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A Guide to Buying a Camera

Author: Carl Heaton
He is our senior instructor and originally from Manchester UK. Carl teaches our Web Design and Online Marketing Courses.
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A friend recently contacted me regarding an article about buying a camera. The article goes on about buying a camera to fit ones budget. This is an obvious statement. But what about other considerations?

A friend recently contacted me regarding an article about buying a camera. The article goes on about buying a camera to fit ones budget. This is an obvious statement. But what about other considerations?

There are cameras with different types of sensors, different size sensors, different processing engines, different controls, point and shoot systems to interchangeable lens systems. So there are other factors to consider, other than budget.

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First, you buy a camera that fits ones needs. Then look at prices and consider budget. For example, there are many different forms of photography: Landscape, Documentary, Street, Portraits, Fine Art, etc. If Landscape or Portrait photography is your primary focus, one does not need the highest speed DSLR focusing system from Canon or Nikon.

Similarly, if the inside of a computer is all that your files will ever see, you’re not going to need the highest resolving cameras. The same can be said if the largest print your going to ever make is an 8×10 or even 16×20.

If you are shooting sports events, car races or similar, you’re going to want that fast focusing system. But still, a large DSLR Canon, Nikon or similar is NOT the only way to get the shot. So, buy a camera that is designed for the job or task.

There are a host of cameras in every category, in every budget. Nikon, Canon, etc., type DSLR systems are left over from the film days and were converted to be digital replacing film with an image capturing sensor. Many people today buy these, not knowing why they bought or even how to use them. And most never use anything but the one kit lens that came with it.choosing a camera

I would argue that aside from the sensor, they are old outdated systems designed to make use of the expensive lenses everyone had left over from their film days. Most don’t even contain full frame sensors (the same as 35mm film) but actually APS-C sized sensors which are smaller. This makes the old lenses and the need to carry them around senseless, as the sensor does not even make use of the entire lens but only a part of it, hence the crop factor on these lenses.
In addition, digital sensors require more sophisticated and higher quality glass making a lot of the older lenses built for film, somewhat inadequate today. Or the standard kit lenses that most end up with when buying a new DSLR, sub par. Lens quality is therefore a very important issue with regard to digital photography. And many are carrying around extra weight that is not getting used or kit glass that does not compliment the sensor or the image.

Times have moved on and newer more logical systems have been introduced. Some have been designed from the ground up to be digital. Micro Four Thirds (4/3rds) is such a system, designed by Panasonic and Olympus. They have developed it together and there are a number of interchangeable lens models that each have introduced. The sensor is slightly smaller than the APS-C sensor cameras and this allows for both the cameras and their lenses to be designed considerably smaller and lighter as well as specifically for digital. In addition, the mirror box has been replaced with an EVF (Electronic View Finders). This allows for the camera to be made even smaller yet.
The cameras from both companies are designed with the exact same lens mounts making it possible to use lenses from either company without the need for adapters etc. And the lenses are designed for digital sensors, not film. They are considerably smaller and lighter to carry and there is a considerable selection of high quality prime lenses and zooms of every focal length, making it an attractive alternative. Adapter mounts even add the ability to add Leica lenses which are still of similar compact size to these
4/3rds lenses.

how to choose a camera

Both Olympus and Panasonic make cameras with focus speeds that are quite good and as good as many Canon and Nikon DSLR systems.

Another consideration is the size or format that the sensor produces. Micro Four Thirds (4/3rds) has a sensor size which is more square, 4:3 while the standard full size sensor or APS-C sensors are more rectangle 3:2. So your going to get images that are different dimensions from these different systems. If you make prints, the 4/3rds systems are going to be more suited to 8×10 print dimensions without cropping like you would have to do on a 2:3. A 4:3 can be easier sized to fit the whole image on the 8×10 or 16×20 paper. APS-C or full sized sensors with the 2:3 format are going to end up being cropped on the ends to fit on 8×10 or 16×20. So you are effectively throwing away a lot of the photo or extra pixels you are paying for and carrying around. I myself prefer the 4:3 format than the 3:2 format with possibly the exception to landscape photography.
I would say that 4:3 is more suited to portraits and most images while 3:2 is better suited to landscape if you are making longer custom sized prints. So once again, buying a camera, boils down to what type of photography you do and what you do with the images.

Newer EVF OVF Range Finder style system’s with APS-C sensors, designed digitally from the ground up such as Fuji, also get away from the larger DSLR mirror box systems. They have designed a new series of smaller lenses that fit the APS-C system sensors more appropriately and are similar in physical size to Micro Four Thirds cameras and lenses. In addition, a redesigned RGB sensor arrangement allows for the removal of the antialiasing filter on the sensor in the Fuji’s and thus produces clearer, higher resolution images than competing APS-C cameras and similar to, although not quite as good as full frame more expensive cameras.

For most peoples needs, these are all anyone will ever need, as most files never make it out of the computer or off facebook or the web. It would be very difficult to tell if the files were shot on full frame expensive Canon or Nikon DSLR’s or Micro Four Thirds camera or APS-C cameras unless it goes to large print or is seriously cropped in order to pixel peep. Only then can we really see the real difference.
And most recently, Sony has introduced a very small compact, light weight, full frame sensor camera with a Carl Zeiss 35mm fix prime lens. The quality of images it can produce are as good as Nikon and Canon top of the line system, but without the ability to change lenses or zoom in. But for some people like street photographers and photo journalists who require or desire higher resolution in a package which is easy to carry around, it’s the perfect tool.

Now, if fine art photography and large high resolution prints are your thing, the sky is the limit when it comes to price and one can then move to medium format digital systems and spend a small fortune. Phase One is one such system that shares the stage with Hasselblad and Pentax. But the resolution, detail and dynamic range is second to non.

Finally, there is the old saying that the best camera is the one you always carry. If you don’t have one with you, your missing out on a great many shots. Many big systems with heavy glass get left at home because they become a pain to carry everywhere.
So for most (95% of the people), a smaller lighter system that fits in a small bag or hangs around ones neck without any strain is always going to be easier to carry and gets picked up and used a lot more often.

So buy a camera for your mission and then look at cost and budget. What’s your style of Photography? Portraits, Documentary, Landscapes, Street ?
What will you do with your images?
Do you need a big fast system or is a small and stealth camera more important?
Then, finally check out the ergonomics, controls and menu system to make sure they are not too complicated or difficult to use.
You have to like using the camera, if you are going to want to use the camera. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. Check out the competition.

Brad Mol-Dellepoort

If you would like to learn more about how to use your camera to its full extent, take a look at our Photography Essentials course.

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