I Want A Camera, but Which One Should I Buy?!

November 21, 2017

If I had a penny for every time someone asked, texted or emailed me: “what kind of camera should I start out with?”

So this can be a difficult question to answer, but depending on which category you fall into, that will help guide my reasoning. I’m going to narrow you into these 3 categories below.

1. “Just starting out”

2. “No real budget yet amateur goals”

3. “I’m a PRO”

*Psst: here’s a peek inside my camera bag! 

Two types of cameras

In short, there are two main types of cameras–crop sensors and full frame cameras.

A crop sensor actually does what it sounds: it crops your images. So when you’re looking through your viewfinder, it’s actually cropping what you thinking you’re looking at. This isn’t necessary a bad thing (my first camera was a crop sensor), BUT you have to be aware of this and possibly take a step or two back so that you can compensate for the cropping

There are 3 big differences between crop sensor and full frame:

1) price: crop sensors are much more affordable, because they’re marketed to amateurs and produced cheaper.

2) image quality and ISO capabilities: full frames allow you to photograph in lower light without compromising the image quality

3) the crop factor: crop sensor cameras actually crop your image slightly from what you see when you look through your viewfinder, whereas full frames do not.

These factors in crop sensor cameras are not things to worry about when you’re initially starting out; I used a crop sensor camera the first year I was starting out with photography while I figured out how to shoot in manual and really know how to use my camera–specifically a Nikon D3100. After that, I purchased a Nikon D610 (first full frame!) and was amazed at the difference, but I have to believe that’s because I first learned how to shoot in manual, compose my clients and use light on my crop sensor first! So do not fear if you fit into the first category of “just starting out”. I don’t think it ever hurts to learn your trade on something affordable, resell (or save as your back up) and buy a full frame whenever you’ve saved and have proved you are serious about it.

We currently use the D810 and really don’t see any need to upgrade in the near future, because quality and megapixels are better and bigger than a wedding photographer would need.

Which Buyer Are You?

1. Just starting out: 

For many of you who are about to purchase our first camera, For Nikon, you can start out super simply with the basic model which is comparable to what I started out with, the Nikon D3400  or the Canon Rebel T5 for your most basic of photography needs. While you may have a bigger budget, I almost encourage you to spend LESS money on your first camera simple to MAKE SURE you actually commit to learning it. SO many people give up or don’t put the time in (this was me for the first couple years owning my camera!). When I finally learned, felt confident shooting in manual and actually had a successful business running, I invested in a full-frame, I felt REWARDED and SURE that it was money well spent!

Crop sensor cameras have the lowest quality of ISO capabilities, but this shouldn’t scare you. It just means you need to be aware of this in locations with sparse light. ISO can make much more sense to you as explained in more depth in The Capture Course, my online photography course for beginners.

Personal side note: if you buy either of these cameras that come with the 18-55 kit lens, consider purchasing the nifty fifty along with it. The 50mm f/1.8 is by FAR the best bang for your buck as far as versatility and price goes in lenses. As soon as you watch the course, you’ll be aching for a lens that has an aperture lower than f/3.5 (which the 18-55mm kit lens along with the 70-300 lens limits you to). Initially, it’s fine, but once you desire to use your lens in lower light and capture images with a beautiful depth of field (as seen below), then consider than nifty fifty! I personally never used the 18-55mm or 70-300mm after I purchased lenses with lower apertures. OOPS. Wish someone had told me! For more info on your kit-lens, download the free guide here.

For Nikon, it’s as cheap as slightly under $200 and Canon slightly over $100. Links below.

Nikon 50 1.8

Canon 50 1.8

2. No real budget yet amateur: 

This is for the hobbyist or person who is just starting out but isn’t needing to pinch pennies. And honestly, I’ve contemplated even listing this middle ground for you, because I believe you either need to start in the first category above and LEARN (then invest big), OR invest big and COMIT to learning (then stay with it). The best bang for your buck for Nikon would be the crop sensor D7500. It’s quality exceeds most budget priced DSLRs (see above). For Canon, you might consider the Canon 80D for the same reason. However, if you have the extra few hundred dollars, then highly consider your basic full frame as you’ll read below.

3. I’m a PRO: 

If you know how to use a camera and do not already have a full frame camera, then I highly suggest diving into your first full frame. Oh, it’s so fun!

For Nikon users, the D750 camera body is excellent bang for your buck when making the leap to the full frame. We currently use the Nikon D850, but unless you’re diving into wedding photography for the long haul, it’s more overkill than what you may need.

For Canon users, the best bang for your buck when making the leap to the full frame would be the Canon 6D Mark II. Looking for more? The 5D Mark III is designed for advanced photographers and has a wide array of professional features without being overkill.

So while there are so many options, I hope to make it simple for you in sharing that: you cannot go wrong investing a few hundred dollars in the most basic cameras listed, and more importantly, investing your time in learning how to shoot in manual. From there, buying a full frame will be a smooth, easy transition, and you can confidently KILL IT once you get to this stage. I would hate to tell you to invest thousands before you really know if you’re going to invest the time to learning this skill. But if you’re committed, I do teach an online course called The Capture Course geared toward beginning photographers right where you may be. Do it for yourself, commit! Promise you won’t look back. 🙂

Relevant blog posts:

The 3 most important differences between a crop sensor camera and full frame camera 

3 questions to answer before purchasing your next lens



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Lindsay Davenport is a newborn and motherhood photographer + educator based in Dallas and available for travel worldwide.

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