What camera should I buy?

It’s that time of year! Time for family. Time for comfort food. Time for gratefulness. Time for gift giving! This time of year comes with big purchase decisions. We are presented with Black Friday deals, holiday sales and last minute “must gets”. But, is it really a good deal if it’s not really what we need? I’ve lost track of how many times I have been asked THE BIG QUESTION: What type of camera should I buy?!?!?! Maybe you ran out of time to research cameras or you just don’t know where to start. I’m here to help! Let me take away some of that anxiety over this one big decision this year.

The first return question I ask when presented with this query is: “Do you want to learn about photography or buy a camera that will take nice pictures on its own?” I never mean that disrespectfully. I just want to save you a TON of money.

This typically breaks down to:

  1. Will you ever switch the camera out of Automatic Modes so that you can control the Shutter speed, Aperture, ISO and White Balance?
  2. Are you willing to buy different lenses to go with the camera to change them out for different effects?
  3. And lastly, are you going to edit the photos after you take them?

If your answers to those questions are:

  1. “All of that sounds really intimidating. I just want a good camera that will make all of the decisions for me.”
  2. “The lens and the camera are SEPERATE?!?!”
  3. And, “What do you exactly mean by editing?…..I’ll probably use a filter in Instagram.”

 

No SHAME AT ALL! Your best bet is to go with a zoom in/zoom out, point-and-shoot camera. It will essentially do the same thing as the big, expensive DLSR cameras in AUTOMATIC MODE with one of the kit lenses that sometimes come with them. Please save your money! You can purchase one of these point-and-shoot cameras for $100-$300 and you will be delighted with what it can do for you. They have great resolution and speed. The zoom range on those babies is usually quite wide too! So, you can take pictures in a small room and zoom in close to something far away too. You can also use the batteries you already have in your house (typically AAs) rather than purchasing extra “special” batteries and chargers so that your camera will last all day. Those special batteries in the big cameras can cost almost as much as a point-and-shoot camera itself! Plus, the point-and-shoot cameras are lightweight and can fit in your pocket if you are traveling.

At the end of the day, it will take really nice photos of the people you love in real time, real life, for you with no fuss and muss but better than your phone camera (at least for now….some phones take really nice photos these days!). And, I’ll be completely honest with you: the light you put the subject in is truly the most important part of a good photo anyway. If I had to hire a photographer and had to choose between someone who knew how to use the light well and was using a point-and-shoot or their phone camera VS. a photographer with the most expensive, high-tech equipment out there but didn’t know how to use the light or properly use the camera outside of Automatic Mode, I would choose the former every day of the week. The thing is, using a big DLSR camera in Automatic Mode is pretty much the same thing as point-and-shoot….and huge waste of your hard-earned money (and a waste of a nice camera). It’s like buying an iPhone and only using the call feature on it. For that, you could have bought a flip phone for $30. Same idea.

If you would like to know how to take better cell phone and point-and-shoot photos, comment below that you would be interested in that topic!

Disclaimer: Even I take cell phone photos in bad light every single day. I don’t always have time to pull out my big camera and get the settings right before my son is done doing his cute little naked dance in the kitchen that I want to capture forever and use as black mail when he’s a teenager. There is NO SHAME in taking snaps with your phone or point-and-shoot! WE ALL DO IT!!! It’s the memories that are the most important.

 

Now, what if your answers to those original questions look more like:

  1. I’ve heard about those settings in the photography class I had in high school and I would LOVE to learn more about them!
  2. Or, yes Megan, I know all about that stuff and I know that I need to buy lenses and batteries, etc… Just tell me more!
  3. Or, I’m thinking about starting a photography business what kind of camera should I have?
  4. Or, I have an entry level camera already and I’m starting to charge people money. I know how my camera is limiting what I could be doing so I know I need to move up. What should I get?

This is where it gets personal and I need to ask more questions to see where you are on your own photography journey. I am currently kicking off a mentor program where I will be able to give you one-on-one advice for your specific needs and intentions for use but until you take the leap and contact me about that, I will try to answer as broadly as possible to hit each situation. That said, I am a Nikon shooter. I know Nikon cameras and lenses. This is not a Nikon advertisement and there are many different brands of cameras out there so I will also give you some overall terms to look for if you are going the Canon or Sony route….all great brands and all of them have comparable camera models and lenses to Nikon. When you are deciding on brand, it truly is a personal choice. The two biggest brands and most widely used by professional portrait and wedding photographers are Nikon and Canon. I like Nikon because I started on an entry-level Nikon camera (D5100 that isn’t even made anymore) that was a gift. Because of that, I learned Nikon’s terminology and how their settings are organized in the camera so it’s comfortable for me. I also like the ergonomics of the Nikon cameras….they just feel better and are easier for me to carry in my small hands.

So, pick a brand. If you’re not sure, close your eyes and pick between Nikon and Canon. There are STRONG arguments for each and everyone seems to be happy with what they use so just go for it!

