When I googled “camera”, I came up with 952,000,000 results in 0.17 seconds. To narrow it down a little bit, I asked Google Shopping for a camera and came up with 24,800,000 results in 0.61 seconds. By the way, thats a lotta cameras. If that’s not intimidating for the camera buyer, I don’t know what would be. It makes sense, then, that I get a weekly email or phone call: “what camera should I buy?!” I’d be panicking, too. There are too many options!
But. There truly is hope. Promise. And it doesn’t involve hiring a full time photographer to follow you 24/7 to take all your pictures for you (although that’s always an option, too).
1. Pick a Budget. (And stick to it.)
Cameras are available for $10 (disposable) or $5000 (dream big!) and everything in between. But once you pick a price range, you’re done thinking about everything outside that price range. For example: I needed a purse-sized camera for convenient snapshots before I moved to Uganda a couple years ago. I walked into Costco with $150 and walked out with a camera and $40 left over.
2. Identify What You Need.
Not everyone needs interchangeable lenses. Not everyone needs 14 megapixels. Not everyone needs the ability to switch into manual mode. But maybe you do know you’ll be taking pictures of baseball games at sunset. Or of toddlers running around looking cute. Or in dimly lit rooms. What will you be taking photos of?
3. Take a quick lesson in camera terminology.
Once you’ve articulated what you will be taking pictures of, you can know what technical specifications you’ll need. But you can’t know what your technical specs are until after you know what all those words mean!
- ISO: will it let you take photos in low light situations without using the flash?
- Shutter Speed: how long will the shutter stay open to let light in? is it manually controllable?
- F-Stop: how much light will come in each time the shutter is released?
- Megapixels: bigger might be better, but the only reason you need more than 12 megapixels is if you’re planning on creating HUGE enlargements from your photographs
- Response time: how fast do you need the camera ready for use? will a few seconds matter to you?
- Screen size: do you need a bigger screen because your eyesight is failing?
4. Go to the store and hold the cameras.
I learn by doing. I can read all the reviews, memorize all the specs, and list all the pros and cons, but until I actually hold the camera in my hand, its all just head knowledge and doesn’t really matter. What camera do you want to be holding for the next couple years?
5. Buy the camera.
Ultimately, with the way technology has expanded, the camera that you can get for $150 is going to be just as good as the camera you spend $400 on. It’ll be a difference of whistles and bells. And even moving on into the thousands of dollars camera categories, it really is just a matter of what you’re doing with the camera and what you need from it. So, ultimately, once you pick a budget, you can just pick your camera.
6. Start taking pictures!
I have a theory on photography: the camera doesn’t take the picture, the human does. If you know your camera, tell it what to do, and put your brain behind your work, you *will* take good pictures, no matter what kind of camera you have.