How to Find The Best Camera
I’ve seen a lot of people asking this same question over and over again in multiple forums and discussion board: What camera should I buy?
It gets so ridiculous that even the forum moderators start giving out warnings and bans to the people who asked that same question.
However, I really can’t blame those people. In fact, I really do feel bad for them. With this amount of information overload, especially with manufacturers pushing out tons of new camera models every year, people can get overwhelmed with the amount of choice that they have to face.
Just look at all your options below. Can you pick one?
Yes, the amount of camera selection is absolutely ridiculous now and it will get even worse as we move on from year to year.
Given the amount of information and selection, you ARE most likely to make a wrong choice AT LEAST once.
I did it (more than once) and I have experienced these results:
- Wasted money
- Wasted time
- Poor image quality caused by unrealistic expectations and…
- Angry wife (“Why spend all these money if the pictures turned out like this?!?!?”)
I won’t go into the details on those points (especially number 4) but I feel it’s really necessary to give people a SPECIFIC guide on how to select the best digital camera for them. I will even tell you what camera to get depending on your circumstances (more on this later).
After reading this post entirely, you should be absolutely confidence selecting a digital camera that’s right for you.
Remember that the key here is you need to select the right digital camera for you, not the perfect digital camera. There’s no perfect digital camera. Perfect is subjective. What I consider perfect might not be perfect for you and vice versa.
Alright, enough with the introduction part, let’s move on to find the right digital camera for you.
Two Constraints You’ll Face When Selecting a Digital Camera
When it comes to purchasing any digital camera, you’ll be faced with 2 constraints only. They are:
- Your photographic skill
- Your budget
Your digital camera purchase will be determined by the above two constraints. Let’s look at the constraints a bit deeper.
Each constraints can have 3 variables: low, medium and high. So when you do the permutation, you can fall into one of these 9 categories:
- Low Skill, Low Budget
- Low Skill, Medium Budget
- Low Skill, High Budget
- Medium Skill, Low Budget
- Medium Skill, Medium Budget
- Medium Skill, High Budget
- High Skill, Low Budget
- High Skill, Medium Budget
- High Skill, High Budget
There are cameras that will fit perfectly into one of those 9 categories. In fact, I will be naming specific camera that goes really well with each category as we dive deeper into them.
However, before I do so let me explain what I mean by low, medium and high skill and categories so you know where you belong. Let’s start with skill first examining the skill first.
Examining Photography Skill Level
Low Skill: I consider you have low photography skill if you know almost nothing about basic photography concepts. You belong in this group if you are not familiar with exposure, composition and lighting. You primarily use your camera for snapshot purposes and have no interest in learning more about photography. You shoot mostly in Auto (Green Mode) and are clueless about the P, M, S(Tv), A(Av) mode. You are also happy with how the images come out from your camera and don’t want to touch post processing software like Photoshop or Aperture.
Medium Skill: You have medium photography skill if you have good understanding about basic photography concepts such as lighting, exposure, composition and post processing. You are not using Auto mode and spend more time shooting with either the M, S(Tv), A(Av) mode. People that belong in this category usually have the knowledge to make good images but are not thinking of going professional. They enjoy photography as a hobby but don’t want to go really deep into it (like learning how to setup a studio lighting or offering their photography services).
High Skill: You have high photography skill if you have excellent understanding about the ins and out of photography concepts. You master and fully understand basic photography concepts and you can alter and manipulate lighting. You can also do serious post processing to an image. Photographers who belong in this category wants the best image quality from start to finish. Most photographers who are in this category are using photography to make a living.
Describing each and every level of photography skill is a tedious subject but in general, every photographer will fit into one of those three. Categorizing the budget range is a lot more easier as you can see below.
Examining Budget Level
Low Budget: You can spend below $500 for a digital camera.
Medium Budget: You can spend above $500 but below $1500 for a digital camera excluding lenses and other accessories.
High Budget: You can spend above $1500 for a digital camera excluding lenses and other accessories.
Alright, before we move on into examining all the combinations, you’ll discover 2 things: where you are now and where you want to be in terms of your photography budget and skills.
For instance, right now you might be low on skill and medium on budget. But you want to grow into a medium skill, medium budget by learning about photography. In this case, you want to get a camera that’s for your desired category which is medium skill, medium budget. This is great to motivate yourself further to learn more about photography and you’ll be happy you make the decision to acquire a more expensive camera later on. Basically, you want a camera that gives you some room to grow.
If however, you know that you’re on the low skill and medium budget category and you don’t plan on moving up the ladder, then just buy the camera that’s recommended for your own personal category.
