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How To Choose the perfect camera + lens

choosing the right camera

So what should I be looking for in a camera, you might be asking.

Start by going to a retailer and simply playing with the models they have on hand.

Most retailers today will have Canon, Nikon, and Sony interchangeable lens cameras on hand. And possibly Fujifilm, Panasonic, and Olympus if their selection is decent.

Each retailer will use a similar menu layout for all of their models to keep their base returning.

While each photographer may swear by their particular brand the truth is that what works for you is best.

If Canon’s menu layout seems to make a lot of sense in a way that Sony’s doesn’t (as it was for me) then you may find a Canon camera to be a better purchase.

Do you want a DSLR or mirrorless camera?

Despite what the uninformed might say the image quality between the two types is identical.

DLSRs are bigger and heavier because they use a system of internal mirrors to channel light to your optical viewfinder and phase detecting autofocus system.

Mirrorless cameras have no mirrors (of course).

The sensor of the camera works as your viewfinder and autofocus system.  They’re smaller but the battery life suffers because the sensor has to work harder.

Megapixels are also worth talking about, though, because of how important everyone thinks they are.

People usually think that the more megapixels you have, the better.

This is not at all true.

If you’re blowing up your prints for posters and billboard displays, then you need as many as you can get to keep your images looking sharp.

But most of us are just posting on blogs and Facebook, maybe a personal gallery.

So how many megapixels do you need for that?

16 megapixels gives you plenty of resolution while still giving you room to crop a photo a little as needed. And 12 gives you great looking photos as long as you don’t crop it further.

Most cameras on the market today give around 20-24 megapixels, which is more than enough for 95% of the photographers out there.

So when the salesperson points you in the direction of the 36-42 megapixel monsters, remember that unless you’re already a professional (and wouldn’t be reading this anyway), you’re just not going to use that amount.

But that doesn’t mean you should cheap out on the body, either.

Try to strike a balance between features and price.

Do you want 4K video or is Full HD video enough for you?

How many megapixels of resolution do you need? Image stabilization? Weather sealing? Fast autofocus with tons of focus points? Or a more basic autofocus but larger sensor?

Just remember there’s always going to be a trade-off and you’re not going to find the perfect camera body.

Choosing the right lens

If I’m going to be shooting a lot of portraits, then I need lenses that open as wide as possible.

Unfortunately, those tend to be the most expensive because there’s more moving parts involved.

And if you want a zoom lens that also opens wide, well, those are the most expensive of all.

So what’s “wide” in photography?

Anything below f/3 in most situations could be considered a wide aperture.

But again, it depends on what you’re shooting and the available light levels.

The kit lens that came with your camera probably doesn’t open this wide.

They usually say something like “18-55mm f/3.5-5.6.” This means that at 18mm the lens can open as wide as f/3.5 while at 55mm the maximum aperture is f/5.6.

That means I’ll need to invest in some good glass if I want to take portraits!

But that’s the fun of using an interchangeable lens camera.

What if my camera doesn’t let me change out the lenses?

Then you’re stuck with whatever aperture settings it has.

Sometimes you can change them and sometimes you can’t.

Cameras like that are called “point and shoot” because there’s less gear and settings to fiddle with.

Funnily enough the camera body is actually not nearly as important as the lenses.

Lenses hold their value and because you’ll be buying so many (and probably for a good amount of money) you want to make sure you’re happy with the brand and quality of them.

Camera bodies can last upwards of 10 years and the only thing that will probably need replacing is the shutter if you’re careful.

But every year they add new features and you’ll probably decide to “upgrade” way before then.

But even if you decide to upgrade your lenses will remain perfectly usable with your camera.

Manufacturers also rarely add a ton of lens features compared to what they cram into camera bodies.

Some like Canon and Nikon have lenses over 20 years old that still work as well as lenses made last year.