What camera should you buy?

‘What camera should I buy?’ – friends often ask this to me. But the thing is, just because I am a photographer, does not mean I’m aware of all the good cameras out there in the market that come in your budget!

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The kind of cameras that I generally read about, all cost over a lakh (and I am talking about only a body – without any lens). So that knowledge is mostly useless to most of you, isn’t it? And if for some reason, you are gonna be spending over a lakh on a camera body, you probably already know what camera to buy (or you at least have very specific questions). But because people would never stop asking me the same question time and again, I have decided to do something about it. Yep, write this blog post! :)

Those who have used entry level DSLRs / mirror-less in manual mode before (and are used to controlling aperture, shutter-speed and ISO by themselves) may skip to Section 2. The section 1 below is for those planning to move up from point & shoot to ‘better’ cameras.

SECTION 1: I SHOOT IN FULL AUTO MODE (ON MY PHONE OR A SMALL POINT & SHOOT CAMERA). SUGGEST A GOOD DSLR FOR ME.

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Well, I don’t think you guys should buy a new DSLR+kit lens or a mirroless+kit lens in the range of INR 30 to 50,000 (which is what most of you are planning to do I am guessing). I think you guys should buy a second hand cheap DSLR or mirror-less body (anything which is being sold in the range of INR 20,000 to INR 30,000 – brand immaterial) and a fast lens (meaning it should be f2 or f1.8 or f1.6 or f1.4 or likewise – avoid f2.8, f3.5 etc). Look for used cameras and lenses on JJ Mehta forum. I have bought and sold used bodies worth 70 to 80k here, so don’t worry about doing transaction on this forum.

What I am essentially asking you guys is to start with ‘least’ money as the first step in deciding your next camera by purchasing the most high quality value for money stuff that is out there. You might have saved up INR 50,000 or might be willing to go upto 80k – that does not mean you should open Flipkart, find few camera+lens systems in your budget and start comparing them. The basis of your budget is arbitrary to begin with. You will not start taking spectacular images by spending more money. Start with cheapest – they will still lead to drastic improvement in how your pictures look compared to your fully automatic point & shoot or phone cameras. You will never regret the decision.

It will take you about a year of continuous usage to really get a feel of shooting pictures manually with prime lenses at apertures wide open (f2, f1.8, f1.4 etc.). If you don’t find yourself shooting much after one year, well no point in buying even ‘better’ cameras, no? Same goes if you do shoot a lot but mostly do that in auto mode! If that is what you are gonna do eventually, well, just buy any point and shoot or use the one that you already have!

Bodies (without lenses) to look for:

  • DSLRs – Canon EOS Series or Nikon (if anyone told you x brand is better than y, without specifying which particular model was being compared, go shove a papaya up their ass. seriously).
  • 4/3 (or APSC) Mirror-less (considerably lighter than DSLRs and yet have the option of changing lenses and give you full manual control): Fujifilm, Olympus, Panasonic, Sony (these four are pretty much ruling the market).

Lens: look for any lens which has an aperture setting of f2 or f1.8 or f1.6 (or any other lower number – they are called fast lenses as I earlier mentioned). If possible, buy prime (fixed focal length like 50mm, 85mm etc.) than a zoom lens (variable focal length like 24-70mm, 18-55mm etc.). Beyond this, does not matter which one you buy, just buy something which comes cheap second hand. Remember, you are not buying this to solve all your photographic needs that will let you take all types of awesome pictures. Yes there are all purpose lenses like say 70-200 but here is the truth – they are a big waste of money if what you want are awesome looking pictures. Each lens that I am talking about above (fast lenses) will create spectacular image. Some would be good to shoot portraits (face shots), others to shoot landscape. There is no spectacular lens that can do both. There are plenty of crappy and costly lenses that can do both. Remember that you are not upgrading your stuff to still shoot crappy pictures. It’s okay if you can’t shoot certain types of pictures. What will matter is – whatever you can shoot – do they look bloody spectacular?

Examples of cheap lenses that meet my criteria (INR 10,00 to INR 30,000 – new, and about 50% to 70% of price if bought second hand) for Canon and Nikon DSLRs would be 50mm f1.8, 85mm f1.8, 30mm f2 etc. For 4/3 mirror-less, lenses are typically cheaper (12mm f2, 45mm f2 etc.). Note that Oympus and Panasonic lenses can be used on either bodies so you might buy a Pansonic body and an Olympus lens and it would still work. This will not be the case if you go with Fujifilm or Sony.

So now you know what you should do with that money that you have saved up and want to move up from your small point and shoot system. After you have gotten used to your new manual camera (hopefully shooting them in manual mode), you might want to come back and read my section 2 (assuming you again have the itch to take your gear one level higher).

SECTION 2: I’VE USED AN ENTRY LEVEL DSLR / MIRRO-LESS FOR A WHILE AND WANT TO UPGRADE, ANY SUGGESTIONS?

