Buying Cameras

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35mm, Camera Body, APSC, Digital, DSLR, Four Thirds, Compact Camera, Full Frame, Buyers Guide, Knowledge Base

A question that is occasionally put to us is “I am thinking of buying a camera – do you have any recommendations?”. This sounds simple enough, but like most subjects, photography is a little more complicated, requiring some thought before reaching an answer. Cameras are no different to many other items when it comes to diversity; there are models to suit all shooting styles and budgets. The question’s complexity is usually met with questions to establish why a person needs a camera and what is its intended use.

For many people, the ability to record family events is of primary importance; kids growing up, walking the dog, birthdays, holidays and all of those events that we hold dear to us. Often reviewed in moments of reflection or shared via social media, these images record our path through life and in many respects, are as equally important to us all. Technology advances faster than I can keep up with and there was a time when a small compact all-in-one camera would have been ideal for this type of use – it still is in many respects. However, it is difficult not to notice that the demand for compacts has shrunk dramatically in the last few years, giving up much of its market share to mobile phones. And its hard not to see why; apart from its fundamental function of being a communication device, the latest generation of smartphone has seen its photographic capabilities evolve beyond what was imaginable a couple of decades ago.

I am putting these thoughts down in an airport departure lounge, sat immediately opposite the Dixons travel store and it is hard not to notice the dozens of different models sharing a display with a bunch of cameras and lenses. The layout is almost suggestive of the evolutionary progress from simple phone at one end, to advanced DSLR at the other. The two products are united, not only in their technology but the way they are presented to the public. Probably for many people, the search for a camera can stop at the smartphone end of this display. After all, their high-quality lenses, large megapixel count and wealth of in-phone editing and sharing apps provide the perfect platform, effectively replacing the requirement to carry a separate camera. It has often been said that the best camera is the one you have with you, so what could be more versatile? Heck, some of these things even have twin lenses allowing users to capture semi-wide and telephoto style images, while others can record their output as RAW files.

It was not long ago that I would have suggested the purchase of a good quality compact camera to a user who’s intended use to record precious family moments and events. Today, I feel that a smartphone with a rich camera feature set suits this demographic far better, and recommend their search stops here, assuming they are comfortable with the devices limitations, particularly in low light situations.

But which direction should a potential buyer take if they are wishing to develop their interest into a hobby or profession? A few minutes online reveals a huge market in both new and used cameras from many manufacturers. Some of these have been in the game for decades, their lineage reaching way back through photographic history. Cost is usually a primary factor when making a purchase, therefore an important consideration to factor in. Its intended use, again, should be reviewed. I know some people who enjoy owning a dedicated camera but use it only to record their holiday trips. For them, a prerequisite is having one non-removable lens which allows them to capture wide angle and super telephoto results, along with reasonable video performance. For them, a ‘bridge’ type of camera was ideal as it also provided good levels of automation, while retaining the ability to manually override many of the settings if desired.

For many people wishing to develop their photographic skills, an interchangeable lens type model is the holy grail as this offers the versatility to explore specific areas such as wildlife, macro or street photography. At this point, there are many forks in the selection process, and key points to consider are:

Almost without exception, most cameras are capable of wonderful things when used in their intended field. But no camera can substitute the seeing eye of the photographer.