Criteria for choosing a camera for beginners
In many cases, when a person looks for a SLR camera for the first time it is usually for two reasons: they are looking for a camera to learn photography or they are looking for a model to improve image quality with respect to older, lower-end cameras or with respect to to your mobile.
We are going to focus here on that second case, that of the person who already has some knowledge of photography and is looking for a camera that allows him to improve. In any case the criteria are very similar.
Some points that I think may be of interest when choosing:
- All cameras offer similar image quality
Today, practically all models of all brands of SLR and mirrorless cameras (interchangeable lens cameras) offer extraordinary image quality. For a photographer’s day-to-day life, the differences between cameras in these ranges are invaluable in terms of image quality.
- SLR vs EVIL (mirrorless / mirrorless)
Today there are no differences in performance between SLR cameras and mirrorless cameras. The two systems perfectly cover the needs of any photographer. Here you can see what is a SLR camera and what is a mirrorless camera .
- The optical part is very important (lenses)
The optical quality and the type of lens does make a difference in terms of the sensations that a photo transmits. One of the most important advantages of interchangeable lens cameras is that we can choose the lens that best suits what we want to convey for a scene or the type or style of photography we want to do.
That said, as an amateur photographer, what criteria would I follow when choosing a camera?
1.- Choose a camera with which you feel comfortable
As an amateur photographer, you are all about enjoying photography. It is much more important to feel comfortable with and enjoy the camera than any other technical or image quality aspect.
Evaluate with what sizes and weights you would be comfortable, including camera and lenses, for the type of photography you would like to do. The type of grip (grip) can also influence the sensations when using the camera.
The design, the aesthetics, of the camera will not influence the image quality, but it can make you feel better when using it and encourage you to carry the camera whenever you can.
2.- Reflex vs Mirrorless vs Compact
There are no differences between SLR and mirrorless today, there are small SLRs and large mirrorless cameras, the features are basically identical, therefore it is a matter of choosing a specific model, it does not matter if it is SLR or mirrorless.
With the compact ones there are differences. In a compact the optical part is not interchangeable . The camera brings an objective and we will be with that objective for a lifetime. The advantage of compact is specialization. There are compacts, for example, very small and light, with good-quality optics. Other compacts have specialized in the focal range part (extreme ranges, especially in the telephoto part) for example the superzoom compact.
So if you are looking for a camera that is as small as possible, possibly a mid-range or high-end pocket compact is a good option for you.
If you are looking for a camera with a very large focal range (a lot of zoom), the superzoom may offer you a good value for money.
My choice for a general purpose camera would be one with interchangeable lenses: reflex or mirrorless .
3.- Sensor size: 1 inch vs Micro 4/3 vs APS-C vs Full Frame
Sensor size affects image quality, especially when lighting conditions are not perfect. In general, bigger is better.
But twice the size doesn’t mean twice the image quality, far from it. In fact the differences in the behavior of the sensors will be minimal in normal conditions, and they will only be noticed when we go to extreme situations with low light. And in addition, other factors will influence, such as the type of lens that we are using with each camera.
So the way to look at it would (generally) be that larger sensor cameras will give you a little extra headroom when light situations are bad.
On the other hand, bigger sensors lead to bigger cameras and bigger (and usually more expensive) lenses.
For an amateur photographer, any of the intermediate formats: Micro 4/3 or APS-C, offer more than enough features and I think that you can get the equipment with the best value for money.
If you prefer a compact one to minimize size and weight, the 1-inch sensors also offer very good performance. Below that size I think we would already be sacrificing a bit of quality.
4.- Manual controls
This requirement is essential. If the camera doesn’t include manual modes (that is, it only has automatic modes) don’t buy it.
All SLR and mirrorless cameras include manual modes. The compact ones of medium and high ranges too.
When we talk about manual modes or manual controls, it means that the photographer has control of the exposure parameters : lens aperture, shutter speed and sensitivity (ISO)
It is important because in automatic modes it is the camera that decides, based on its internal programming. But the camera doesn’t know what we want to highlight in a scene or what parameters are most important at that moment from an artistic point of view.
In general, I recommend a camera with a viewfinder , whether it is optical or electronic.
All SLRs have an optical viewfinder.
