The Dilemma: Choosing The Best Beginner Camera in a World Full of Options. Which One is For You?
This is a question that gets asked regularly, so let’s get clear right from the start friends. The best beginner camera for you, is not going to be the same as the best beginner camera for somebody else. Why? Well, for starters, neither one of us are going to have the exact same preferences in what to look for in a camera. What do you intend on shooting? How well do you know a DSLR? Is a crop sensor body or full frame suitable for your photography needs?
There are more than 85 different manufacturers of camera equipment throughout the world today, each and everyone with different specifications that can be overwhelming to understand. With so many options and other factors, it wouldn’t be right to suggest just one specific make, model, or style of camera across the board.
What we can do however, is consider some valuable principles when deciding on what is the best beginner camera for YOU. Let’s get started!
One of the very first things that you need to determine when selecting the best beginner camera for yourself, is finding out what you are familiar, or comfortable with. But how exactly do you go about this, especially when you are looking for camera in the first place?
Take a look at photographers you admire in your hometown, or nearby. What do you love about their work? Although style does not necessarily coincide with the gear that you have, this is a great way to get acquainted with a camera. Find a fellow photographer who would be willing to offer mentoring or allow you to help with a shoot. Observe how they handle themselves, take mental notes and keep questions on hand to ask after the shoot is done. Another advantage of doing this. is having the opportunity for hands on exposure and if you need to ask questions about the camera, you have someone who can answer these in person. Much more effective than scouring the internet for hours on end.
Just remember though, many professional photographers will shy away from taking on a ‘newbie’ in the business for a number of reasons, so this part may take effort on your part. Always be friendly and respectful when approaching other photographers for their help whether this by through an email, phone call, and of course, in person.
For a more in depth look at effectively pitching yourself for second shooting gigs, this article here is a must read.
DSLR VS Mirrorless(MFT)
Just a quick recap of what these terms mean and what they do:
DSLR – This stands for Digital Single-Lens Reflex. It is a digital still image camera that uses a single lens reflex (SLR) mechanism. Put simply, the camera relies on an internal mirror that will flip up and down as you take photos. These camera’s utilize interchangeable lenses compatible with the make of the camera (think Canon and Nikon). DSLR’s, are a still a widely preferred choice for may professional photographers out there.
Mirrorless – A compact system, or hybrid camera that also uses interchangeable lenses. These cameras do not rely on the internal mirror system that switches from viewfinder to sensor when taking images. The body of mirrorless cameras are slimmer, and much more efficient in terms of transportability and storage. Mirrorless cameras have become fairly popular and are a choice among many photographers, and can also be a considered a bridge from regular point and shoot cameras, to a more professional level.
I would recommend for you to consider what is going to gel with you personally. How does it feel in your hands? How will you be transporting your gear? Is budget an immediate concern? How soon do you plan on upgrading lenses or camera bodies? These are just a few of the factors to think about.
Something else to keep in mind about Mirrorless cameras, is the availability of industry colleagues who would be open to sharing their knowledge with you. While it is true, these systems have gained a considerable amount of momentum in use over the last few years, the DSLR camera is still more widely used than the mirrorless. Some photographers have begun to make the switch over to these systems, in part for ease of convenience when it comes to transporting your gear for a shoot, or space. Of course there are many other reasons as well, quality, usability, and even perhaps style. What I am getting it, is that you will probably have a better chance at aligning yourself with photographers who are readily knowledgeable with DSLR systems than mirrorless. This is not to discourage you from these setups, just a friendly heads up.
Crop Vs. Full Frame
Believe me when I say that this can be, and has been, an ongoing, never ending discussion in the photography industry. We are just going to touch on this subject briefly, but for a more in depth look at whether or not you need to grab on to a full frame camera or a crop sensor DSLR, read this article here. In the meantime, let’s take a look at both these options at a glance
APS-C (Crop Sensor System DSLR)
If you have already been in search mode for the best beginner camera for yourself, you may have already come across some of these terms. What do they mean?
Put simply, the ‘crop sensor’ that we are talking about is the actual physical sensor INSIDE the camera body. Most Canon and Nikon systems with this setup have what is called a ‘crop factor’ of 1.6x the focal length. What this means, is that when you have a lens attached to your camera, you will not get the true focal length, or focal view as you would with the full frame. So let’s say that you have a 50mm lens (for simple math) attached to your APS-C DSLR camera. This would be your formula:
50mm x 1.6= 80mm.
This can be a disadvantage to some, but it’s not necessarily the case across the board. Do you have enough room to make up the distance? Are you still able to get the photo that you are wanting?