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Let me address the above question for two different categories of photographers:

1) Who have only used a kit lens that came with their DSLR / mirror-less camera

2) Who have used lenses that open wide (f2, f1.8, f1.4 etc.) (fast lenses – remember?)

If you fall under category 1, please don’t upgrade your body yet. Buy a wide aperture lens first and use it for a while. You would fall in love with it and then when you still feel the need to get better gear, come back and read my answer to the category 2 folks below.

Suggestion for Category 2 folks (who have used fast lenses and want to upgrade the body).

So you already have a body and a good lens. I would suggest stick to the same brand. And upgrade your body based on your budget. Just goto Flipkart or Amazon and search for bodies costlier than your present body (for the same brand) and see how much you would like to spend. Generally, the costlier the body, the better the picture quality (don’t get fooled by megapixels please – even when you view a photograph on a huge 4k LED TV, you don’t need more than 10 Megapixel from the photograph). So if not megapixel, what exactly is the difference between a costlier body compared to a cheaper body? Primarily, the following:

  1. the camera sensor’s ability to capture and process the light rays entering through the lens; a costlier sensor will need least amount of light to create pictures which are truer to realty in terms of colour and contrast with least amount of grains; a cheaper sensor will need a lot more light to do the same and often might not even match the final rendition in terms of colour and contrast, and in low light it would show a lot of grains; also, some sensors are bigger in size than others – the bigger the better (and costlier)
  2. auto-focusing speed (although this is also a function of which lens you are using and what kind of lighting environment you are trying to auto-focus in, generally speaking, a costlier camera body would do the same job in the same setting faster); now this requirement of faster auto-focus is pretty much a necessity for people like me who capture fleeting moments but if you have never faced slow auto-focusing speeds with your current setup anyway, this value increment – does not matter to you.
  3. FPS (frames per second) – number of pictures that can be captured per second; pretty useless feature most of the times – most cameras can click 3 frames per second, why in this world would you pay more for a camera which can click say 12 frames per second – unless that is what you had always wanted).
  4. Video-shooting abilities (I will leave this out of discussion for brevity – most cameras will let you shoot video these days in 1080HD)

For most purposes, the first point is most important, i.e. the sensor’s ability. But unfortunately, unlike say a fps, there is no numeric parameter to express how good or bad a sensor (of a given size) really is (now you know why the marketing guys are stuck with selling Mega-Pixels). So should you just pick up the highest size sensor? Umm, sure go ahead and do that but here’s the deal: there are only TWO sensor sizes for all DSLR cameras (APSC and full frame) and other than Sony mirrorless, only TWO sensor sizes for mirror-less: 4/3 and APSC). So yes, if sensor becomes bigger, price and quality will go up for sure. But even for same size sensors, quality varies from cheaper body to costlier. So it is typically safe for you to just assume that a costlier body (for the same brand) will have a better sensor. You can always go deep into the body-specs by reading Google reviews from folks who compare picture quality from two different bodies in similar setup all the time and keep sharing their verdicts. My observation has been, for a given brand, in 99% of the cases, the costlier body always wins (at least for body upto INR 1 to 1.25 lakh – beyond that this theory might not hold true – it becomes very niche and various factors start deciding the price). The only other parameter while buying a sub 1 lakh body, worth considering is, what year was the model launched. Digital technology is evolving at a very rapid rate, and it is most likely that a model launched just a year ago will perform better (sensor’s ability) than a similar priced model that was released say 4 years ago (even when other specifications read almost the same).

Ok, to summarize, if you are already used to shooting with a DSLR / mirrorless in manual mode and already have a fast lens, just buy the costliest body you can afford in the same brand. There is nothing more to worry about! :)

Hope this blog helps all you guys out there. Feel free to ask questions here – more than happy to answer them!

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The author

I started ShaadiGrapher.com in the spring of 2012 to experiment with wedding photography. Prior to that, I studied at IIT Madras (2003-08) and worked as a business consultant in PwC for four years. Since 2014, I have also been making documentary movies on a variety of subjects and issues (3minuteStories.com). Phone: +95525 89252 Email: amrit@shaadigrapher.com To get quote for wedding photography / cinema, please provide city, date and approx duration of all the functions. I am location independent and shoot across India – without any additional charge for travel.

One thought on “What camera should you buy?”

  1. bhai,
    thanks for your valuable advice.

    I AM A PASSIONATE NATURE PHOTOGRAPHER ,ORIGINALY FROM GOA NOW RESIDING IN MUMBAI.

    USING FULL FRAME (CANNON 5D MARK2) 35-350MM L SERIES 50MM 1.8MM

    RECENTLY HAD AN OPPORTUNITY TO SHOOT WITH COMPACT PRIME CARL ZEISS 15MM 25MM 35MM 50MM 85MM F1.5

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