In mirrorless cameras there are those that include a viewfinder (electronic in this case) and there are also those that opt for a size as small as possible and that do not include a viewfinder (or include it as an external device)
The viewfinder is very useful because it makes our eye have the same field of vision as the camera, isolates us from the environment, helps us frame and allows us to acquire a ‘photographic vision’
6.- Specific characteristics depending on the type of photography
The decision criteria that we have seen so far would be like the thick line. For me they are the most important, because in general all cameras will offer us many features and enough flexibility for most situations and uses.
Then there would be the features or extras that can help us or facilitate the task in certain situations.
For photography, what characteristics would I look at?
- Articulated / touch
screen The articulated screen makes life easier in certain situations. For example, if you are going to do macro photography it is very good, or if you have to use the camera with many people and you have to frame with the camera above your head. The touch screen is also very practical for macro photography , since it allows you to focus with one touch on the area of the scene that interests you, and in general makes access to the menu options faster. In any case, for 90% of the situations in photography they are not vital characteristics, not even important.
- Hot shoe
The small built-in flash included in some cameras will hardly ever be used. But it is important that the camera includes a flash shoe, to be able to work with external flashes. Mid-range cameras can sync up to 1/200 or 1/250 of a second. High-end cameras often have a high-speed sync option. For most situations the standard timing is sufficient.
- Autofocus system
Obviously, the faster and more reliable the focusing system, the better. All cameras currently offer very good focusing systems and the differences in performance are minimal. Only in extreme situations will we see appreciable differences, for example when we have to photograph objects that move at a high speed: sports, moving animals, children …
- Built-in stabilizer
Some brands offer optical stabilization on their lenses, others offer stabilization built into the camera body. The stabilizer helps us when we need to shoot freehand, to minimize the risk of vibrations or tremors that would give us a shaky (shaky) image. I personally like cameras that include a stabilizer in the body, because that way I can use lenses without stabilization (for example old film camera lenses ), but either system can work very well.
- Maximum shutter speed
Most reflex and mirrorless cameras allow shooting up to 1/4000 . High-end cameras for professional use typically go for 1/8000. And some models (both mid-range and high-end) include an electronic shutter that allows speeds of 1/16000 or 1/32000. The maximum shutter speed is useful in bright situations, for example in landscape photography or in certain situations. Those extra shutter speed steps give us more flexibility to play with the lens aperture, without having to close the aperture too much or having to use neutral density filters. For 99% of the situations we might encounter as amateur photographers, the 1/4000 speed works for us.
7.- The system and its ecosystem
When we go to buy a camera we have to think about the future, at least in the medium term. It is especially important with interchangeable lens cameras.
Each interchangeable lens camera (SLR or mirrorless) belongs to a system, and this has to do with the type of mount: the part where the lens meets the camera. A system includes cameras and all lenses on the market that are compatible (let’s say: directly) with that camera model.
Each brand has one or more systems. For example:
- Canon currently has 3 different systems:
Canon EOS EF / EF-S – The system used by their
Canon EOS M SLR cameras – Mirrorless cameras with APS-C sensor
Canon EOS R – Mirrorless cameras with Full Frame sensor / professional range
- Nikon has 2 systems:
Nikon F – The system that your
Nikon Z SLR cameras use – Mirrorless cameras with Full Frame sensor
- Olympus and Panasonic share the Micro 4/3 system
- Sony has 2 systems:
Sony A – Its range of SLR cameras
Sony E – Range of mirrorless cameras
- Fujifilm has the X system for its mirrorless cameras
In short, when you buy a camera you will have at your disposal a catalog of compatible lenses.
The idea is that before buying you get an idea of what are the objectives that you would be interested in having in the short or medium term, and calculate the joint budget, including camera and objectives.
Also, if you have friends or acquaintances with a certain brand (system), it may be interesting to enter that same system to share objectives, or to lend you objectives so that you can test them before deciding to buy them.
In any case, all the brands that we have discussed have quite extensive catalogs and you will not have problems finding lenses that suit your needs and budget (taking into account, of course, that photography is quite an expensive hobby).
8.- Do not buy the model that has just been released on the market
Unless you are looking for a very very specific feature that other models do not have, in general it is not a very good idea to buy the latest model that comes out on the market, at least you want to let it rest for a few months.
