5 tips for buying your first camera
So you want to be a photographer. It’s been itching at you for a while. Maybe it’s been in the back of your mind, or maybe it has been all you can think about while you’re day dreaming. You scroll through instagram and see all of these beyond real images that are literally #todiefor, and you know if you just had the time and a “good camera”, you could make something just as awesome for the world to enjoy. Maybe you’ve heard that photography is a great side hustle, or maybe you could care less about the money and just want to express yourself.
Over the last month or so I’ve had at least three friends come to me for guidance on this very topic. And while the heart of the conversation should really be exploring the “why" (more on that later), we often land on one of the first things that comes to mind for anyone interested in taking better photos: What camera should I buy?
While there is certainly about 26.2 miles more depth to it than that, we’re just going to assume at this point that you are committed with cash in hand, or at least trying to figure out how many shiny pennies you need to roll. There are so many options! Figuring out which camera to go with can feel like you are stranded without a map, and all you know is where you want to be: Making great photographs.
Don’t worry friends! I can be your TomTom, your Garmin- your digital camera compass. Today we’re going to look at five tips to help you buy your first camera!
Ask your friends what they use. This can seem a little elementary, but stay with me for a moment. As Ray Parker Jr. asked: If there is something weird and it don’t look good, who you gonna call? Chances are you are going to enjoy a roller coaster of a learning experience with your new found hobby, because everyone does. If you have a friend who is even a few steps ahead of you and using the same tools, it can often save you lots of wasted time and headaches. Even better, you can learn and explore your cameras together! My one paramount with this is to note that I said ask your “friends”. If you ask five people, there is a solid chance that at least two of them just bought whatever was on sale, and while it may be a great camera, it may not be the best camera for what you want to do. This brings us to thing #2...
Think about what kind of photos you want to take. Pondering this does not need to be a lengthy or complicated process, but putting a bit of forethought into the photos you want to make can really save you a lot of hassle down the road. This can be as simple as noting what photos you love to double-tap on instagram. If you are just looking to take great family photos, or even general portraiture, just about anything on the market today will work. Are you all about the weddings? Or is fast action your thing? These both are actually pretty specialized types of photography, and should definitely effect your decision on what camera system to go with.
Evaluate the systems on the market. Yep, you didn’t read that wrong, I said camera systems. Why? It’s easy to fixate on that initial purchase, whether it’s a nice point and shoot or even a DSLR kit with a lens or two. But if you really stick with photography, you’re going to grow out of what you have. I know, I know. This sucks and is the last thing you want to be thinking about when you're already trying not to vom’ at the expense while simultaneously trying to downplay it to your wife/husband- but it’s a thing. What does the line up of lenses look like? How is the used market for that brand’s equipment? How hard is it to find extra batteries? These days, most camera brands tend to have a full lineup and lots of supporting products, but it is worth scanning the horizon so that you know what your options are in the future.
Pickup the camera. Here is a photo retail secret: 99% of the time, photo retailers are mandated by the manufacturers to use the same pricing across the board. Don’t believe me? Go look, I’ll wait. Although some retailers may choose to “sweeten the pot” with an extra battery, memory card, etc- the price of the things that matter are the same. What this means is that ordering a camera online, never having held it or used it, would not be a good move. Go to the store, pick it up, and take a minute to ponder how it feels. Does it feel like you are Thor, holding your hammer? That’s a good start. Does it feel so out of place and complicated that you are thinking maybe you should just stick to your iPhone? That might be telling you something too… If the camera is too big for your ambitions, you won’t take it with you. If you know in the store that it doesn’t zoom far enough, it’s not going to magically get better at your daughter’s soccer game. If you know the Nikon feels better in your hand, but you go with the Canon because that is what Carol got on sale last fall- you’re going to feel passive aggressive af at Carol every time you pick up the camera, always wondering what life could have been. Go to the store, and pick it up. Be better than Carol.
Buy your first camera at a camera store. Listen, I get it: we all live in a world with finite resources. You only have so much money, time, and energy to put into this process. And let’s be real, you already have to go to Best Buy for something else anyhow, right? Here’s the thing: The kid at best buy worked in DVDs yesterday, and is selling TV’s tomorrow. He does not know photography like a photographer. It’s not his fault, and he’s not a “bad salesman” because of it. It’s just probably not his main thing. If you have a question about Fortnite, I would defer to the kid at Best Buy. If you are making the leap into photography, do yourself a favor and go talk to the people who have chosen to make it their life. Any rumors you have heard about Camera stores being more expensive than other big box stores are BS. Furthermore, if you are concerned that you are going to get “worked by a salesman”, let me share another camera retail secret: The average commission on a prosumer DSLR is $5. Not a typo- a single honest abe is often the most a $500-$1000 camera package may pay. And the really funny part is that it is often the lower priced, on sale beginner kits that can earn a store the most money. So chances are going to a camera store is not going to “cost you more”. However, you will probably build a relationship with a really knowledgable person who loves seeing people embrace photography- and that is a resource that is hard to put a price on.
Well, there it is. Are you ready to make that purchase? Do you feel like you have more direction than you did when you woke up this morning? Let me know in the comments below- and be sure to help others by sharing any of your own tips . I would love to hear them!