 

FOR THE TRUE BEGINNER

If you like taking pictures and would love to learn more about photography as a hobby or to take pictures of your own kids/animals/life/flowers in your yard in an ‘artsy’ way, you are looking at purchasing an “Entry Level DLSR” camera. Some brands call it a “Hobbyist Level DLSR” camera body. For Nikon, these are your DX Series DLSRs. They have what is called a “crop sensor” which (to keep it simple) takes what you would normally see through a lens and “crops” it a little. They are less expensive but do a wonderful job! I shot my first 3 weddings with a DX camera! For Nikon, you are looking at the D3500, D5600 or D7500. You should expect to pay $400-$1,000 for these camera bodies. If you are looking at other brands, the things that should be important to you are:

  1. It can switch into Manual Mode.
  2. It can write RAW files in addition to jpeg files (so that you can edit them better)
  3. The white balance can be manually adjusted (with Kelvin or preset mode)
  4. You can exchange the lenses on the camera body once you start to collect more.

When deciding on the lens to purchase with your camera, it might make sense to go for a kit lens at this point. A kit lens is basically a lens the store/Amazon/B&H/etc. will sell you as a “bundle” with your camera. A kit lens is going to be far from top-of-the-line. It will not have wide open aperture abilities and probably won’t be the sharpest thing on the planet BUT it will typically have a range of focal lengths (zoom) to work with and is an inexpensive place to start because let’s face it, not everyone has hundreds and hundreds of dollars to spend on a starter camera and lens. When you are just starting to learn and want to take pictures of your family and such, it’s nice to have some flexibility in your focal range as well. If you’re not used to moving your feet to get a closer or further away shot, it can feel VERY limiting ALONG with the overwhelming nature of learning the settings on your camera. Keep it simple to start.

Now it’s time to learn about those settings! Contact me for a free consultation to see if you might benefit from a mentoring session to get you pointed in the right direction! Even if some of those words sounded like a foreign language, IT’S OKAY (I’d like to have a word with the person who came up with the terms aperture and ISO. And, don’t ask me how to pronounce what ISO stands for!). We all start somewhere. There was a time I didn’t know either. meganhofferphotography@gmail.com

 

FOR THE DEDICATED LEARNER

Maybe you have been experimenting with the entry level DLSR camera and have started learning a thing or two. You have a taste of the fact that you can make certain things happen IN CAMERA…like make the background blurry…with the CAMERA SETTINGS!!!  You want to go further. Here is where I am going to probably disappoint you. When you are at this point, it’s time to invest in education. Otherwise, you’ll make the mistake I made when I was starting out…..I bought a whole bunch of crap I didn’t need trying to take better pictures when all I really needed was to learn how to ‘actually’ use the camera I already had and maybe one lens with more capabilities to get to the next level.

If you are interested in taking your photography knowledge to the next level, send me an email and let’s see if you are a good fit for my mentor program. meganhofferphotography@gmail.com

Don’t get me wrong, a higher level camera will make a difference if you are doing this for a living but if you are still taking photos of your own people and even if people are starting to give you a few dollars every now and again to take pictures for them, the difference you want to start seeing at this point is mastery of the concepts that will make a great photograph. You don’t necessarily need to be shooting super-fast or with file sizes that are enormous. It doesn’t make sense to spend thousands of dollars on an advanced camera when you may not even notice the differences at this point. What I would suggest is to invest in a 50mm f/1.4 (Nikon) or f/1.2 (Canon) lens to go with your entry level DLSR camera body.

Those numbers 1.4 or 1.2 indicate the maximum the lens can open in low light and/or to make the background blurry (to keep things very simple here). And will give you more power over the visual signature of your final images. The kit lenses will not open enough to make the background very blurry at all (the blurry background is achieved in camera when taking the picture, not via editing as I had thought before I started learning). And, I suggest a 50mm lens because it is the closest to what we see naturally with our own eyes so will make the most “sense” to your eye as you start taking control over your camera and telling it what to do to make the photo look how YOU want it to look rather than letting the camera “guess.” That focal length will also allow you to stay close to your subjects to work with them and allow you shoot in smaller spaces if needed.

 

Going Pro

Are you ready to call yourself a pho pho ffff Photographer?! It’s scary! I know it was for me. I was a therapist working with people with autism spectrum disorder. I felt like a phony calling myself a photographer at first. Here’s the thing. If you don’t take yourself seriously, no one else will either. Period. Are people paying you to take pictures that you are delivering to them? If the answer is yes, congratulations! YOU ARE A PHOTOGRAPHER. Now it’s time to get real. Photography is art but let’s not put you into the category of starving artist. Photography gear is EXPENSIVE. It is important to make the right choices on gear as you move up the rungs of success in your business or you will waste a lot of your hard-earned money. With that said, you CAN always sell gear you no longer need. It’s kind of like buying a new car though. Once it has been used, you will never get the full price back again so choose wisely. There are options like buying refurbished and used gear. I have heard people have had a success with that but I have also heard horror stories. What you do is your choice but I will tell you that I buy all my gear new. It’s the only way to guarantee quality and an easy return if something is wrong. Plus, I plan on using my equipment for a LONG time so I want to get as much use out of it as possible. Did you know digital cameras have a lifespan before they need replacement parts? For someone like me who takes an average of 175,000 photos every year, I want to get as many clicks of the shutter out of my gear as possible. If you aren’t shooting that much, it may make more sense for you to gamble and buy used.