In the first place, because the starting prices are usually somewhat inflated, and after a certain time they fall to levels more in line with the range and the market price.
Second, it may happen that the new model has design problems (it is not frequent) or that it needs firmware updates to correct certain problems. If you buy the camera after a few months of shooting, surely it will already be updated to the most stable version or at most you will have to do an update.
Third, on many occasions the evolution or improvements between a model and its successor will be in secondary and extra functions, more for marketing issues, which many times will not even be used. You have to assess whether it is worth paying more for these small improvements or if it would be worth the benefits of the previous model.
9.- Kit objective (paperweight)
Interchangeable lens cameras are usually sold in an initial pack or kit, with a lens, for example in SLRs it is usually an 18-55mm
This lens is usually pretty basic in terms of optical quality and construction. There was a time when some of these lenses were really bad, and they were renamed ‘paperweights’ (something useless that is going to be on the shelf and you will never use it)
It must be said that currently most of these kit lenses are of acceptable quality. They are not super sharp, they are mainly made of plastic, etc. but they are not a disaster.
In any case, is it worth buying the kit with one of these lenses or is it better to just buy the body and a higher quality lens separately?
In general, for a beginner user, I recommend buying the kit with the basic objective :
- You will have a first objective with which to test the camera and with the price of the kit the objective is practically free or very cheap
- With this objective, you will be able to see with which focal lengths (within their range) you feel most comfortable and that suit your style more. And from there you can decide with more criteria what your next objective will be, for example a fixed that corresponds to that focal length you use the most.
- With the focal range of the kit lens (18-55mm or similar) you will cover 90% of situations, for example if you go on a trip and only want to carry one lens.
10.- Camera for life
That is, the question would be: do I buy a more basic camera that still limits me in the medium term or do I buy a high-end camera that will be good for my life?
The truth is that in digital photography I think things don’t work like that.
For a normal user, it is very difficult for a current mid-range camera to limit or not allow him to continue learning and evolving as a photographer . All cameras have their physical or technological limits, but knowing those limits, it is the photographer who has to adapt to use the most appropriate technique.
When a photographer has a lot of experience and is very clear about his type of photography (for example, if he especially likes macro photography, or star photography, or portrait, or product photography …) or his style. There comes a time when you will naturally look for a tool that makes your job easier or gives you more leeway. Perhaps you will change systems, or perhaps you will change to a higher-end camera, or perhaps you will invest in a certain lens … You will find the most suitable tool for it, which does not have to be the most expensive.
And on the other hand, there will be users who continue to use their 10-year mid-range camera, which will continue to give them the same satisfactions, and who have no need to update.
Recommended cameras for beginners
Any of Nikon’s entry-level SLRs
They are Nikon D3000 series models: D3300, D3400, D3500
Very complete cameras that offer excellent image quality in both photography and video. They have an optical viewfinder (it is a reflex) and its rear screen is fixed, it is not articulated.
They are very easy to use cameras and allow very intuitive control of all parameters.
For the D3400 / D3500 you have the Nikon and third-party lens catalog. You can use AF-S and AF-P type lenses.
And if you can raise your budget a bit, Nikon’s D5000 series cameras (D5300, D5500, D5600 …) will offer you the same image quality but also a plus in terms of usability and extra features, for example the screen. articulated.
Any of Canon’s mid-range cameras
For example the Canon EOS 250D (Rebel SL3) or the Canon EOS 800D (Rebel T7i)
The 800D is a bit more complete, but for value for money and its size, I think that for a beginner I would choose the 250D.
It is a small and relatively light SLR camera (with optical viewfinder). Allows manual control of all parameters. It offers very good performance in both photography and video . It is a very balanced camera in terms of performance, size, weight and its value for money is very good.
t is very comfortable to use, with a fully articulated touch screen.
And you have at your disposal the entire catalog of Canon and third-party lenses compatible with this system
In any case, the lens that is usually included in the basic kit (18-55mm STM) already offers a more than acceptable optical quality.
Olympus OM-D E-M10
It is a camera that I personally love. It is mirrorless (EVIL), it has a high quality electronic viewfinder in addition to the rear touch screen and folding (up and down). It is small and light, and also the lenses of this system (Micro 4/3 system from Olympus and Panasonic) are smaller and lighter than those corresponding to SLR cameras, so it is perfect to carry the camera with you wherever you go .