Alright, now we’re ready to look into each category in details and see what cameras are recommended for each category. You don’t have to read all of them, just one that’s appropriate for you (but feel free to read them all if you wish).
Here goes the list!
Category 1: Low Skill, Low Budget
Recommended camera types: Your camera phone or any compact camera that’s below $500. Save the extra $500 for something else.
Specific camera recommendation: iPhone 4S and above, Samsung Galaxy S3 and above, Canon PowerShot S110.
Explanation: You belong in this category if you don’t know basic photography concept, put your camera mostly on auto mode and have less than $500 to spend for a digital camera. People with low photographic skill and low photography budget tend to be snapshooters. And snapshooters will not be happy to carry a lot of weight with them when they want to photograph something.
In this case, you’ll enjoy using your camera phone that you can take with you everywhere to take pictures of everyday objects that you find interesting such as food and random stuff on the street. In fact, you might not need to buy additional compact camera if your phone has the capability of iPhone 4S or Samsung Galaxy S3. Those 2 cameras can give you absolutely beautiful pictures and combined with some great photo apps, you can make a really cool masterpiece.
If you want to get a separate compact camera because you’re afraid your phone battery will die off faster or you don’t have a fancy camera phone like the iPhone or Samsung, I highly recommend you look at the Canon PowerShot S110. The S110 is compact, lightweight, has tons of great features and it’s priced below $500. For the price it offers the most bang for your bucks.
Category 2: Low Skill, Medium Budget
Recommended camera types: Depending on your preferences on size and weight, I have 3 recommendations to make for this category: a high end compact camera, mirrorless camera or entry level DSLR.
Specific camera recommendation: Sony RX100 (High end compact camera), Sony NEX-6 (Mirrorless camera), Nikon D3200 (Entry level DSLR camera).
Explanation: You belong in this category if you don’t have any knowledge about basic photography concept, put your camera on auto mode all the time but have between $500 to $1500 to spend on a digital camera. If you belong in this category, you have the money to get cameras that can give you above average quality but you don’t want to learn about photography. You feel confidence that your camera can do a much better job than you do. In this case, you can have 3 options depending on your preferences on size and weight: lightweight (high end compact), slightly bigger but better image quality (mirrorless camera) and even bigger with better image quality and faster autofocus (entry level DSLR camera).
If you love pocket camera, you’ll definitely want to check out the Sony RX100. It’s the smallest camera with the largest sensor on the market right now. What it means is that you can take great pictures even on low light. What’s great about this camera is it’s smart enough to be used by amateurs to get great quality pictures and advanced enough to be used by more professional photographer as an everyday, take with me everywhere camera. In fact, I have one of this and have used it extensively. Here’s the picture of the camera.
If you want better image quality from a small camera and don’t mind adding more weight and bulk, then mirrorless camera is definitely for you. A great camera that you should check out is the Sony NEX-6. You can change the lens on this camera in case you’re not happy with the kit lens but the kit lens alone should be enough for you if you’re only using it to take everyday snapshots. If you want to use it for sports, you can always get the 55-210mm telephoto lens.
Lastly, if you want the best image quality as well as fast autofocus, you’d want to go with an entry level DSLR camera. I’m recommending the Nikon D3200 because it’s small, light and can take amazing pictures. The camera comes with a kit lens so you don’t have to worry about purchasing additional lens. A good thing about this camera is that even though it’s a DSLR camera, it’s designed with amateur users in mind. People who are used to using compact camera should be able to familiarize themselves quickly with this camera.
Category 3: Low Skill, High Budget
Recommended camera types: Same as Case 2.
Specific camera recommendation: Same as Case 2.
Explanation: You belong in this category if you don’t understand basic photography concept, put your camera in auto mode all the time but have lots of money to spend on digital camera. In other words, you can buy the most expensive camera but you have no interest in learning photography. You just want the camera to do the job for you. And this is where my recommendation can get tricky. Most people who have high budget assume that more expensive camera can give them better pictures.
However, higher end cameras have fewer modes for beginners and are harder to use. This is why people with low photography skill that buy expensive camera are often disappointed. They have nothing else to blame but themselves (it’s not their camera’s fault. If you’re in this category, look at my recommendation for Case 2. You’d be much better off by using the cameras that I recommend on Case 2 rather than buying expensive camera that’s above $1500 in price.
Category 4: Medium Skill, Low Budget
Recommended camera types: Serious compact camera with manual controls or low end mirrorless camera.
