photo sling pack product is no longer available, but I loved the small pack for personal photo adventures where I only needed one or two lenses, and is easier to travel with than some of the larger camera bags.
My current professional bag is a Tenba, and totes my main camera with lens and two additional lenses, along with many small accessories.
WHERE TO SHOP
You can find most items you need on Amazon, but if you’d prefer to shop with reputable camera stores try www.bhphoto.com, www.adorama.com, and www.keh.com.
Should I purchase a camera with weather proofing?
My simple answer is NO. You should always keep your electronics, especially cameras, out of the rain, damp environments, dusty environments, and super cold or super hot temps. But if you find that you will be photographing in some tough conditions, weather sealing does block out some of the elements harmful to the electronics in your camera. I still wouldn’t risk such exposure though!
HAVE MORE QUESTIONS BEFORE MAKING YOUR CAMERA PURCHASE??
Please send me your Qs and I’ll try to give a great answer! Your insightful Qs will help me add value to this article for future camera shoppers.
Email your camera questions to firstname.lastname@example.org