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Four Important Things To Do Before You Buy An Expensive Camera

Updated: Oct 6, 2021

A Linkedin friend recently was thinking of buying a camera and asked for a recommendation. While I was flattered that they asked me I didn't have a go-to answer ready.

Which camera should you buy? Should you even buy a camera at all?

Well, it depends. Before you buy a camera, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What will you use it for, mostly? Close-up stuff like product photography, or wide angle stuff like landscape?

  2. Will you shoot indoors/in low light?

  3. If you buy a camera will you learn to use it properly or will you shoot in automatic mode?

  4. How much do you want to spend?

  5. Do you want to be able to carry your camera around in your pocket or are you willing to carry round something bigger and heavier?

Number 3 on that list sounds like the sort of elitist question you'd expect from a camera snob, but it really is key to the decision. A DSLR or mirrorless camera is better than a phone camera, but the difference between the two is a lot less great than it was even as little as two years ago. And the way in which the "proper" camera tips the scales is in potential, so if you don't learn how to unlock that potential, that edge is gone. Let me show you what I mean.

I took this photo on my phone, a Samsung Galaxy S7, which came out in 2016. I shot in the automatic mode and got a landscape straight out of camera that is pretty pleasing to the eye. The autofocus has done a good job, and the phone's HDR means that the colours are vibrant throughout. A large part of why the photo looks so good is that my phone isn't just a phone, it's also a computer, so it will automatically do certain editing tasks for me, like lightening up dark areas and darkening bright areas so I don't get under/overexposed images. Were I to take the same image with my DSLR in automatic mode and not edit that either, the only real difference would be the pixel rate (13MP vs 24MP in my case), and that only starts to be noticeable if you enlarge the photo to a much greater size than this.

A DSLR camera will, however, shoot RAW files, which are huge, data-intensive things, which don't necessarily give us a pleasing results straight out of camera, but because of the sheer volume of information they contain, give us a lot more scope for editing. And if you learn to use a camera properly, it can give you more choices before you even take the shot. Here's a shot I took with my DSLR.

The reason the water looks so smooth and glassy is because it's a long exposure shot. I put my camera on a tripod, used a remote clicker so as not to knock my camera when I took the shot, and shot in shutter priority mode with a 10-second shutter specifically to attain this flat-sea effect. And the reason we're able to see so many different shades of grey is that my camera has a higher dynamic range than my phone, so when it comes to editing there are so many more details to unlock. And because it's such high resolution I was, without any loss of quality, able to blow this up to a 70x50cm print that I have on the wall in my hallway. But a shot like this was only possible because I learnt to use the camera and I taught myself to edit. I couldn't take a picture like this with my phone, but without the know-how I couldn't take a picture like this with my camera either.

So before you make the decision to spend money on a dedicated camera like a DSLR, a mirrorless or even a compact I'd recommend you do the following.

  1. Get a photo editing package like Snapseed (free last time I looked, and very good). Play around with it. Gradually learn how to use the key features like exposure, shadows and highlights.

  2. Learn rule of thirds, which takes about two minutes and will automatically improve most of your smartphone pics.

  3. Learn some basic lighting techniques. This is a good start.

  4. Take the sort of picture you'd like to be taking if you had a fancy new camera. Edit them. Decide what, if anything they are lacking. Is there not enough detail? Do they look pixellated when you enlarge them?

Essentially, the time to invest money in a camera is when you've learnt to use your phone camera to its full potential and realised that that's not enough for your needs. When it comes to taking better photos, it's way more important to invest time than money.

If you're at the stage where you've done all that, then I'm happy to recommend a camera to you based on your needs and your budget. Just contact me here and I'll get back to you.

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