Introduction: Choosing a Camera, Tools and Supplies
A lot of folks get scared away from a photography practice because they think that being a good photographer is very gear-intensive, and thus quite expensive. While that is the case for super-pros, getting started with photography doesn't mean you have to take out a second mortgage.
Understanding the basics of digital camera features available to consumers can guide you through your purchases, and help you realize the best solutions for each shooting situation. While there may not be a 'magic bullet' of a camera that is perfect for every situation, it is up to the photographer wielding the camera to use their tool to the best of their ability.
Step 1: The Stuff
This list provides insight as to best choices for cameras and tools for the beginning photographer. Other items will be suggested throughout this course, but these are the essentials.
Recommended Digital Cameras
Everyday Camera Accessories
Great Supports and Tripods
In our Natural Lighting and Artificial Lighting classes, we take on crafting some DIY photography tools made from mostly things that are lying around the house or easily and affordably purchased nearby.
Supplies for Projects in the Lessons
Step 2: Who Is This Class For?
This class is geared for the absolute beginner.
Whether you are just getting started with a point and shoot, a DSLR, or even a smartphone, this class is for you. Follow along in this course to learn new skills, or to just brush up on photography tips and tricks.
This class will go over basic camera functions and principles, highlighting techniques to make fantastic images with any camera in any lighting situation. The most valuable skill learned in this class will be that you will learn to see light and form differently, and to make the best pictures in any scenario.
Step 3: Kinds of Digital Cameras
When buying just about anything, you'll usually have some options in quality, convenience, and affordability. When it comes to buying a camera, pick two, because you don't get all three.
Let's take a look at some common kinds of digital cameras available on the market. Understanding the tiers of cameras that are commonly sold can help you decide which one is the most well-suited to your needs.
Point-and-shoot cameras are awesome. Cheap and Convenient, but....they lack in the quality department. They have a slim profile, are very light weight, and are virtually silent when actuating the shutter. Most commercially available point-and-shoot cameras are smaller than your average smartphone, have an ease-of-use that makes taking lots of photos feel effortless. You can find a reliable point-and-shoot camera for a good cost, but in this price-tier of cameras, make sure you pay attention to reviews so that you are getting a camera with the features you want.
The compact size of the point-and-shoot camera does not allow them to have many manipulatable settings. They are limited by few creative options and often render poor image quality in low-light settings. One big feature missing from P&S cameras is focus control. Often these little guys have no means of indicating where you are trying to focus your camera, and you end up with a foreground that is blurred with a crisp landscape behind it. Furthermore, because of the small display, you often won't notice this error until you are reviewing an enlarged image on your computer.
Mirrorless cameras have quickly become a personal favorite. They produce high-quality images and boast a small stature, but....they can have a slightly higher price tag.
Mirrorless cameras haven't been on the market for too long and are still seeing a lot of innovation between model iterations, trying to compete with the quality of DSLRs while maintaining a small size like a point-and-shoot. My first mirrorless camera didn't have a means of modifying focal ranges, but these days, their competitive advantage in the camera market is that they have focal detection comparable to DSLRs. This means you are able to select features to focus on, as well as auto-detect the exposure needs of your desired subject. As these cameras have been developed, their list of cons has diminished.
These little powerhouses just chug batteries. Every mirrorless camera I have researched has had at least one frustrated reviewer talking about the bad battery life. Besides the screen, batteries take up the most space within your camera. These cameras have a lot of robust features that require more power consumption than a point and shoot, but because mirrorless cameras are small, and have a small battery, you have to swap the rapidly drained power source often.
DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex. This refers to any camera that has a removable lens and a reflex-mirror reflecting light into a viewfinder, not a screen. The mirror flips up when you depress the shutter button to allow light to hit the sensor and create your image.
You can get a very high-quality DSLR camera for a great price, but this kind of camera does come with a steep learning curve and needs to be well cared for.
There are some 'prosumer' DSLR cameras that are available for around $600. These are accessible at a lower cost than pro cameras because the sensor, which is likely the most expensive part of your camera, is cropped and physically smaller. These low-cost DSLR cameras often have fewer features than full-frame sensor DSLRs, but are AWESOME for learning how to use the camera as a tool. Keep in mind that the price-tag for a DSLR doesn't include additional lenses, and if you want that super-zoomed-in image of a bird in a tree, you'll have to buy an additional zoom lens to mount to your camera - be warned, some lenses may even cost more than the price of the camera body.
The benefit to working with DSLRs is that you have ultimate control over images, and as you develop your photography practice, you have a tool that you can grow with and use at various levels of proficiency.
If you don't want a camera that is too heavy or clunky to carry around, then a DSLR is not for you. These cameras are like tiny advanced computers that turn rays of light into well-toned images and have some substantial weight. When you start adding the weight of heavy optical glass, they can get unwieldy quickly.
