How to Choose a Camera: 9 Questions to Ask

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I’m often asked for advice by people who are in the process of choosing a camera. Which is the best camera? Should I get one with interchangeable lenses? Is it worth buying a point and shoot?

My response to their questions is a few questions of my own. I prefer not to give advice on which is better. Canon, Sony, Nikon, or any other brand. Rather, I’ll inquire about how you intend to use a camera and what you’ll do with the photos you take. And even how big your hands are. Do you want to take a video also?

There are too many new models and styles of cameras. Ranging from point and shoots to full-frame DSLRs and beyond. I cannot possibly answer your question of ‘What camera you should buy?’ with a specific model. But I can help you narrow down your search for which camera is best for photography for you.

Digital cameras come in many styles and levels of quality. Buying a high-quality camera or a point and shoot is an important decision for most people. You want to buy a camera that will suit your needs well and ensure good image quality. But knowing whether to buy a mirrorless camera, a DSLR, or point and shoot is a complex matter.

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Hopefully, as you work your way through this article, it will guide you to make the right choice of what is the best camera to buy if you’re a beginner photographer or even for one with some experience.

Why Do You Want to Buy a Camera?

Do you love seeing the photos your friends take with their cameras? Most people enjoy using their phones to take snapshots and share them online. But most of us will have at least one friend who owns a DSLR or mirrorless camera and takes excellent photos.

It can be very motivating to look through their Instagram feed and see what they can do with even an entry-level camera with a kit lens. The photos and video you see from their camera will look a lot different than the ones you take with your smartphone.

Taking photos with your phone is a great entry point to photography. If you enjoy taking pictures, eventually you’re going to want to get a digital camera. Maybe even one with an interchangeable lens. You’ll need to consider DSLRs or mirrorless cameras, even compact cameras.

Man taking a selfie with a DSLR - for choosing a camera.

There are many decisions to make about sensor size. Do you want a full-frame camera or one with an APS C or a four-thirds sensor? Cameras come with so many options, and buying a high-quality one that best suits you requires careful thought.

Thinking about why you want a camera is a good start to the process of knowing which camera is the best for you. You want to narrow down the range and pick a camera that’s enjoyable to use and gives you image quality that matches how you’ll use your photos.

Thankfully, buying a camera has never been so easy. Online shopping makes price comparisons quick and painless. Finding advice about how to choose a camera comes in many forms. You can read articles like this one. Watch lots of Youtube videos. You can even ask for people’s opinions in Facebook groups and similar online communities.

Man and woman looking at a photo on the back of a camera - for choosing a camera.

When Will You Use Your Camera Most?

Do you want a camera so you can photograph your kids growing up? Are you planning on photographing birds and wildlife? Are you planning some travel? Will you use your camera at night or in low light? Thinking about when you’re most likely to use your camera will help you pick one that suits you best.

One key issue when it comes to selecting the right camera for you is size. Knowing when you will use a camera the most can help you pick between a large, full-frame DSLR or a small mirrorless, or more compact camera.

Taking your kids to the park or beach to play, you’re more likely to grab a smaller point and shoot camera. A large bag containing a DSLR and interchangeable lenses is more likely to be left at home.

For photographing wildlife, for example, DSLRs are preferred because they have higher quality lenses. Mirrorless cameras are now also popular with bird and wildlife photographers for those reasons. Bridge cameras, while they don’t provide the same level of image quality, are cheaper and lighter. Some of them have very impressive zoom lenses, making them ideal for getting photos of distant subjects.

Cameras popular with travelers tend to be small. Mirrorless and point and shoot cameras are more suitable than DSLR cameras because of their size and weight. Most travelers prefer to keep the weight and bulk of their luggage minimal.

These are a few examples of situations when people like to take photos. Think about when you are most likely to take photos and think about what style of digital camera is right for the times you are going to be using it most often. Balance your thoughts on which camera best suits your needs along with the other questions I am asking in this article.

Street photographer and police officer.

How Will You Use Your Camera?