Crop Sensor DSLR’s also present an advantage in price point. You will save a whack of cash by investing in a high end crop camera system (say the Canon 80D for example) and be able to focus on your skills as opposed to affordability.
** A Note About Lenses with Crop Sensor Systems **
There are lenses that are ONLY compatible with APS-C Camera systems, and lenses that will fit on both crop, and full frame systems. Keep in mind that this crop factor needs to be considered on ALL lenses used with a crop sensor system, What you are factoring in, is the sensor within the camera, not the lense you are using.
Full Frame DSLR
The digital successor to the 35mm frame film camera. If you are a photographer who has long enjoyed the use of a film camera, this would be a fabulous route to go if you are considering entering the world of digital SLR systems. The sensor that lives inside the camera is the same size as a traditional film camera, so this would not feel wholly unfamiliar in terms of view. A full frame sensor, displays your entire view as opposed to the crop sensor counterpart. This, in itself is a major advantage over a crop sensor system.
Another advantage of full frame DSLRs, is the performance, and overall image quality in low light situations. The size of the sensor allows for more photosites (or pixelsites) which in turn, allow for better performance in higher ISO setting conditions. Full frame cameras almost always outperform a crop sensor system in this regard.
Be aware though, that the price tag associated with a full frame when starting out is significantly more than most crop sensor systems. As a comparison example, you can find a brand new Canon 80D crop sensor camera for $1599 CAD, yet the Canon 5D Mark IV Full frame system brand new comes in at $4199 CAD from the same vendor. That’s quite the gap.
You would want to determine in terms of importance where your money is best spent when looking for your best beginner camera. Remember, it’s not the gear that makes the photographer. It’s the skill you acquire through practice and disciplined learning.
Canon VS. Nikon
I’m going to assume it is safe to say that you have heard of both of these brands in photography. Both, are widely known as the industry leaders when it comes to all things photography. Although there are many other manufacturers that also produce DSLR’s and Mirrorless camera systems, Canon and Nikon systems are more readily used by a good majority of photographers, so we can logically conclude that either brand will carry great options for your best beginner camera. Lenses and other accessories are also more abundant with both these manufacturers than perhaps some other less known and available brands.
Of course, both brands will have traits that appeal to different photographers, and that’s also why it’s never a simple answer as to which one is best for you, because preference and taste will vary from one photographer to the next. For example, Nikon is said to currently have better quality sensors in their DSLR’s which results in outstanding image quality, and Canon is said to be a leader in speed, and lens quality. Either way you decide, both Canon and Nikon are excellent choices for you to consider for your best beginner camera.
New Vs Used/Refurbished
Fairly straightforward here guys. New vs less new. New, needs no explanation. It’s exactly that. Fresh, out of box, never before handled by other photographers. Brand new DSLR’s can be purchased from various licensed vendors, which is also an advantage of purchasing new. In the unlikely event that something could be faulty right from the box, you have recourse with the retail vendor who can assist you in claiming warranty if needed.
If you are limited in budget, a brand new DSLR may not yet be in the runnings for you, but gladly, there is a sufficient variety for you on the used and refurbished market.
Some retailers will offer refurbished options which can be of a great advantage if you are bargain shopper. Be wary here though, refurbished and used are different. A refurbished DSLR, will often be found with licensed and manufacturer approved camera dealers, and not at other licensed retailers. Refurbished units may have had some internal or outer parts exchanged or may have had some components cleaned and reinstalled to give the camera renewed quality, and may also be offered with a limited warranty depending on the vendor.
However, used DSLR’s are not all refurbished. If you are purchasing a used camera privately for example, you could be at risk for purchasing a faulty device, with no warranty backing whatsoever. This is not to say that purchasing privately or a used camera that has not been refurbished is a bad idea. There are plenty of excellent choices that have been well looked after by their previous owners and could still have years of durability. Just make sure to use caution when buying anything used that is not backed by any sort of warranty.
Remember this line of thinking: All refurbished cameras are used, but not all used cameras are refurbished.
So which is the best beginner camera? Well, if got the point of all things considered, your takeaway is that there is no one specific option for you. It’s not the camera that makes the photographer, that’s all YOU. Your best beginner camera is the one you will feel most comfortable with, the one that meets your criteria. Whatever make you land on, and whatever choice you make, the important thing to always remember is that your ability to be a better photographer will only happen through a deliberate and repeated pattern of continuous learning and practice. Your gear, are the tools for you to do that.
Happy photo taking!