So you want to get your first “Real camera” that’s not your iPhone? Great! Cameras in 2020 have reached a point where “cheap” cameras are actually very capable cameras. You don’t have to buy the most expensive camera to get great results. The selection of cameras available is far and wide. There is a camera for any budget and every skill level. I want to give you some tips and advice on choosing your first camera.
Some of the links listed below are affiliate links. I earn a commission at no extra cost to you if you purchase through my link. I 100% recommend the products I list and I am in no way paid or sponsored to say this.
What are your motives?
Do you want a camera to snap a photo here and there when you are out with friends or do you want to make a full time career with photography? This is a very important question to ask yourself because it will help narrow down your selection the most.
If you just want to snap some high quality images every so often there would be no need to buy a professional level camera. If someone wants to become a professional photographer they wouldn’t want to get an entry level camera would they?
It’s very important to ask yourself why you want a camera before purchasing.
What are you looking for in a camera?
This is another important question to ask. What can a new camera do that my old camera can’t? Or what can a new camera do that my iPhone can’t? As amazing as new technology in cameras are nowadays, they are not a replacement for a bad photographer.
A camera is a tool. It’s up to you to use the tool correctly. If you have a very broad answer like, “I just want better photos” sadly a new camera probably won’t help you much.
If you answered something like, “I want a new camera because I want to take better low light photos” or “I need better auto focus for action shots”. Then most likely a new camera will benefit you and help you take better photos if you discover a limitation rather than just wanting a more expensive camera.
If you can’t pinpoint how a new camera will help you take better photos than most likely you don’t need a “better camera”. It’s important to separate the “wants” from the “needs”.
Do I want that $4,000 camera? Yes. Do I really need it to take good photos? No. Do some people need a $4,000 camera? Yes. Will a $4,000 take better photos? Yes, but only if you know how to properly use it. Learn how to master manual mode by clicking here.
How much are you willing to spend on a new camera? Most likely the more you spend on a camera the better it will be and the more features it will have but it doesn’t always mean you necessarily need it.
It would’t make sense to go to a Lamborghini dealership when you have a Toyota Camry budget. Don’t go drooling over more expensive cameras if they are not in your price range.
The Lamborghini will be an amazing car but that doesn’t make the Toyota Camry a bad car either. Don’t compare the cameras in your price range to ones that are more expensive because it won’t be a fair comparison.
Once you determine a price range you are comfortable with you can narrow down your selection significantly.
What kind of photography will you do?
Depending on what kind of photography you are interested in will determine which camera you should get.
If you are a sports shooter you should look for cameras with high FPS and good auto-focus. If you want to do macro/product photography having a high FPS won’t be as important to you as it would be for a sports photographer.
You need to determine what type of shooting you will be doing the most. All cameras can take photos for any type of photography but some will be better suited for certain types of photography than others.
Make a list of all the features you “need” in a camera. Then make a list of the “nice to have features”. If you need a camera with a high FPS for action or sports don’t waste your time looking at a camera that can only shoot a low FPS.
Will the features actually improve the quality of your photos? Many new features on cameras are almost gimmicks to get you to buy the latest model. Most of the time you won’t use all of your cameras features, what’s most important is the ability to take quality photos.
Does brand matter to you? You really can’t go wrong with any of the major camera brands. If you have a preference or feel more comfortable using one brand over the other than go with it. Don’t choose a specific brand just because someone said it was “better”.
If you are unbiased towards any camera brand, that’s great because now you have a larger selection to choose from.
Do you have any specific lenses you know you will use or want to use in the future? I am a big believer in quality lenses over expensive camera body.
I would rather use a “cheap” camera with a quality lens rather than an expensive camera with a mediocre lens.
Why does this matter when choosing a camera? Because some manufacturers have better lenses to offer than others. Find a good lens you know you will use and then find a camera body to match the lens mount.
Another factor is DSLR vs Mirrorless lenses. Most brands have a wider selection of lenses to choose for DSLRs because they have been around longer than mirrorless cameras. Let’s not focus on this too much right now, we will discuss DSLR vs Mirrorless in a moment.