Will you use your camera on crowded city streets or out in the wilderness? Do you intend only to use it for product photography for your website? How you will use your camera is important to think about. In many situations, the right camera for you will not depend much on how you will use it. Other times it does.

Street photographers prefer smaller mirrorless or point and shoot cameras. They are less conspicuous. Carrying large interchangeable lens DSLR cameras can disadvantage photographers. People associate them with professional use and may shy away from being photographed. English photographer Sean Tucker explains in this video why he prefers to use a small point and shoot camera for his street photography.

When you photograph products in a studio or even in your living room, a small point and shoot camera will not be of any advantage. Using a camera that produces high-quality photos and video will be more of a priority. You’ll probably not want an entry-level aps c camera. You’ll want to choose from a range of DSLRs that will provide higher quality photos and video and that are easier to control.

The size and weight of a camera are not so much of a problem when you don’t intend to carry it around with you. The image quality produced by high-end digital cameras can often outweigh any negative aspects of their bulk and weight. However, by opting for a good quality mirrorless camera, you can find a balance between size, weight, and picture quality.

What Will You Use Your Pictures For?

Many people take photos so they can share them on social media. If this is your priority, you’ll probably not need a full-frame mirrorless camera or DSLR. A good point and shoot camera will often be sufficient.

Using photos for sharing on social media does not require large file sizes. Some platforms automatically scale down and compress photos when you upload them. Using a digital camera with huge image files is overkill.

If you plan to work professionally or even as a part-time photographer, you’ll be more interested in a camera that produces higher quality images. A full-frame sensor, good lens options, plenty of available accessories, and even high-quality video will be what you’re looking for.

Woman showing a photo to a girl.

Producing albums and printed books of your photos is possible with pictures from good compact cameras. But you might also consider entry-level DLSRs or mirrorless cameras. Whenever you want to print photos, you’ll need a better quality camera than you would do for only viewing them on a screen.

Phones and point and shoots have much smaller sensors than mirrorless cameras and DSLRs. This means that when you want to print the images, poor reproduction quality can be an issue. A camera with a larger sensor will create higher quality photographs.

A larger sensor does not necessarily mean one with more megapixels. Some phones and small cameras have the same number of megapixels as bigger cameras. The difference is that the physical dimensions of the sensors are far smaller, so image quality is noticeably less.

Cameras with aps c or four-thirds sensors are a better option than most compacts and phones. Full frame cameras are going to give you the best image quality. This also leads to the next question to ask yourself about which best cameras to consider.

Woman taking a photo using dslr.

Do You Want to Post-Process Your Photos?

Images produced on high-quality sensors can be manipulated more before they begin to lose quality. Photos produced by tiny sensors in phones and compact cameras will tend to break down when you start to make too many changes to them.

Using Lightroom, Photoshop, or any similar image editing software you can add feeling and style to your photos. The sky is the limit with how you can manipulate photos when you have the time.

The last thing you want is to spend hours working on a photo and realize it’s not worth printing out. Image quality can deteriorate as you work on a picture. This is what happens with photos made on cameras with small sensors.

Applying filters or Lightroom presets is good for almost any well-exposed photo. But going beyond a few small tweaks tends to start diminishing the quality. It may look okay on the screen of your phone, but blow it up any larger, and you’ll see defects in the image quality.

Tourists taking a photo.

What Size Are Your Hands?

Yes, this is a serious question when you’re thinking about buying a digital camera. Selecting the biggest camera you can find might not be the best option for you when you have small hands.

One of the most important aspects of owning a camera is to have one that feels comfortable for you to hold. People with small hands will not be comfortable for very long when they’re holding a bulky DSLR. They will be better off with a similar quality mirrorless camera because it will be smaller and lighter.

I am very used to carrying a large camera. My first camera was heavy, and I seem to have gotten used to having a big camera in my hands. I use a full-frame DSLR and am comfortable with the size and weight. I also have smaller cameras, but I find these are not comfortable to use over long periods of time when taking photos.

Spend some time browsing in a camera store and handling different sized cameras before you are close to making a choice of what camera to buy. Hold them and get a feel for the style you feel most comfortable with.

woman taking a photo for choosing a camera.

