I have friends come to me all the time asking what kind of camera they should buy. Since I do the photographizing they think I can point them in the direction. That question usually results in the annoying “it depends” answer for the person. So I go into long winded explanation with hypothetical situations and lay out scenarios and discuss needs.
I’ll start by saying I’m a Nikon shooter, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get other brands. There are pros and cons to all brands but at the end of the day there will be complimentary cameras at each level and price range. I chose Nikon because the magnesium body felt more solid to me. I’m always taking it hiking on treacherous trails or have it with me while travelling so I wanted something that could take a little punishment. But ignore anyone who says there is only one good option for a brand. It often comes down to personal preference.
First thing to decide when buying is to identify what you want to use your camera for. That could drastically affect what camera you should get and how much money you should expect to pay. I’ll explore a couple of photography user types and suggest cameras based on those needs. Perhaps you fall into some of these categories
The Casual Shooter
You enjoy taking photos to capture memories or random moments. You may want to take a picture of your beautiful garden, take a snap at a family get together, or are obsessed with your dog.
The Vacation Shooter
You want to take some nicer pictures on your upcoming vacation. You know you’re going to have great photo ops on your European tour, or Caribbean cruise. You know you will deal with various lighting conditions and will be on the move a lot.
The Extreme Sports Shooter
You want to capture those awesome moments skydiving, surfing, or snowboarding. You want something tough and unobtrusive.
You want to exercise your artsy side. You enjoy photography but want to harness the video capabilities as well. Maybe make a short creative film, be a YouTube star, or actually pursue filmmaking to a higher level
You love photography. You see things differently than others. You enjoy going out just to take photographs. You spend your free time browsing photo sharing sites like Flickr.
Aspiring Pro Photographer
You have been a Hobbyist and want to go beyond that. You want to explore your creative potential. You want to shoot at an advanced level with manual modes, off camera lighting, and unforgiving lighting situations.
Examining these categorizations can give an indication as whether you should purchase a point and shoot, “action camera”, DSLR, or other interchangeable lens camera. Each of those choices will result in different prices ranges and varied level of photo quality. They also are not the be all and end all, just loose guidelines.
Let’s start with the entry level Point and Shoot Digital Camera. Perfect for those “Casual Shooters” or even the “Vacation Shooter”. They are small, light, easy to use, and well-priced. A majority will just turn the power on aim at what you want and press the button. They range in price from $50.00 - $200.00 and upward depending on features. Don’t let their size fool you, some of these cameras are incredibly sophisticated and have fantastic features. For great picture taking without any thinking this is a fantastic option. Many of them even include a decent amount of manual controls. Their size is also beneficial. These cameras tend to have slim bodies and retractable zoom lens. They are perfect to slip into a pocket and go. If you are thinking this is a good option for you I would opt for a waterproof and shockproof option such as the Fujifilm Finepix XP200. This is great for vacations as you can take this pretty much anywhere. You can get great photos and HD video under water or in snowy mountains without worrying about ruining it.
For the more adventurous bunch there are actions cameras such as the Hero GoPro. These are beneficial for the small size, light weight, great footage, but especially for being mountable. Other cameras can be mounted but cameras such as the GoPro has numerous attachments that allows you to mount the camera to nearly anything for truly unique footage. The filmmaker category can get great use out of this to get footage that otherwise would require intense rigging. However, unless you are into extreme sports, or have a need to mount a camera in a normally challenging situation you can get more out of a point and shoot or DSLR.
The next level up would be a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. These offer superior image quality and compact size. They are costly, but if you want an easy to use small camera and can afford it this is a great option. If you want to get the creative juices flowing a bit you can invest in new lenses for these as well. Great option for a hobbyist photog or someone who wants great vacation photos without lugging around a bulky heavy camera.
My bias always leads people to get a DSLR. If it’s within your budget and you have an interest in photography, get a DSLR. You can get amazing pictures 80% of the time just on automatic mode. While you have a wide range of features you can put it on auto, and let the camera do the hard part. An entry level DSLR such as a Nikon D3200 or D5200 allows you room to grow while giving you consistent quality photos. So you can start slow and just learn basics slowly working your way up through the various manual features. In most lighting conditions you can get a nearly identical photo to a camera that costs thousands more. You can also explore video features and take film-like footage. A skilled person could create nearly professional looking footage with an entry level DSLR.
If you truly love photography and want to take it to a higher level perhaps are an aspiring pro I would recommend a high end DX crop sensor camera such as a Nikon D7100. This level of camera has fantastic image quality and the cameras are packed with features that can really allow you to explore creatively.
The beauty of the DSLR market is that there are constantly new bodies being released which help drive down the price of older bodies with plenty of life left in them. If you want something a bit better than entry level but can’t afford it look on the second hand market. Great options include the D90, D300, D7000, and even the FX D700
If money is no object 1. I hate you 2. Buy an FX camera body. The image quality is unmatched. There are great options including the D600, D800, D4, as well as the older D700 or D3. I myself shoot with a D700. It’s an older body but shoots beautiful images.
Like I mentioned earlier there are lots of options of brands and models to get. Pick them up and see how they fit in your hands. Read reviews. But in reality if you have a DSLR from the last 5-7 years you are golden. You will get great pictures. If you buy a modern point and shoot camera, you will get great pictures. Just figure out what you are using it for, how compact you need it to be, and how much you are willing to spend.