Read about what lens I recommend you buy first by clicking here.
Does size matter to you? Does a camera need to fit in your pocket? Would you mind carrying around a big clunky camera all day if it took good photos? Some people don’t mind a clunky camera and others want the smallest possible camera.
There is no right or wrong to this one, it’s a matter of preference. Most higher-end cameras are a little bigger and heavier than the entry level cameras because of a few different reasons but it’s not always the case.
Most of the time it’s a trade off between portability/size and camera quality/features.
Are video features important to you? Will you be doing lots of video work with your camera or just an occasional video clip.
If you are only planning on using your camera for an occasional video you will be well equipped with just about any modern camera that can shoot full HD video or higher.
Many people are brainwashed into thinking they “need” 4k because their smartphone can shoot 4k but that’s not true at all. The sensor size on a DSLR or Mirrorless camera is much larger than a smartphone and will produce way better results at 1080p than any 4k recording smartphone.
If you are going to use your camera for lots of video work I would lean towards recommending a mirrorless camera. Mirrorless cameras typically have better video quality and better features than DSLRs.
This is not to say that DSLRs don’t have good video capabilities. DSLRs can take amazing videos as well but mirrorless cameras typically have more of the latest features for video work.
DSLR vs Mirrorless
The million dollar question when it comes down to which camera should I buy?
DSLR vs Mirrorless seems like such a tough choice. It’s really not that difficult as it may seem. They both have their pros and cons but it’s a fairly straight forward choice.
DSLR Pros –
- Optical viewfinder
- Better battery life
- Typically more rugged/durable than mirrorless cameras
- Wider range of lenses to choose from
- Better low light autofocus
- Better autofocus for action (especially high end DSLR)
Mirrorless Pros –
- Electronic viewfinder
- Smaller/lighter than DSLR
- Better video features
- In body image stabilization is more common in mirrorless cameras
- Some models have eye/face detect autofocus
DSLR Cons –
- Heavy and bulky
- No in body image stabilization
- No eye/face autofocus
- Can’t preview image in viewfinder
Mirrorless Cons –
- Typically not as rugged as a DSLR
- Not as many lenses to choose from
- Viewfinder lag
- Battery life isn’t as good as DSLR
Neither the DSLR or Mirrorless camera is “better” than the other. They serve different purposes and depending on what type of photography you are into one camera system might fit better for you.
The first step is determining what kind of camera will best suit your needs. Once you have decided on DSLR vs Mirrorless you will then need to set a budget you are comfortable spending on a camera.
What do I recommend
No matter what brand you pick or if you get a DSLR or mirrorless camera I 100% recommend you buy the camera body separately from the lens.
Don’t fall for the trap of buying the kit lens bundle which may appear to be a good deal at the time of purchasing. You will quickly outgrow a kit lens and you will wish you had bought a better lens.
Make sure you factor the cost of a good lens into your budget. If you have to buy a cheaper camera to stay within your budget than do so.
You can always upgrade your camera sometime in the future if you do outgrow your camera but you will get better results right now using a good lens on a cheaper camera rather than using a kit lens on a better camera.
I can’t fully recommend a camera and lens combo for you because your needs for a camera will probably be different than mine. Below are my picks for what I think would be the best value for each price range if I had to buy a new camera.
Under $350 – In this price range you will most likely have to look into a used/pre-owned camera to stay under your budget. You can find some good cameras new under $350 but it most likely is a kit lens combo.
There is nothing wrong with purchasing a pre-owned camera, I have done so and saved a lot of money rather than buying new. It’s important to read what condition the camera is in before purchasing. Make sure refunds are accepted when purchasing a used camera.
If you shop around you may be able to find some of these cameras under $350
I cannot guarantee prices of these cameras listed below. At the time of writing the cameras were available in their respected price range but prices are always fluctuating. Use these as prices as starting guidelines.
Under $500 –
Under $1,000 –
Under $2,000 –
Under $3,000 –
I hope you can use this information to make a great selection for your first camera purchase. Leave a comment down below if you still have any questions.
The best camera, is the one that you have with you!-Chase Jarvis
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