Tips for buying cameras
Updated: Apr 2, 2020
The question of what camera to buy is a huge topic that often engenders spirited (and sometimes acrimonious) debate.
The truth is that I could discuss gear for hours (and...admittedly, I have), and maybe future blog posts will go into more detail about certain types of cameras or gear, but for the purposes of this post, I will just give some tips on how to buy, rather than what to buy.
I've found that these tips have served as useful guidance over the course of my photography journey and I hope you'll find them useful too.
Tip #1: The best camera is the one you have with you
Buy a camera that you'll bring around. Don't get an expensive camera and end up leaving it at home all the time because it's too heavy to bring with you.
In this regard, we should recognize that smartphone cameras these days are really quite good, and it's an absolutely valid consideration to ask yourself if you actually need a "proper camera" or if a smartphone camera will suffice. Under the right conditions, a smartphone camera is all you need for beautiful photos, particularly if you're not planning on printing them at large sizes.
Most importantly, you'll always have your smartphone with you.
This photo was taken with my iPhone X on Panorama mode. I wouldn't make a poster out of it but it does a pretty good job of capturing the beauty and romance of Horseshoe Bend at sunset.
That said, there are some excellent pocket cameras and digital compact cameras that I think are worth every penny, and that I usually favor over my smartphone camera. But that's for a future post.
*Note: "RAW" describes an uncompressed digital image file that contains much more data than the usual JPGs, allowing you to recover a lot of detail from your shots during photo editing. RAW files come in a variety of file extensions such as DNG, CR2, RAF, etc, but a photo editing program like Capture One or Lightroom can handle most RAW file extensions.
Tip #2: Lenses over bodies
If you're buying a camera system, prioritize investing in good lenses rather than expensive bodies. Advances in sensor technology will tend to make digital camera bodies obsolete over time, but great glass is great glass.
This Zeiss 50mm Makro Planar is a great lens. Doesn't matter what you use it on - even a vintage camera from the 70s.
Tip #3: APS-C is fine
If you're new to photography, a camera with an APS-C sensor is a fine place to start. Camera stores may try and upsell you to a full-frame camera, but you don't need one to take great photos. APS-C sensors in this day and age give great quality at a much more accessible price than full-frame, especially if you're buying new.
I actually sold an entire full-frame camera system to move to an APS-C system after a blind poll I did on Instagram revealed that most people preferred the skin tones on the APS-C system over the full-frame system. Many of the photos you see on this website are shot with an APS-C camera, and I'm willing to bet that most won't be able to distinguish them from the full-frame and medium format shots.
Tip #4: Consider older or second-hand gear
You can get great gear at lower prices by buying older gear or buying second-hand. Once a new model comes out, the previous model tends to drop in price. It doesn't mean the previous model isn't any good - it just means it's no longer the newest. There are tons of great photos taken on cameras that we would consider garbage by today's standards. So don't overlook older simply because it's older.
Many people also sell their cameras when new models come out, so you can usually find a good deal on the second-hand market. You should probably bring someone experienced with cameras to help you test second-hand gear if you don't know what to look out for.
Amazon, B&H Photo, Clubsnap (Singapore) and Carousell (S.E.A.) are all decent online platforms for finding deals on used gear. I now avoid 2nd-hand camera shops in Singapore because I have had negative experiences.
Tip #5: Get the right tools for the job
Don't buy a lens with a small aperture if you want lots of creamy bokeh. Don't buy a huge heavy camera body if you want something light and compact. Don't buy a wide-angle lens to shoot a tight shot of a far-away zebra while you're on holiday.
Get the right tools for the job. Use what you know about camera gear to assess whether it's appropriate for your needs before buying. This is a good way of managing your expectations.
If you understand the strengths and limitations of your gear, you're less likely to get frustrated when it fails to do something it was never designed to do.
You're simply not gonna get this type of shot with a wide-angle lens or a pocket cam.
Please consider sharing your photos with the community by tagging #dharmaportraits on your Instagram photos - I'd love to see how you're using these tips to create beautiful photos.