Guide to choosing a camera for beginners: how, why and which one to buy in 2021?

Photography is more popular than ever and available to everyone who has a smartphone: press the button and send to Instagram. However, if you want to “feel” the process and get the result with your own hands, adding creativity, you cannot do without buying a real camera even today, in 2021. In this post, we’ll take a look at the approach to buying DSLRs and mirrorless cameras.

Guide to choosing a camera for beginners

Contents:


The most important factors when choosing a camera

The superiority of image quality from your new DSLR/mirrorless camera should be obvious to you. There is no point in carrying a camera with you if you are satisfied with the quality of the photo on your phone, and a separate special gadget does not provide you with additional conveniences.

You can evaluate the ergonomics of the camera by taking it from friends or twisting it in your hands in special photo equipment stores. Cameras that are very similar in performance can vary greatly in size and comfort in your hands. It’s like choosing shoes: only buy if you’re comfortable.

Choose the latest camera model to fit your budget. The unshakable rule of the industry says: the coolest and most powerful chips such as fast autofocus, high-speed shooting, new sensors are first received by flagship cameras. However, with each new generation, these innovations gradually “seep” down, from professionals to amateurs, and are added to cheaper models. Believe me, what is now in the amateur segment of inexpensive cameras was not dreamed of by many professionals ten years ago. New CMOS sensor technologies make an equally important contribution to quality: the difference in the quality of shooting in the dark between cameras of the same lineup can be very noticeable. The new camera always has better sensors.

Replaceable optics should be available. When you buy a camera from a specific brand, you automatically bind yourself to the proprietary mount (mount type) of the lens. Only Panasonic and Olympus are part of the Micro Four Thirds coalition and can accept each other’s lenses. Therefore, it makes sense to choose a brand that is widely represented on the shelves in your city. This means it will be easy for you to buy, sell and repair your camera and lenses. And there may be interesting offers in the secondary market.

Most entry-level cameras are sold with so-called kit lenses. The whale lens is an inexpensive zoom lens with low aperture and medium focal lengths. It is ideal for getting started with photography and exploring your own aspirations. In good shooting conditions, this lens will allow you to experience the benefits of interchangeable-lens cameras, play with depth of field and see bokeh. But one day you install non-standard optics on the camera: a telephoto lens for photographing birds, a “shirik” for photographing landscapes – and you will lose peace. The next investment in a lens may be comparable to or even more than the price of the camera itself. As a rule, the next one to buy is a fifty-kopeck piece – an inexpensive high-aperture portrait lens with a focal length of 50 millimeters – or a high-aperture lens with a focal length of 35 millimeters.


DSLR or mirrorless camera?

SLR cameras have a mirror that redirects the view from the lens directly to the optical viewfinder. This way you see exactly what your camera sees. Today it is the most popular segment of serious cameras with the largest number of accessories and lenses. They are slightly larger and heavier than mirrorless cameras, as are their lenses.

Mirrorless cameras (also called hybrid or system cameras) don’t have a mirror in their design, but you still see the same thing as your camera – it’s just that the picture is transmitted directly from the sensor to the small electronic display in the viewfinder. The quality of electronic displays can vary greatly from model to model, so it’s best to see the difference in practice. Mirrorless cameras are more compact and lighter than SLR cameras. Also, trying to sell new items, manufacturers make them a little cooler than DSLRs of the same range.


Is the sensor important?

Sensor DSLR camera

Digital cameras do not use film to record images, but a sensor. There are several sensor sizes on the market with different names, which can be confusing. In order not to arrange a technical educational program, we will restrict ourselves to the axiom: the larger the sensor size, the better the quality of photos at high ISO and in low light.

The worse the conditions, the more noticeable the superiority of large sensors becomes. The largest sensors are full-format (or full-frames). They are followed by APS-C (or crop), even smaller in area – Micro Four Thirds. But even they are dozens of times larger than the sensors in your phones. Even professional photographers can hardly tell the difference between a full frame camera and an initial APS-C camera.


So what’s the difference between full frame, crop and Micro Four Thirds?

Advantages of Micro Four Thirds: small size and weight, compact optics with long focal lengths. But they do worse with darkness and high ISO.

Advantages of full frames: out of competition in poor lighting conditions, many people notice an inexplicable, better quality and softer “picture” of the photo. Image quality may be fine even 13 years after the camera was released, as with the 2008 Canon EOS 5D Mark II. Moreover, they are the most expensive and heaviest.

Cameras based on APS-C-sensor (Sony, Canon, Nikon, Fujifilm, Pentax) – the golden mean. These are the ones we recommend for beginner and enthusiast photographers: they are not too heavy and are good in terms of value for money.

But if your budget allows you and you are confident that you are burning photography, full-frame cameras are a great investment.


Do I need a rotatable display?

Rotatable display DSLR camera

We prefer cameras with a rotating display. Thanks to it, you can shoot self-portraits, record video and, most importantly, get the entire palette of angles – from low points to high-altitude ones. On certain models of full-format and protected cameras, a rotary screen is not installed in principle.


