What Camera?

This is version 1. I’ll continue to refine and add examples…..

I like taking photos. I have since I was a little kid. My grand father gifted me his old dark room equipment when I was in 5th grade and my dad helped me get a darkroom setup. From that point on I’ve taken pictures off and on. Not consistent enough to get good; but often enough to get the occasional decent shot. Due to this people always ask me what camera they should get to take decent photos.

First you need to understand why you want a new camera and what you are trying to-do with it. What limitation/s are holding you back from your current camera. If your response is that you want to take better pictures than take a look at this flickr stream. All these pictures are taken with an older iPhone 4. These photos are great, all taken with a cell phone camera thous proving that good pictures can be taken with cheaper cameras.

At this point most readers should realize the trick to taking great photos is really to take many photos and learn from each one. Every camera will have limitations. Its a matter of learning those limitations and working within them.

The reader’s digest version

  • Buy the simplest camera you need.
    • Don’t buy a camera with swappable lenses (ICL) if you can find one with a lens or zoom range that makes you happy.
    • The latest scene modes or effects don’t really matter. Especially the effects, you can do those on your computer
  • Buy the biggest sensor you can afford.
    • Not the most megapixels. The biggest sensor. See this wikipedia page for what I mean. Once you get above micro 4/3 ¬†or Four Thirds you have limited returns in most situations and it may not be worth it even if its cooler. To prove the point visit my friends site here. A vast majority of these are taken with a Four Thirds camera with the exception being some taken with an older APS-C DSLR.
    • If you aren’t printing above 8×10 than don’t worry about Megapixels greater than 12MP.
  • Don’t buy a conventional DSLR unless you need one.
    • They are based on design and technology from 1960. The only thing that has changed since then is the addition of auto focus, exposure, and digital. Features all available in other formats.
    • You need a DSLR if you need exceptionally fast focusing and very fast rapid fire photos. I’m talking car racing or high end sports fast. Other than that you don’t need a DSLR.
  • If you buy a ICL camera don’t buy a “do everything” zoom. If you want a do everything zoom buy a camera in which you can’t replace the lens. It will be lighter and smaller as it can be designed optimally as a single unit. The ICL capabilities just add complexity which translates to weight and size.
  • Don’t buy a new camera until you understand the limitations your existing equipment has on what you want to-do with it.


Everything below is a rambling mess that I’ll continue to work on…….


Pixel size. The larger the pixel on the image sensor the better it will be at capturing light during less than optimal conditions (e.g. indoors or dim light). Optimal being indirect sunlight conditions. This means that less megapixels may get you better images. This loosely translates into buying the biggest sensor camera you can afford. As for sensor size look at this wikipedia article. The image in this article shows the various sensor sizes typically available. You’ll notice that cell phone cameras have the smallest and that professional DSLR and Medium formats are the biggest. Practically once you get to the 2/3″ size for most beginners you’ll be at a good point. Then again at the micro 4/3″ point almost everyone is at a good spot. As of 2013 16 MegaPixels at this size sensor is where you want to stop. Once you go into the 20+MP range the pixel size begins to get small and you’ll drop quality in adverse light conditions.

Features. The features you want to worry about are

  • Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual Modes
  • Quality and fast enough for you focusing. If you are doing movies then good movie focusing.
  • Lens or Zoom options that match your needs
  • View Finder (little window to look through)
  • Tilting or otherwise articulating screen
  • WiFi options are beginning to become useful. Yet the only truly useful options I’ve seen are the Android based cameras
  • Flash Hot shoe if that matters
  • Burst speed (rapid fire photos) if that matters

All the other features in the camera are generally bust. They are essentially putting photo editing software into the camera. Its best to transfer your raw or un-touched jpegs to a tablet or computer and use software to edit them later.

Lenses or zoom ability. The ability to swap lenses and/or have huge zoom range is generally overrated. This allows a photographer to stand in one place and have the perception of changing their viewpoint without moving. In reality you’ll typically get a better shot by physically moving farther or closer away. Don’t under estimate your own feet. They are amazing at what they can do for a photo. I do most of my shooting with either a 35mm or 55mm (35 equiv) lens. And typically I don’t swap out every day. I get in a mood to use one or the other and it stays on my camera for a period of time. Getting rid of the zoom makes you focus more on the composition of your shot then rotating a ring.

If you really want to get good I suggest buying one of the fixed lens larger format sensors from FujiFilm or Sony. Or just sticking to a 35mm equiv on an ICL (Interchangeable lens (swappable lenses)) camera.

Ok. Enough you’ve decided you want a fancy new camera. What should you get? 4-5 years ago the choice was simple. Get a Canon or Nikon DSLR. Honestly you can’t go wrong with either. Now there are newer options and you need to make a choice. Between the conventional (50 year old design) DSLR-ICL and newer mirror less ICL. The DSLR has a mirror which reflects light into the view piece. The mirror less does not.

The main advantage to the DSLR is if you need really fast auto-focusing. And I mean fast such as shooting car racing or near professional sports. Other than that mirror less is probably a better choice.

The one thing you need to remember about taking better pictures is that you need to have your camera with you. If you don’t have your camera with you then you won’t take pictures. I’ve seen this date back to the film days. People buy a fancy big camera and they leave it at home.

The thing about the mirror less camera is they have less parts than DSLR. They don’t have the mirror and prism. Due to this mirror the lens can’t be very close to the sensor. Due to this the glass on lens can be much smaller than in a DSLR. So not only is the body of the camera lighter the lens are lighter too. For example my Canon DSLR full frame 35mm lens weighs 11oz. My Sony mirror less full frame 35mm weighs 4.3oz.

The point is that the mirror less cameras are physically smaller and weigh less than DSLR. There is also potential for better quality photos too. There is less camera shake due to a lack of moving parts (the mirror). Since the mirror is not in the way the back of the lens can be placed at the optimal distance to the sensor for optical reasons.

Another bonus of mirror less is that you can get adaptors to allow the use of nearly any lens ever made. So you can put a DSLR lens on your mirror less camera. The adaptors just need to fill in the gap from the distance to the mount to the sensor.

More to come…….

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