What You Need to Know Before Buying Your First Serious Camera


The rise of cameraphones has had two significant effects on photography. First it has dramatically increased the number of images that we are taking and, secondly, it has changed the way many people first get into, what we might call, proper photography. Before, most people that took a step up to an SLR or a DSLR, did so from a compact camera. These days they are much more likely to be doing it from a smartphone. Because of this, entering the word of the serious camera may seem quite daunting to the first time buyer so, with apologies to our many experienced members, today we are going to look at some useful advice on buying your first camera.

Don’t Fall for the Hype

Marketing is marketing. There are many camera companies out there with slick glossy adverts all vying for your business. The truth is, that for the most part, virtually every camera you look at will have all the required capabilities for an absolute beginner. All the bells and whistles that are added to even the base level cameras might be attractive but if you are serious about learning photography they are only distractions. The first thing that you need to decide is what type of system you want to get into.

Graflex - The cameras that win the prizes - 1937
Photography companies have been into marketing for decades. They are really good at it. Photo by Jussi

DSLR or Mirrorless

A few short years ago, the only “serious” camera that an absolute beginner would consider would be a DSLR. These are the larger, more common cameras with interchangeable lenses and lots of accessories, that many people own today. These days, however, there is a serious and increasingly important rival to the DSLR and that is the mirrorless systems. These cameras also feature interchangeable lenses but in a much smaller form factor. They are, at the moment, the real growth area within photography although as yet, their system of lenses and accessories is not as comprehensive as the DSLR systems. That is changing though and there is the possibility that mirrorless cameras will become the standard in the next few years.

Sizes compared: Canon T4i, EF 35/1.4 L lens vs Fuji X Pro 1, Fujinon 35/1.4 lens
DSLR and Mirrorless side by side. Photo by Soe Lin

How Much

Having decided on which system to get, set yourself a budget. Be realistic, don’t overstretch yourself to get the very best camera on the market, this will not allow you to learn photography quicker, indeed it may even slow down your progress due to its complexity. Look at the base level systems from the major manufacturers, Nikon, Canon and others for the DSLR systems, Fuji, Sony and Olympus being the major players in the mirrorless markets. Set a price that will get you the base level camera and one lens.

Only One Lens?

As you are setting off on your photographic journey, you really do not know whether this might just be a fad or something that will take hold and become a lifelong hobby. Starting with one lens does two things, it minimizes your starting costs and it allows you to concentrate on learning photography by keeping you at the basic level until you start to understand what you are doing. The lens to choose would generally be a standard zoom. Often these are supplied as part of the base level packages as a matter of course. A standard zoom will give you a nice combination of a wider angle and a moderate telephoto and will be a good introduction to how lenses work.

Avoiding loading yourself up with other kit until you are truly happy with working with the camera and one lens. Some things that you should consider when buying your camera is getting a nice comfortable camera bag to keep it safe and a lens cleaning kit, to keep your optic in tip top condition. These I would call essentials, not tripods, flashguns or second lenses.

Kata DR-467
<A decent camera bag is more important than extra lenses. Photo by Eric Wüstenhagen

Where to Buy?

Although in decline and generally more expensive than online retailers, a good old fashion camera store is still the best place to buy a camera, more so if you are a beginner. The staff there will often be enthusiast photographers themselves and will be able to give you sound advice on what system to buy. The other huge advantage, of course, is that you can physically pick the camera up and play with it, the way a camera feels in your hand should be a major factor in your decision on which one to buy.

Of course we do not all have access to local camera stores these days, so if buying online, choose a reputable retailer, preferably a specialist photographic one. Make sure they have a reasonable returns policy in case you are not happy with your decision. Avoid websites that are seemingly way cheaper than the rest. These are usually either scams or bait and switch merchants.

Your local camera store is the best place to buy your first camera. Photo by Colin

Getting your first camera can seem daunting but by following these tips, minimizing your expenditure and the complexity of the camera, you will be on the way to making a good purchase. Whether photography is for you, only time will tell, but if it is, we here at LightStalking have plenty of great articles to help you on your way.

About Author

Jason has more than 35 years of experience as a professional photographer, videographer and stock shooter. You can get to know him better here.

Thank you so much Sir Jason Dow. I love taking pics and documenting every moment as my children grow. But I really want to learn but I am not a “techy” person and I think this fear is stopping me to learn. My Uncle gave me a canon camera and I panick trying to remember what to do. I hope reading all your tips will take away the fear and start learning.

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