Camera/Lens Road Map (of sorts)
A question that I get asked frequently about camera equipment is about what to get, camera, brand or model to buy, for someone who is justgetting into photography, or for a seasoned picture taker that just needs some new gear. It's not an easy, strait forward question to answer but I'm going to attempt to make it as clear and easy as possible with a number system based on the intended user's experience level. Pick the description number from the first set that best describes the intended camera user and scroll down to that number for some accurate advice. Keep in mind I'm a Canon shooter, as Canons tend to render better images of people in my opinion and experience (yes I've used both), and that a crafty person can find the equivalent Nikon equipment since the two companies nearly mirror each other. The key is that all of these recommendations are DSLR cameras, or Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras, not point and shoots.
Start here and find the number that best describes yourself or the person of interest:
- No experience, no classes under their belt, no real idea how an SLR works.
- Has taken maybe a class, or has played with a DSLR once or twice with very basic understanding of the functions.
- They can tell the difference between a prime lens and a zoom lens, and know what each is good for. They have started shooting semi-frequently, but still use some of the preset functions on a DSLR and haven't dabbled into the advanced or fully manual features.
- Shoots regularly, sometimes for money. They will possibly be starting to collect full frame glass.
- Shoots a lot, and photography is either a significant source of income or a full time gig. Lots of family sessions, events or weddings.
- Seasoned pro. Shoots all the time all over the place as a main source of income. Requires top end gear to keep up with work demands.
The descriptions below are based on the number determined from above, and should help point you in the right direction:
1. If you started here, you or someone close to you is thinking about getting their hands on a camera to see what all the hype is about. They haven't had much or any training or education on the subject. Some of you might want to buy something substantial, possibly a kit deal from Costco for a grand, but I'd not recommend it for someone starting here on our experience scale. It's like buying your first car, in that it can be a beater car as long as the basic functions all still work. Sure it can have some scratches and not be in mint condition, but the mechanics are all solid and will provide a good platform from which to grow an understanding of basic photography principals. I'd recommend hitting eBay or Amazon, and keeping an eye out for a used Rebel XT or XTI that comes with a battery, memory card, charger, and the camera body and possibly the kit lens or some other APSC lenses (crop sensor). This bundle shouldn't cost you more than 200 bucks, so consider buying a Canon 1.8 EF lens for 100 bucks and throw it in as well. Total cost will be under 300. Its ok to save a little money here since we aren't sure they will like it or stick with it in the long run. These basic DSLR cameras will have all of the necessary functions, but they will lack some of the bells and whistles of the nicer bodies.
2. They have a little experience, and may already have an entry level camera. I'd recommend a T3i or newer from the Canon Rebel series. They have plenty of features and pretty decent image quality for the price, but the trade off is that when the conditions get demanding these cameras tend to fall off a bit (and by a bit I mean a lot) on the image quality. Ruling out shooting in low light or fast paces sports environments, these cameras are great. A shooter with some skill may even be able to stretch the camera beyond its intended uses and get some killer shots. The newer Rebel series cameras have decent sensors, decent autofocus systems, and some neat features in the menus. New mothers, or as I say "Mom-tographers," might benefit from this camera bracket as they are great for chasing a kid around the yard with as long as you get used to the autofocus system and settings and are still easy on the wallet.
3. This is where things get interesting, and tough decisions need to be made. For a large number of shooters, category 3 and 4 overlap a little. This is the point where a budding photographer must decide to either keep things basic or go full throttle and start heading towards the big leagues. If you've already started shooting for money, that might be your deciding factor. If you would like to remain a hobbyist and avoid the stresses that money brings, or if you'd just like a decent camera of travel or family parties then I'd recommend getting a 60d kit, or even one of the new 70d or 80d camera kits. The 60d is a great daytime camera but lacks low light performance as it loses quality fast at high ISOs. It's only advantage is that it is considerably cheaper than the 70d or 80d, and you might also consider even a lower end T-series Rebel if you don't plan to shoot more than every once in a while. The separation on whether to get a newer 70d or 80d is your personal demand for a camera that not only takes great pictures but can also take great video. Both these bodies have the new follow focus feature to help keep your subjects sharp when recording video clips. Still keeping up is the slightly dated but not yet obsolete 7d mk1. It has a very friendly video recording system and a very fast shutter for action and moving subjects, as well as an outstanding autofocus system to match. The 7d mk1 and its much more advanced newer relative the 7d mk2 are in every way professional cameras, despite the APSC sensor that disqualifies it for most critics. What most critics forget is that these two cameras are built for sports and wildlife photogarphy. Using an APSC sensor camera creates an observed 1.6x magnification for the lens, if the lens happens to be a full frame lens. This extra reach comes in handy, extending the reach of a lens without sacrificing quality with a teleconverter and also without spending a fortune on those monster telephoto primes and sports zooms. Consider these two cameras for someone who spends a lot of time photographing wildlife or sporting events.
4. A more serious photographer that is ready to make the 35mm full frame jump and demands improvements in both picture quality and color rendering to help grow a business has 3 options that I'd recommend. First is the original, the OG, the 5d mk1. Its old, and lacks any kind of nice autofocus, and feels like a dinosaur but its 12mp sensor is good enough for professional print work and portraiture, as long as your subjects aren't moving too much and the lighting is decent. The original mk1 is still a good studio camera, and can be bought for less than 400 in eBay making it a really great deal for someone who needs the added benefits of a full frame camera for professional work but cant afford the more expensive newer versions and all of their fancy updates. The 5d mk1 does however have the minimal requirements that the pros demand, such as a very durable magnesium alloy body and mild weather sealing to protect it from the elements. If you are in need of more resolution, better low light image quality and focusing ability, the 5d mk3 is nearly the perfect all around portrait-shooter performance camera. This camera is nearly the perfrect tool for any wedding and family portrait photographer, offering outstanding image quality in both good and bad lighting situations, with great dynamic range to show more of the details in highlights and lowlights. Again, many times the weather sealing and durablility have come in very handy for myself and many others that have used this system in demanding sutiations. With this camera, a shooter might also consider dabbling in some of Canon's L Series lenses. These are top of the line, and offer benefits that must be experienced to be understood. I was a skeptic myself, until i shot with a 24-70 2.8 L for the first time on my old Rebel XT. The image quality that a good lens delivers is unparalleled. Often times I would suggest buying the proper lenses before upgrading the camera body, as these are the tools that will help reach that image quality you so desire more so than a fancy camera body. If you cant affored the 5d mk3 body, I'd recommend buying the glass first, then using the Canon 6d as a stepping stone. It offers many of the same features as the 5d mk3, but in a watered down, travel oriented package that offers both geo-tagging and wifi connectivity in a smaller, mostly metal frame.
5. If your shooter is in this category, or beyond (6), you can either help them pay for gear or just stay out of their way. They may be slowly migrating to world class, top of the line equipment which can be extremely costly, but the image quality that this level of shooter demands is nothing less than the best. In most cases they have a long list of equipment picked out for purchase in the near future, they know exactly what they want or need, and have developed a plan to acquire this gear soon. A shooter at this level must now look beyond the viewfinder for image quality, pursuing better software or better editing hardware like a nice computer tower with a calibrated monitor, studio lights, props, a nice flash, or a fancy photo printer. Pretty much at this point you're talking an entire office full of stuff.
Any questions beyond this point might be answered in forums online or at your local camera store, but feel free to shoot me an email any time I'd be glad to help.