Choosing a camera is not only hard because there are a ton of options out there, there’s also a ton of GREAT options. All the big camera manufacturers are making great products but they still have specific strengths and weaknesses depending on what your photographic needs are. To dive into this in extreme detail I sat down with Chris Niccolls from The Camera Store in Calgary, or as you probably know him, host of The Camera Store TV. I’m pretty familiar with the cameras I own, but TCSTV put every camera through serious real world tests, so I always look to their opinion before I buy a new camera.
If you’re moving up from a phone to camera for the first time you probably don’t want to spend too much until you figure out if this hobby is going to last or not. A few years back it was easy to spot the lower image quality from a cheaper camera, but thats no longer the case. A few hundred bucks can buy most of the image quality you would find in the gear pros use. As you spend more the difference of image quality starts to be smaller, and lot of what you’re paying for is improved usability, for example autofocus and ergonomics. But if you buy the Nikon D3400, Canon T6i or Sony A6000 you can take photos that no one will know aren’t coming out of a $10,000 system.
Smart phones have sucked all the air out of the room for smaller format cameras, but they still have their place. If a big camera feels like too much of burden, you can still get a slight quality boost over your phone with little pocket size cameras like the Panasonic ZS100, Canon G5X or Sony RX100 IV. Because of their small sensor size, they can more easily offer a bigger zoom range that’s harder to achieve with larger sensor cameras, great video quality, image stabilization and raw support.
Micro Four Thirds
This in-between sensor size has really come in to it’s own lately, with minimal trade offs in quality and huge advantages in cost and camera size. The only things you’re really giving up are extreme low light performance (although that’s changing with the Panasonic GH5S) and you’ll have a harder time getting bokelicious blurry backgrounds. Check out the Panasonic GH5, Olympus or Fuji XT20 to name only a few of this versatile format.
A lot of people look down on any sensor that is smaller than full frame, but don’t forget that many hollywood films are shot on almost example this size of sensor/film, but the cinema version is Super35, which is obviously a way cooler name. In this category image quality is getting close to the plateau, with tons of dynamic range, impressive low light performance and a more affordable selection of lenses than it’s bigger brother, full frame. Some cameras to look at are the Canon 80D, Nikon D500 and Sony A6500, which have different strengths but will all make your photography look professional.
35mm is most commonly used format for professionals of all time. This is the size of the film you used growing up, it what most of the top of the line lenses are optimized for, and I promise you will love shooting on it. You’ll notice a bump in quality from APS-C when you compare dynamic range and low light noise, but let’s be honest. You probably want it to get a sexy blur in the background. Every brand has an affordable way to get started, just a buy a 50mm from Canon, Nikon, Sony, or whatever brand you go with and open that aperture wide. If sharp critical focus is important to you try a long lens, like the venerable 70-200mm. I have a lot to say about camera in this range, since that’s typically what I buy, but for now I will just direct you to the Canon 5D IV, Nikon D850, Sony A7RIII and Leica M10. You can get lost all day researching these beautiful machines.
You’ve got your work ahead of you! I just pointed you in a few directions, but now the fun part is scoring the internet for reviews, samples, and tests to find exactly the right match for you. I strongly recommend DPReview for their incredibly in depth camera reviews, and for lenses go to ImagingResource where they do really helpful comparisons.