My brother asked me the other day if he should get a mirrorless camera or a DSLR. We had some back and forth on the matter. I still don’t know what he ended up getting, but it got me to thinking about what people should think about when choosing a camera. I’m very much a “requirements first” type of person so I won’t be talking about specific camera models and whatnot. I want to take this time to outline what you, as a consumer, should look out for. This is how you choose the right camera.
Choose the Right Camera Type
In the world of photography, there are about about a billion different different models, configurations, and types. In this blog entry, we will only focus on a handful of manufacturers and types. Let’s face it; if you’re reading this blog post, a medium format camera is not in your wheel house. We will mainly be focusing on DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, with the odd mention of the point and shoot.
There are two main camera types that someone new to photography will want to focus on: DSLR and mirrorless. DSLR stands for digital single lens reflex. This means that when you look through the viewfinder, you are actually staring through two mirrors (think of angled mirrors in a periscope) and staring directly through the lens. This means that you are looking right through lens and seeing exactly what the lens sees. When you press the shutter release, you are not only opening the shutter, but part of the “click” you hear is the mirror flipping aside so that instead of the light through the lens going into the eye-piece and into your eye, it goes into the sensor to capture the image.
A mirrorless camera is the same concept in terms of you seeing what light is going through the lens and then that light going into the sensor to capture your image. The difference is that there is no mirror. Because of the way it is built, you are able to see a digital rendering of the image without looking through the lens.
One is not better than the other. They both have their pros and cons, but neither is better. You will often hear people fight over this with great passion (much like people fight over the Oxford comma, even though there is only one right answer to that and it is to use the Oxford comma), but there is no right and wrong.
Weight and Size
As many people have said, the best camera you have is the one that you have with you. This means that if you don’t have a camera that you feel comfortable taking with you, then you won’t. I alluded to something similar in my post on straps.
Mirrorless cameras are always going to be smaller and lighter than DSLRs. Point and shoots are always going to be smaller and lighter than mirrorless cameras. For that matter, your cell phone will be the lightest of them all and it probably has a decent camera on it.
Think about your daily habits and where you will use the camera. A few ounces may not seem like much to lug around, but it adds up. Will it fit in the bag that you take with you? On the other hand, will the small point and shoot offer the optical zoom that you want. It’s a trade off. (I like pointing out trade offs.)
Here we go with trade offs again. DSRLs have better battery life than mirrorless cameras. In a DSLR, you are literally looking at the light that is going through the lens. (this assumes that you are looking through the viewfinder) In a mirrorless camera, you are looking at a digital recreation of that light. The viewfinder is digital and requires power to work.
Will it matter? Does it matter if you need more power? That depends. If you are doing long studio shoots, it matters. If your camera will be on for hours at a time, it matters. On the other hand, if you like to go on long walks and turn your camera on every once in a while to take a bunch of shots, and then turn it off, it won’t. As with most things, your milage may very.
I love manual, analog controls. Dials that I can manipulate make me happy. I like to look down at my camera and see where all of my settings and buttons are set to. Some people may want a minimalist looking camera and see just a dial here or there. Both are perfectly reasonable approaches, but will drastically change how you capture the photo.
I was going to upgrade my camera several years ago. I had done the research and the Sony mirrorless was perfect on paper. Superb images. Great weight. Wonderful controls. I was set to buy it and went to the camera shop to try it out. I left with the Fuji. This is not to denigrate the Sony in any way. Sony makes superb cameras and the one I tried was excellent, but it wasn’t excellent for me. I love the knobs and dials on the Fuji andrealized that the Fuji form factor would make it more fun for me to actually take the picture. I really do believe that the camera chooses the person and not the other way around.
What are you going to be shooting? Are you going to be shooting action sports like football? Better make sure the autofocus is fast enough. Not all cameras are. There’s a reason that sports photojournalists shoot with Nikon or Canon DSLRs. Is your camera designed to recognize faces and is that a feature that you care about? The speed and quality of your autofocus can be a make it or beak it feature for you.
I know that I started that last paragraph with this, but its important. What are you going to be shooting. When you buy a camera, you are also buying into that system. That includes lenses. Different lens systems have a wide array of lens from wide angle to telephoto. Maybe you love landscape or wildlife photography? Better make sure your camera supports that incredible telephoto lens you love.
Point and Shoot
In this blog I have mainly talked about DSLRs and mirrorless, but I don’t want to forget point and shoot cameras. They shouldn’t be overlooked because sometimes they are the best things that you can have on you. Look at the Ricoh GR III. Some say that it is the best street photography camera that you can own. Incredible image quality, a size that fits in your pocket, and a camera that doesn’t make you stand out on the street. My point is, don’t ignore it because it doesn’t have an interchange lens.
Final Thoughts on Choosing the Right Camera for You
There is no perfect camera. Some cameras are better for certain things than others, but there is no perfect system. Keep your mind open and try not to let your emotions drag you to the shiny object. Evaluate your needs and go from there.