One of (if not the most common question) I get asked as a photographer, is “What camera should I buy”. To me, it’s not a difficult one to answer, but my reply usually stumps most people because it’s not what they are expecting.
The fact is, no one can tell you what camera YOU should buy. Think of it this way; would you buy your next 4×4 based off some recommendation that a single person has given you? I would assume probably not. Here are my five top tips for choosing the right camera for your needs.
Buying a camera
Firstly, work out your budget. Most people have no idea what they want to spend when I ask them this, and it really is the most important question.
Once you decide on a budget, keep these points in mind:
1) Cameras don’t come with everything you need straight out of the box.
Depending on what you buy (A point and shoot, mirrorless camera or digital SLR), you’ll still need memory cards, lenses, a flash and maybe a bag. These will all eat into your budget.
2) Go try some cameras! Go visit your local camera store and tell them, “This is what I want to spend, show me what falls into that budget”. Play with the cameras, use their menus and take pictures with them in the store. Get a feel for how they work and how they sit in your hands. At the end of the day there is NO point buying a camera that you don’t like the feel of or find the menus confusing.
Questions you need to ask yourself
How does the camera feel in your hands? Are the buttons to close together for your big fingers? Does it feel to heavy for what you want, or maybe it feels poorly made?
Do you know enough about cameras to utilise its technology? (or are you willing to learn?)
Does its menu system make sense, and look like something you’d understand?
Are there any other features you want? Shock proof, water proof, built in flash, changeable lenses, small camera vs big camera, extended warranties?
Look for a reputable brand. Big brands will have more options for lenses and accessories for the camera if you want to expand later on down the track.
Do you want video?
Megapixels: don’t be fooled by big numbers
Megapixels have long been used as a bit of a gimmick to selling digital cameras. While having the right amount is a good thing, it’s not the most important factor when buying a camera. Keeping it simple, megapixels basically describe how big an image the camera can produce. For example, 1 megapixel equates to 1 million pixels in an image. If I had a photo that was 4928 by 3280 pixels (4928 x 3280 = 16163840) divided by 1 million = 16.1. Yep, that’s a 16.1 megapixel camera!
With consumer cameras like the Canon 5D being able to produce a whopping 50-megapixel file, how does that benefit you? Most of the time, as a happy snapper it doesn’t, unless of course to plan on turning your holiday snaps into a billboard size print on the motorway.
A camera that has anywhere from 12mp to 24mp these days seems to be the normal size for an entry level camera, and is all the average person needs for their uses, including printing a photo book or print for their wall.
Big mexapixel pros
Really big images, means really big prints. But will you ever need them?
You can crop an image and its still relatively a big size.
Better for retouching, if you know how to do it.
Cons of big megapixels
Big photos equal big files, less space on your memory card and the need to carry more.
Less space on your computer and software will take longer to process the files.
Normally more expensive.
Buying locally or grey import
When buying a camera, prices can fluctuate quite a bit from store to store and there is one main reason for this, “Grey market imports”.
Grey Market imports are essentially cameras that have been imported behind the back of the original manufacturer or authorised dealer. Normally they are the cameras that you find in online stores or those dodgy stand-alone camera stores that aren’t one of the major retailers.
The advantages of buying grey imports? Price, and that’s it. You get what you pay for. The disadvantages? Warranty is the main thing. If anything goes wrong with a grey market camera under a warranty, the Australian repairers WILL NOT TOUCH IT for free. The camera will need to be sent back to its country of origin. You’ll be without your camera for weeks, and will probably have to pay for the postage.
If unsure, always ask the seller if it has an “Australian Warranty” or read the fine print on the website. Be careful though, as some websites I’ve seen state to give you an Australian warranty, but in the fine print all that means is that they will take the camera off you and cover the costs of shipping it back to China for it to be fixed.
What to look for in off-road friendly camera gear
A few years ago, there was no such thing as shock proof, waterproof and dust proof cameras. Now, they seem all too common with most major manufacturers having at least one camera that fits into that class. Keep in mind though there are always limitations, just because you have a snorkel doesn’t mean you should take your car up to the windscreen in water (well some of us don’t anyway). Apply that same logic to cameras. Some cameras are only “weather proof” as opposed to “water proof” which essentially means they can take a good splash of rain, but will not survive the pressure of water if they are submerged, there’s a big difference, and a costly one if you get it wrong.
While looking after your gear properly would rule out the need to have any sort of “proofing” on your camera, accidents do happen and they certainly come in handy. Having a waterproof camera can also be pretty fun to have around a water crossing.
Have a look for rubber seals around the camera. Pay particular attention to where the memory card and battery is inserted, and also where the lens separates from the camera body if it has that option. Some cameras won’t have this option at all.
Final camera tips
A good quality bag or case goes a long way; dust can work its way into anywhere. If the bag has a rain cover, throw it on while it’s sitting in your car, the more you can do to keep dust away from the internal area, the better.
If your camera is waterproof and you use it around salt, always wash it under fresh water. Then dry it after use.
A microfiber cloth, paintbrush and an air compressor are great for removing dust. I carry a cheap paintbrush in my kit that I use to brush off the dust from my gear. It’s great for getting into the tighter areas or around the buttons that a cloth can’t.
If you get mud on your camera, I recommend letting it dry first when possible and brushing if off with a brush. Don’t wipe it off and work the wet mud into the nooks and crannies.
Avoid sand like the plague! There is nothing worse than listening to sand grind around your lens. If you do get it in the zoom mechanisms and can often mean needing a professional repair job.
Words By Brett Hemmings