Step 4: Things to Consider
When you're in the market for a camera there are oodles of things to consider and questions to ask yourself before investing in such an expensive tool. Ask yourself why you want a camera, what kind of moments are you trying to capture. Are you a world traveller? A live music enthusiast? A DIY blogger? ;)
I encourage you to do lots of research about the cameras you are interested in. Read reviews, even watch some unboxing videos. One of my favorite resources for gear reviews is DPReview - I'm pretty sure there isn't a camera, lens, flash, or battery under the sun that they haven't reviewed. There can be a lot of variation in user experience depending on how the camera is trying to be used, so pay attention to how others have used the camera you are researching, and what kind of images reviewers have made with that camera.
Here is a guided list to help you decide what kind of camera is best for you.
Level of commitment
Are you new to photography? Unsure what kind of photographs you want to make? If you're just getting started, breaking the bank for a camera probably isn't worth it. I didn't buy a DSLR until my third year of art school, it wasn't until then that IKNEW that I was going to make photographs forever, thus was ready to embark upon that level of investment for storytelling and image making. Albeit, DSLRs are a lot less expensive than they were 12 years ago, but a DSLR is a commitment to learning how to use the camera as a tool. Not ready to take that kind of plunge? There are some amazing point and shoot cameras available, with loads of settings to explore to get you started with digital photography.
In recent years, I have become a bigger and bigger fan of mirrorless camera systems. Mirrorless cameras are a good middle of the road camera that can be very capable. You get the compactness of a point and shoot camera, but with some of the custom functionality of a larger DSLR. Most of these cameras even have an interchangeable lens system that doesn't break the bank!
Where are you making your photographs?
If you are planning a rafting trip, you probably don't want to use a super expensive camera, with custom underwater housing to protect it from the probable droplets of water that will get on it, potentially shorting the electronics in your camera. Instead, maybe opt for an affordable underwater camera. Underwater cameras are pretty unbeatable, you have to sacrifice sensor size for rugged durability, but for a camera that can stand up to the elements, underwater point-and-shoots are the way to go.
Alternatively, if you are setting up a location with controlled lighting to take pictures of retail goods, and want a consistent and controllable aesthetic, you're probably better off working with a tripod-mounted Mirrorless or DSLR camera.
The lens and battery are the heaviest parts of your camera, so if you are going on a hike, and don't want to lug your big camera in your pack opt for a point-and-shoot or mirrorless camera to lighten your load. My go-to on-the-go rig is a mirrorless camera with a pancake lens. This means it has a slim profile and is super lightweight.
MegaPixels vs. Sensor Size
Understanding megapixels and image resolution can be a huge benefit to your decision to buy a camera. What is a megapixel anyways? Megapixels refer to the camera's ability to render images of different dimensions, and how many pixels per inch you will be able to print. For example, your average smartphone camera has an 8-megapixel camera. This means that the image dimension has a surface area of about 8 million pixels that have interpreted light into a photograph. Megapixels are calculated by multiplying the width and height of the image rendered. An 8MP photo is 3264 pixels wide and 2448 pixels high contains an area of 7,990,272 pixels of light-data interpreted into a photograph.
This chart demonstrates how megapixels and resolution scale in correlation to printing.
Camera sensors are advertised to have anywhere from 3-50 megapixels, and while you may think that a high megapixel count is better, that is not always the case.
Images with a small sensor and a high megapixel count won't render as nice of a high-quality image as a camera with a larger sensor size and lower megapixels. When using a camera with a smaller sensor, like with a smartphone, the photo-sensing pixels can’t capture as much light, and your details become 'noisy'. When a sensor is larger, the image details are captured more accurately because there is literally more physical space on the sensor to interpret the light.
Where do you want your images to go?
If you are hoping to buy a camera so that you may print your photos to give as gifts, or enlarge as art pieces, it is imperative to use a camera that has some advanced control over file size and color in the camera. Point-and-shoots are great for quick snaps that will just be published to the web, but if you are hoping to share your images as high-quality prints look towards a mirrorless or prosumer DSLR.
Some cameras have a dedicated video mode, so if you would like to capture video footage as well as photographs, look for a camera that is video-capable.
Step 5: Moving Forward
This lesson went over which kind of cameras are suitable for different shooting situations, and how to select a camera based on your shooting needs. Be warned, purchasing a camera can become very expensive if you don't do a little bit of homework about your potential purchase, ensuring that your camera will fulfill your image making needs. If you are still facing confusion or have questions about a potential purchase, please add to the discussion in this class and we can work together to determine the best camera for your requirements.
Step 6: About Your Instructor
My name is Audrey Love, and I am a photography professional turned DIY-Mad-Scientist.
I have been tinkering and crafting my whole life, and I was lucky enough to turn this curious passion for making into a career. I started visiting Instructables.com when I was working on my Photography/Digital Media BFA at the University of Nevada, Reno - thanks to articles authored by Instructables community members, I learned how to read circuit diagrams, solder, and cast resin for the first time ever! I'm still endlessly learning from the I'bles community, and part of my motivation for teaching this class is to give so that future Instructables authors have the know-how to use a camera to tell their own DIY story.
I have extensive education and experience as a photographer and digital image retoucher. STILL! I am constantly amazed that I can keep learning new things about the camera as a tool. As digital photography keeps benefiting from technological innovation, and robust features become more accessible, the creativity of camera users is really astounding. (But perhaps secretly, I long for the days I could get back into the dark room to wet analog process photos again.)