Specific camera recommendation: Panasonic Lumix LX7 (serious compact), Sony NEX-F3 (low end mirrorless camera).
Explanation: You belong in this category if you have basic knowledge about photography but don’t have more than $500 to spend on a digital camera. In this case, you might have 2 preferences. You might prefer a small, compact camera that you can bring with you everywhere or you might enjoy an interchangeable, mirrorless camera. You are more than ready to use a DSLR but for a budget that’s below $500, it’s hard to find a decent DSLR camera.
If you want a small, compact camera that allows you full manual control, look at the Panasonic Lumix LX7. The Leica lens on that camera has astounded many photographers (including professionals). Below is the picture of the camera.
However, if you want an interchangeable lens camera, look at the Sony NEX-F3. It’s small, have full manual control and you can buy additional lens if you have the budget later on.
Category 5: Medium Skill, Medium Budget
Recommended camera types: Enthusiast DSLR camera.
Specific camera recommendation: Nikon D7100.
Explanation: You belong in this category if you have basic knowledge about photography fundamentals and have some funds to support your photography passion (ideally between $500 and $1500). In this case, your money is better spent on an enthusiast DSLR camera rather than on an entry level DSLR camera. My personal favorite is the Nikon D7100. The D7100 can give you plenty of room to grow as a photographer and might be the only camera that you own for 4 to 5 years to come.
Where to get Nikon D7100: Amazon, B&H Photo, Adorama
Category 6: Medium Skill, High Budget
Recommended camera types: Entry level Full Frame DSLR camera.
Specific camera recommendation: Nikon D600.
Explanation: You belong in this category if you have basic knowledge of photography such as exposure, lighting and composition and you can shell out more than $1500 for a digital camera. If this is the case, my recommendation is to go with an entry level Full Frame DSLR camera. My personal favorite is the Nikon D600. I own this camera and can vouch for its image quality and durability. The camera can give you plenty of room to grow as a photographer and it takes better pictures (sometimes FAR better) than an enthusiast DSLR camera like the Nikon D7100. Below is the picture of the Nikon D600.
Category 7: High Skill, Low Budget
Recommended camera types: Same as category 4.
Specific camera recommendation: Same as category 4.
Explanation: You fall into this category if you understand advanced photography concept such as lighting manipulation, studio setup and advance photo editing techniques but have no budget to support your photography. If this is the case, I’d recommend you to wait until you have the fund necessary to become a High Skill, Medium Budget photographer because you really can’t get a good quality DSLR for under $500. If you really want to purchase a camera because you’re itching to take pictures, my recommendation is to look at the cameras at Category 4 (Medium Skill, Low Budget).
Category 8: High Skill, Medium Budget
Recommended camera types: Same as category 5.
Specific camera recommendation: Same as category 5.
Explanation: You’re in this category if you understand advanced photography concept and can manipulate light, do advanced photo editing or setup a studio. However, you can only shell out around $500 to $1500 for a digital camera. My recommendation for you will be the same as category 5. You’ll be much better going with the enthusiast level DSLR camera as it can give you more flexibility and control than an entry level DSLR camera. Ideally, I’d recommend you go for an entry level full frame camera such as the Nikon D600 but at the time of this writing, no such entry level full frame camera exist at the price range that we set.
Category 9: High Skill, High Budget
Recommended camera types: High end Full Frame DSLR camera.
Specific camera recommendation: Nikon D800, D800E or D4.
Explanation: If you belong in this category… I congratulate you. You belong here if you understand and practice advanced photography concept and have the fund to buy gears that matches your knowledge. This is the best category to be in and what most photographers (including me) dream about. The perfect camera for you here would be a high end, full frame DSLR camera such as the Nikon D800 or D800E (if you shoot mostly landscape).
If you have the fund to go further, check out the Nikon D4.
If you really have unlimited amount of money, you can always go with a Leica or Hasselblad, depending on your needs. In fact, I’d say that YOU should know what camera you should be using as I don’t consider myself to be in this category yet!
Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post. I have enjoyed writing this post greatly and I really hope this post can clear out some confusion in the market out there. Before I end this ultra long article, I want to make some notes on my recommendations:
If you glance over my camera recommendation, it’s clear to see that I am a Nikon DSLR guy, Canon compact lover and Sony Mirrorless junkie. Those are the cameras that I’ve tested and used. I’d gladly recommend those camera to a close friend of mine. You can do your own research and I actually urge you to do so. However, just remember one thing: don’t let the hurdle of choosing a camera stand in your path of taking great pictures.
With that being said, thanks for reading, feel free to ask any questions or share your thoughts on the comment box below!