Now for the specifics.

  1. Once you are comfortable shooting with your 50mm f/1.4 (Nikon), f/1.2 (Canon) on your crop sensor (DX Series for Nikon) camera, you are nailing your focus at wide open apertures and getting exposure correct in camera, people are paying you regularly AND YOU HAVE SAVED ENOUGH MONEY FOR IT, it’s time to buy a full frame camera (FX Series for Nikon). Hey, if you are rich, feel free to buy one right off the bat. But, for us regular people, this is a milestone. Your first full frame camera. This is HUGE. I remember the day I got mine. I ran to the park to practice with it and quickly realized I needed to figure out where all of the buttons I needed were. It was super awkward for a hot minute until my fingers got used to reaching for new spots for each button and I realized I could customize what I wanted each button to do. So, I suggest moving to a new camera body during a slow season. Do not expect to get a new camera and then shoot a session for a paying client the next day.
  2. When shopping for a professional level camera you are looking at Full Frame DLSR cameras (as I am writing this, mirrorless cameras are becoming a “thing” so that may be something to consider in the future but I don’t know enough about them to talk to them at this point.) For Nikon these are your FX Series cameras (D610, D750, D850 and D5). These range in price from about $1,500-$6,500. I STILL shoot with the D750. It is considered the “FX Advanced Entry-Level” camera but it is honestly everything I need in a camera as a wedding and portrait photographer. You can usually wait for it to go on sale for $1,200 or buy it full price around $1,7000. At whatever point I decide I need a new set of cameras (I always keep two cameras on me….as a wedding photographer you should just in case) I plan to upgrade to the D850, most likely. But, in all honesty, I probably don’t even need it. It’s more of a luxury for what I do.
  3. You want the camera to have two memory card slots so that the photos you take are safely written to two different cards at the same time. Again, this is something that you should have when shooting weddings especially.

***CUSTOMIZE your camera’s settings and functions to make sure it is working the most efficiently it can for you! This is something I can help you with in a beginner’s mentoring session!***

  1. BUY GOOD MEMORY CARDS!!!! PLEASE!!!! I argue that the memory cards are THE most important piece of equipment you will use as a professional photographer. If you take amazing photos on top-of-the-line gear and then the memory card fails, it means nothing. Use the Extreme Pro Scan Disc cards. They have the lowest failure rate of any other memory cards and write extremely fast so you won’t be asking your clients to wait while the camera writes data to the cards every few shots. Why would you not do that for your clients? End rant.

  1. Lenses. Oh, geeze. This is a monster topic and probably an entire lesson. I STILL hold that I could shoot an entire wedding with my 50mm lens. I think it is the most versatile lens in my bag to achieve my priorities for my photography style and the visual signature of my photos. With that said, there are some real benefits to having other lenses in my bag. I use an 85mm f/1.4 for portraits whenever possible. I use a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens for wedding ceremonies and children that move faster than I can move my feet to get the shot. I use a 24-70mm f/2.8 for small getting ready rooms and/or wide landscape shots. Lastly, I use a 105mm f2.8 macro lens for ring shots. These are EXPENSIVE lenses folks. The 70-200mm is almost $3,000 alone! I don’t take these types of purchases lightly and I don’t suggest that you do either. I suggest talking with a mentor photographer about what your goals are for your business and what you want to achieve in your photos and what specifically you are shooting to make intentional purchases for your needs. THIS TALK ALONE WILL PROBABLY PAY FOR THE MENTOR SESSION ITSELF! I admit, even now, I REALLY want a 135mm lens and SO want a 200 f/2.0 lens like a little kid in a candy store but those purchases just don’t make sense for my business’s goals and priorities. Maybe one day!


Hopefully, this is enough information to help get you started with the right camera purchase for you and your individual needs. Photography is overwhelming when you are getting started. I would love to help guide you one-on-one through these insanely difficult decisions. If you have more questions or maybe this sparked some interest in learning more, consider mentoring with me or purchasing a mentoring session for your loved one as a Christmas gift to go with that camera purchase! From taking better point-and-shoot photos to the seasoned wedding photographer who’s been at it for YEARS and still struggling to book their calendar full; ALL of my photography, editing, posing and business knowledge is available to you as a mentee. I am an open book. I am always up front, keep concepts simple, laugh a TON and the initial consultation meeting is free for everyone with no pressure to book further. As a former therapist, I have a background in listening and understanding your needs. I also have a specialization in autism spectrum disorder so I am skilled in breaking down concepts into operational chunks. At the end of the day, I just love people so darn much and I can’t wait to work with you to make your photography dreams come true! Let me know if I can help you take your photography to the next level. Email me at meganhofferphotography@gmail.com. XO – Megan

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email Megan directly meganhofferphotography@gmail.com

wedding and portrait photography

Lancasater, Pennsylvania