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Camera upgrade - What Camera Should I Buy?

If you've come to the point where you are wanting to take your photography game to the next level, this post is the one for you because, quite frankly, it takes some learning to figure out just what the next level really is.

This is one of those shots a phone might struggle with

So what are some of the things to keep in mind when buying a new camera?  And what model should you get?

Things to Consider

Well first of all, what's the market like at the moment?  DSLR's have long been the staple of the professional and high end amateur photographer and keep in mind that there are full-frame and APS-C models.  Recently the market has been flooded as well with mirrorless cameras.  And finally there are normal point and shoot and camera phones as well.

Additionally you have to keep in mind all the different brands as well.  To help in your comparison I will list some of the top competitors:  Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, Sigma, Fujifilm, Olympus, Panasonic, Lumix, Leica.  All of these are good brands and offer cameras from anywhere around $400-$10,000 for a dslr.

So what's the difference and what is best for you?

Well there is a lot of debate about what model you should go for, but I'll keep things very simple in this post.  Basically my theory about cameras is don't buy one that you won't be able to use all the features, so I'm writing in that sense for those just looking to enter the market.

Another thing, I am not going to write about specific brands or models.  Truth be told, there is very little difference between camera brands unless you have a specific type of photography that you are already set on getting into.  I will make one advisement against Sony cameras though.  The new Sony cameras are awesome and lead the market in professional mirrorless, but Sony is like Apple, once you're in, you're stuck, they make everything themselves, from batteries, to lenses, to even memory cards.  So make sure, if you go with them, that you are absolutely in because if not, you will probably end up regretting it.

So best thing to do for picking a model.  Go down to Target, or Best Buy, or Walmart and try out the interfaces.  Find the one that you like the most and then find the right camera model of that brand, and you'll be good to go.

How to Understand How Cameras Differ

This might be the hardest part for a newbie, and so you may end up just buying the newest model thinking it is a big step over the previous model, but in so doing, you end up paying an extra $400.  Also just a side note, don't be afraid to buy camera equipment on eBay , just keep your eyes open for a good looking camera and know how much they go for so you don't pay more than you could pay if you just bought it online somewhere else.  Also, make sure to look at the brand's website as well, oftentimes they offer the same product for the same price + warranty compared to Amazon or Best Buy.

Ok so onward with understanding differences.  First of all you need to know what you're looking at, if you go to the websites these cameras' specs can go on for miles. Here is what you'll normally see on websites for shortened specs:

  • 18 MP APS-C CMOS sensor
  • 4 FPS continuous shooting
  • 9 point AF system, center AF point is cross-type
  • ISO 100-12800 (expandable to 25600)
  • 1080 (30, 25, 24 fps) and 720 (60, 50 fps) HD video (29min limit, H.264 format)
  • 3" touch panel LCD screen with 1,040,000 dots

So what does all that mean?  Well first of all Megapixels-a lot of people put too much value on megapixels, basically this is a factor on how big you'll be able to blow up your picture later.  18 is more than enough.  12 is often enough to print things as well, so unless you plan to create a billboard ad, this shouldn't be your main selling point.

Next you have the 4 FPS, this is how fast your camera can shoot action footage.  If you plan on doing a lot of wildlife, action, or sports photography, this should matter to you.

Next is the 9 point AF system-this is how many focus points your camera has.  The more, the better.  9 is pretty low, nowadays most systems offer a 51 point system.

Iso is one of the most important for me as this tells you how well your camera will do in low light regardless of the lens you use.  So for example in the shots below, I had to take handheld shots in low light situations which meant high iso or open aperture.  I was able to use both, but keep in mind on a full frame camera, the price will double for both the camera body and a good enough lens for low light, but it will also perform better in low light because of a better iso performance.  To see how your camera compares, read reviews!

Next up are the video ques.  This what quality recordings your camera can record.  HD is 1080, but now there's a big push for 4k video, which quite frankly doesn't make much sense at the moment as hardly anything can play 4k including most monitors and screens.  You may want to look to see if your camera can shoot HDR video as well, as this is a big step up in shooting.  But all in all, if video is your thing look at mirrorless, they can almost all shoot in 4k.

Finally, if you have bad eyes, a good lcd or a pull out screen can work wonders.  Many systems also have touchscreens.  This can be a great selling point or not one at all if you don't really care.

Point and Shoot and Camera Phones

Ok, so first of all, maybe your not as ready for a big camera upgrade as you think you are.  Big cameras are better, but they take more time to edit, are heavier and harder to lug around with you everywhere, and quite frankly many new camera phones are pushing into the limits of dslrs.  You can buy professional photo software for your phone that turns them almost into a manual camera.  New updates to phones in the next year or so could also mean better focusing potential and even greater pixel quality.

Point and Shoot cameras are also not something to turn your nose up at anymore.  There are quite a few models like the Canon G series that are mini DSLRs.  They don't quite have the pixel quality as the higher end models, but they let you take raw photos, come with editing software, and are great ways to get your feet wet in taking better pictures.

The pros of these cameras is that they are way more mobile than the large dslrs.  They are also usually more durable.  This is the class of cameras that I would add GoPros to as well.  The picture quality isn't impeccable, but at 12mp you'll be able to print or show on just about anything that would matter to you.

APS-C vs. Full-Frame

So let's say you've decided that you really do want to get a dslr, which one should you get.  Well to be quite honest, the difference in these two sensors is a cropped body vs. an uncropped one.  All that means is that APS-C will be smaller, lighter, but the pictures will look a little more crowded than a full-frame body.  The difference in price is also significant, most full-frame bodies come at a significantly higher price than a cropped sensor, and that includes usable lenses, APS-C can use just about every lens available, whereas full-frames' lenses are usually almost double the price.

On the other hand, Full-frame lenses are the top of the market.  You will not look back and wish you had had a better camera to take the pictures you took.  They usually have better pixel quality and focus points, but with the weight and cost, I don't see a big reason for beginners to splurge on full-frame models.

Mirrorless vs. DSLR

The latest trend has been to create mirrorless cameras.  These camera bodies are much smaller than their DSLR counterparts, but oftentimes this is negated by the massive lenses that need to accompany the mirrorless.  They are also mirrorless, which creates less camera shake.  At the moment, however, the lower end models do not keep up with lower end DSLR's, so unless you want to fork out $1000+ for just a camera body, mirrorless is probably not your greatest option either.

Additionally, mirrorless have a problem with lenses, you have to use adapters to use the majority of lenses on the market, and adapters can have spotty performance.  But the market is moving towards mirrorless, so it could be a good investment for the future.

Bottom line

Of course, all that being said.  If you really want to get into photography, and you want to take the best pictures you can, and you have the money, I would buy an expensive mirrorless.  It might just be a fad, but it seems like the market is headed in that direction in the future.  Their only real downside compared to Full-frame dslrs is their awkward weight on tripods, which at your stages as a beginning photographer, I would not expect to be a large problem.  But for the same price, you get a super light and portable camera body, and all the same features as a Full-frame.

If you are not loaded, however, your best bet is to stick to something that will slightly increase your photography skills, while helping you take better pictures.  You can do this easily with an APS-C camera or with some of the higher end point and shoots like the G series or GoPros.

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