It offers very good image quality and is a camera for life. The exterior design is based on the older Olympus OM analog cameras.
It is very easy to use. It has 2 dials to configure the exposure parameters, which allows very fast and precise control.
The E-M10 has at your disposal the entire catalog of lenses from Olympus, Panasonic and third-party brands that make lenses for Micro 4/3. It is also very easy to adapt and use old analog camera lenses.
Sony’s mid-range mirrorless cameras
Any Sony a6000 series models: a6000, a6300, a6400, a6500, a6100, a6400, a6600
They are very small mirrorless cameras that mount an APS-C sensor (like Canon or Nikon SLRs). From the point of view of image quality, its features are identical to those of any SLR in these ranges.
The a6000 is still an exceptional camera today, for both photography and video, although it does not record in 4K.
If you are only going to do photography and a little video and you don’t need 4K, I would choose the a6000
If you are looking for a very complete camera for photography and video (4K / 30p, no recording time limit, USB external battery power…) the Sony a6100 seems to me to be one of the best cameras for value for money .
The lens that usually comes in the kit is perfect for traveling and to always carry the camera with you, it is small and retracts in transport mode. But to get the most out of the camera it is advisable to buy a higher optical quality lens.
Fuji mid / high range mirrorless cameras
System cameras mirrorless Fujifilm is excellent both cameras and Fujinon lenses .
They are cameras with a very attractive retro aesthetic, they are small and light, and with a distribution of buttons and dials that makes their use very pleasant and intuitive.
The Fuji X-T3 is a professional range camera , widely used by professional photographers due to the combination of features and the lens catalog. It is one of the best cameras with APS-C sensor on the market, both for photography and video.
The Fuji X-T30 is the mid-range version , with very similar characteristics in photography (they use the same sensor) but with some limitations in video compared to its older sister. The X-T30 is smaller and lighter.
If you have margin with your budget and you are looking for a camera for photography and video: I think I would go for the X-T3 , I think it is a very complete camera and it is very enjoyable.
If your budget is tighter and you want a Fuji, and you want it mainly for photography: the Fuji X-T30 is also a great option. It is also a camera with which you will enjoy photography a lot, it also has a more compact size.
Canon EOS M50
This camera is part of Canon’s M System, mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras with APS-C sensor.
It has very good performance, in terms of image quality it would be equivalent to any of the mid-range Canon (200D, 800D, 77D). It includes video recording in 4K although with some limitations, such as the additional cropping factor (narrower angle of view than in Full HD) and the fact that in 4K it disables the Dual Pixel focus system, thus focusing in 4K happens to be fair or bad compared to the excellent focus of these cameras in Full HD mode. Let’s say 4K is usable, but it’s more of a hype than anything else.
It is a small and light camera, perfect to always carry around, for trips, etc.
The only doubt or problem with this camera is that the M system (EF-M lenses) has a fairly fair catalog of lenses. EF / EF-S lenses (Canon’s SLR lenses) can be used via an adapter, which generally works very well, but in that case the small camera and light gear philosophy is a bit lost.
So is it a recommended camera?
Yes, it is a camera that I would recommend , I really like it, but first you have to assess if the M lens catalog will cover your needs in the short term or if you do not mind using EF lenses with the adapter in situations where they do not cover the native targets of the M.
If you have a Canon SLR that has become a bit outdated, it can be a good option when updating your equipment since you could reuse all your lenses (buying the adapter).
What about Canon’s entry-level SLRs?
If your budget is tight, Canon’s entry-level SLRs may be an option. They will offer you an image quality similar to any other SLR.
They are cameras designed and manufactured to compete in price, and they are usually the cheapest SLR models. Canon 4-digit series: 1200D (Rebel T5), 1300D (Rebel T6), 2000D (Rebel T7), 4000D (Rebel T100)
In general, these cameras save on construction materials (plastic body) and the technology they use (sensors, processors …) are reused from previous generations of higher-end models.
In addition, they are usually sold in kits with lenses whose versions are already somewhat old (new lenses but with a design and optical quality that are a little below the most recent models)
So, by way of summary. If your budget is very tight, they are cameras that will offer you an image quality similar to any other SLR, especially if you get a better quality lens (for example, a 50mm f / 1.8 for about 100 euros).