What lenses are there and what are they used for?

DSLR lenses

Interchangeable-lens cameras allow you to tackle any creative challenge: shooting from afar, shooting with blurred backgrounds, macro photography, landscapes and portraits. Camera lenses are divided into “fixes” and “zooms”.

Fixed lenses have a fixed focal length, which means you only have to zoom with your feet. But the picture quality, sharpness and smoothness of shades are guaranteed.

Zoom lenses allow you to change the “angle of view” of the scene, moving closer or further away from objects in the frame. But they are slightly inferior in sharpness and contrast to prime lenses in the same price range.


Why do I need 50mm?

Suitable focal lengths for portraits are believed to range from 50 millimeters to 135 millimeters. Historically, 50mm lenses are most commonly used as portrait lenses. The equivalent focal length of such lenses mounted on an APS-C camera is 75-80 millimeters.

A fixed focal length limits and at the same time stimulates creativity. A lens like this forces you to think, because you have to walk back and forth for the optimal angle. The angles of view of portrait lenses approximately correspond to the angle of view of the human eye (if the lens is attached to a full-frame camera). It is believed that wide-angle lenses can hold too many objects, and telephoto lenses collapse the space a lot, which makes the image look different. And on a lens with a focal length of 50 millimeters, the pictures are beautiful and accurate.

Another plus is versatility. This lens is neither too wide nor too long, suitable for both landscapes and portraits. Finally, “fifty kopecks” are cheaper than competitors with other focal lengths and the same aperture ratio. A lens with an aperture of F / 2 and ISO 400 is equivalent to F / 5.6 and ISO 3200 – about the same is obtained at the same focal length with kit lenses.


I’m already dreaming about the camera. How much money should I raise?

When choosing a new DSLR or mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses, it is worth keeping in mind: $ 600 is the minimum budget for buying a camera, $ 900 is desirable, and for $ 1200 you can get useful accessories such as a fifty-kopeck piece, a tripod or an inexpensive telephoto lens. If you want to focus on video, then add flash drives and batteries.

Keep in mind that with a lot of photography enthusiasm, you’ll want to upgrade from your initial camera within a year. When buying a full frame, it is quite possible to feel confident for several years.

Typically, new technologies in sensor manufacturing provide breakthroughs every four to five years. For example, shooting at ISO 1600 in 2010 was quite rightly considered insane, while in 2021, pictures at ISO 6400 can be hassle-free to send to large print.

You can take great photos with any camera released in the last decade. But if you want to be at the forefront of technology, you have to spend a little more money.


I heard that mirrorless cameras are the future. It’s true?

Mirrorless cameras are slowly but surely replacing DSLRs. All camera manufacturers are moving in this direction.

Lenses for new mirrorless cameras are usually more expensive than lenses for DSLRs, but they also surpass them in all respects: beauty of bokeh, sharpness at the edges of the frame, and the resolution of optics takes into account the increase in camera resolution up to 80-100 megapixels.

The secondary market is gradually filling up with reflex lenses, and their price is dropping. Not the most popular models are discontinued, but blockbuster lenses are out of danger and will remain in this status for at least another ten years.


Crop, 50mm… So what should I buy?

At the moment we can recommend several cameras, twisting which you will understand exactly what you want.


Fujifilm X-T200

The Fujifilm X-T200 is an inexpensive 4K video mirrorless camera with a 24MP APS-C sensor, large swivel touchscreen and an excellent kit lens. Like all Fujifilms, it has a distinctive design.

Novice photographers can control the camera through the touch interface. The camera has good, tenacious autofocus and shoots up to 8 frames per second in continuous mode. Even if you don’t want to deal with RAW, the color reproduction in JPEG is beyond praise: very juicy, but natural.

But one battery, most likely, will not be enough for you.


Canon EOS 850D

Canon EOS 850D

The Canon EOS 850D is one of the entry-level DSLR cameras supporting Canon EF and EF-S lenses.

Canon cameras are traditionally very easy to learn: they are very simple and straightforward in terms of menus. Moreover, the camera will gradually train you, acquainting you with all its possibilities. It shoots UHD / 24p video with crop, but has best-in-class autofocus in LiveView (thanks to a special proprietary sensor technology) and excellent tracking focus, which recognizes people and objects.


Nikon Z50

Nikon Z50

The Nikon Z50 in the kit format with two kit lenses is the perfect solution for those who like to shoot nature, animals and from afar.

The 20-megapixel mirrorless camera has a silent shooting mode, is able to focus on the eyes and confidently keep moving objects in focus, is distinguished by fast burst shooting. Kit lenses are quiet, compact and sharp.


I bought a camera. What’s next?

Photography has a learning curve that stretches over months. You will develop your own experience, your own artistic vision.

All the fun is just beginning: working with manual settings, processing RAW, learning about composition – that’s what awaits you.

Photography will allow you to find an approach to other people, develop observation skills, psychology and communication. This is a great hobby, especially during difficult times. Good luck!