Pick Up A Camera

Test them out with different lenses on too. The difference between having a small fixed lens or a monster zoom lens on a camera is significant.

Any point and shoot camera is going to be small and easy to carry. Some are too small, and this makes it difficult to hold without putting your fingers over the lens or rear screen.

Bridge cameras are small and lightweight. They often have superzoom lenses and are very affordable. They’re bigger than a compact camera but can be a bit awkward for people with bigger hands.

Mirrorless cameras are small and generally have smaller lenses. A bag full of mirrorless gear is going to be lighter than one full of DSLR equipment. But, again, people with bigger hands may not find them so comfortable to hold for long periods of time.

Entry-level DSLRs are pretty small and light compared to more professional models. They are more limited in how you can control them but are easier to use for people with small hands.

Looking at a camera.

Do You Have A Camera Brand You Prefer?

I do. I have always used Nikon cameras. But that’s no reason for you to. As I said in the previous section, it’s important for you to feel comfortable with the camera you chose.

If you’ve previously used a Canon or Sony, you may be already familiar with how it feels in your hands and how the menus are laid out. Often, but not always, camera manufacturers will have the same style of menu in different camera models. This helps you use the camera with ease when you first pick it up. There’s less thinking involved, and you can concentrate more on photography than on finding the right settings.

DSLRs will feel different than mirrorless or compacts, even across the same brand. Holding a camera that fits well in your hand is an important factor in choosing a new camera. Being able to navigate the menu system is also essential.

Menus on digital cameras are extensive and can be confusing. You need to be able to find what you are looking for quickly and easily. Some camera companies design menus better than others. Some are intuitive, and some are not so.

If you’re looking at buying your second or third camera, the right one for you might be in the range offered by the same company as your previous cameras. Once you’re familiar with how a particular menu system looks and functions, it’s far easier to continue using it than learning a new one.

Buddhist monk taking a photo.

What Price Range Can You Afford?

This is often one of the most significant questions facing camera buyers. You may like the look of the top of the range cameras, but they may not be affordable. Prices for cameras range from a few hundred dollars to many thousands. Cameras at either end of the range will not suit most people.

If you’re serious about photography, the cheapest little camera is not going to help you advance. You might be attracted to the top of the range professional camera, but this is likely to be more than you need and cost more than you want to spend.

You need to factor price in with all the other aspects of buying a camera. Even if you do have the budget for the most expensive camera, it may not be the best choice for other reasons. If you have small hands or want to travel with your camera, a large pro-level DSLR will not be the best option for you.

People looking at a photo on a camera.

How Do You Decide Which Camera Is the Right One for You?

Decide how much you want to spend, then look at the top brands and compare them. Visit your local photography store and test a few different types of cameras. Hold them and get a feel for how well they fit in your hands. Check the menus. Are they easy to navigate and find what you want? Having a well-designed menu will help you concentrate more on taking great pictures. You’ll spend less time trying to figure things out.

Do some research online. Look for articles and videos about the specific models you are interested in. You’ll be amazed at how much information is shared about cameras. Ask your friends who own cameras if they love the model they use and why. You can also find other photographers to talk to in Facebook groups and other online communities.

Deciding on a camera is fun if you take a careful approach and understand the various options available. Once you make your choice and purchase one, stick with it. Don’t be distracted by thinking that another model will be better for you. Learn to use the one you have, and you’ll love photography.

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Kevin bought his first camera in the early 1980s and started working in the photography department of a daily newspaper a few years later. His whole career is focused on photography and he’s covered a multitude of subjects. He loves to photograph people the most. During the past decade, Kevin has begun to teach and write more, sharing his passion for photography with anyone who’s willing to learn.
Kevin bought his first camera in the early 1980s and started working in the photography department of a daily newspaper a few years later. His whole career is focused on photography and he’s covered a multitude of subjects. He loves to photograph people the most. During the past decade, Kevin has begun to teach and write more, sharing his passion for photography with anyone who’s willing to learn.

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