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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Nuts & Bolts of Buying A Camera

There are many reasons to buy a camera. You want to take pictures of your children, you want to keep memories in photographic form, you just want a camera for taking snapshots or things that you find interesting. All of these are perfectly good reasons for wanting a camera, but it doesn't give you an idea of what camera is just right for you. For that, you want to look into more in-depth research in order to find the right camera. You don't need the gobbledygook that most photographers put up about sensor size, etc etc. That tech stuff is for those experienced enough. This post gets down to the nuts and bolts of the camera purchase.

First of all, you need to know your skill level with a camera. Most people buy point and shoots, because that is all they really feel that they need and for most people that's just fine and dandy, but as they progress, they find that the shutter lag (the time between the moment you press the shutter button and the time the shutter clicks) often is a detriment with a point and shoot. I used to sell cameras and this was one of the things that used to be a common complaint with camera buyers. But the photography bug is an insidious little beast and it isn't too long before people start wondering why their images don't look like the professionals and want more control over the creation of their images to make it look like what they saw with their own eyes. That's how photography sucks you in. And needless to say, I suffer that too. I am going to touch on the key important factors that will dictate how to buy your camera


There are three skill levels: 1. Beginner/Intermediate, 2. Semi-Professional 3. Professional.

1. Beginner/Intermediate - This skill level means that you are just starting to learn the basics of photography. You're learning the importance of composition, you're just starting to learn the correlation between shutter speed and aperture and how ISO influences it. You're starting to want more control over your images. That is the borderline between 'point and shoots' (which are fully automatic) and bridge-cameras or DSLRs. There is a distinct difference between bridge cameras (also known as superzooms) and DSLRs. Bridge Cameras are fixed lensed which means that their lens is encapsulated within the body of the camera and cannot be removed from the camera body, whereas a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera can interchange lenses (you could take a wide angle lens and swap it out with a telephoto lens).

2. Semi-Professional - This skill level means that you've mastered the basics, shooting skills and image composition becomes ingrained and automatic. you know your shutterspeed and aperture and what ISO will do to it. You can't think of shooting anything that doesn't give you control over your image output. In fact, you're looking for a camera that gives you that control.

3. Professional - This is the level where you are making money with your photography. You are earning a living with the camera.

Now the lines between professional and semi-professional are blurred, mainly because 2 and 3 involve a subjective view of the skill and output of a photographer.

Now what does the skill level have to do with the type of camera. Nothing says that a professional can't shoot with an entry level camera and he knows exactly what the limitations of an entry level camera are and produce a high-quality image. And nothing says that a beginner (if he has the money to do so) can't buy a professional grade camera, but the beginner will end up overwhelmed by the multitude of control menus utilized by the professional grade cameras. This is where it is important to learn your limitations (knowing deep-down that your horizons will expand as your knowledge base increases). The beginner needs to go back to the basics no matter which camera that he/she has. Operate the camera in manual, learn the basics of photography - if you have a professional grade camera - ignore the bells and whistles.

So what do the skill levels have in correlation with the types of cameras available? I will be answering that with information based on Nikon DSLR cameras (a) because that brand is what I shoot and (b) because Nikon is one of the best camera brands out there. OK, who am I kidding, I'm biased. IT IS THE BEST CAMERA BRAND OUT THERE for simplicity of menus and allowing the photographer to get out there and shoot the type of images that they need to. What about the other "C" brand. I'll say this much, they make great printers and copiers.

1. Beginner/Intermediate - These cameras have very basic menus, The DSLRs allow you the basic controls over ISO, aperture and shutterspeed.

2. Semi Professional - The cameras are far more advanced than the Beginner/Intermediate, with advanced menus, the Advanced Amateur/Semi-Pro has more control over the output of the camera. The ISO function (which is digitized film speed) ranges both lower and higher than in the Beginner/Intermediate cameras.

3. Professional - this camera gives you the ultimate control over your images. The menus are complicated, but help you to achieve the type of output that professionals are known for, once you master those menus.


A Beginner/Intermediate camera usually is sold in a kit form; meaning that you get the body (the camera without the lens) and a basic wide-angle lens, usually a 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6. The cost is usually between $900-$1400. Some kits priced a little more expensive include a basic telephoto lens - a 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR.

An Semi-Pro camera or Professional camera usually only comes as a 'body only' sale. The lenses cost extra, which means an extra purchase. Usually a semi-pro or professional camera is paired (pending a secondary purchase) with a professional lens. Certainly a beginner could save some money, by buying a beginner lens and pairing it with a professional or semi-pro body, however all things considered, if one is spending $from $1800-$6,000+ for a semi-pro or professional body, it doesn't make sense to skimp on buying the professional lenses which will cost between $1200-$10,000 depending on the type of lens you get. The Nikon professional lenses all have a gold ring around the body near the front lens element. Most professional lenses have extremely wide apertures which means that a) they are fast, b) the build quality is high and c) they are downright expensive.

This is a professional lens; notice the gold ring near the front of the lens?


The warranty is a crucial part of your camera. This will enable you to get the camera fixed should there be a problem with the camera body or with the lens. With Nikon DSLRs you get 2 years warranty on your body and 5 years on your camera lens. Warranties are local which means that your camera or lens has to be serviced in the country in which you made the purchase. That means if you buy a camera in the United States while on vacation, you will have to service it in the States - which means you'll be out of a camera for the duration of time in which it takes to ship, service and for the company to ship the repaired camera or lens back to you. It is advisable to buy local for any camera or lens.


The shops that I utilize for my photography purchases are Lens&Shutter (which services my professional photography needs (such as the future purchase of a Nikon D4) or Gastown Photography (which serves my other photography needs that don't require permission from Nikon to sell professional camera bodies). There is also Broadway Camera. Buy your camera from a recognized camera retailer. Ignore the Best Buy and Future Shop camera department. I have heard too many horror stories about the beginner photographers who have gone into Future Shop and ended up coming out more confused than when they went in. The sales staff aren't experienced in photography; you may find yourself lucky and get one who is, but on the whole, when a retailer skimps on experience and goes for kids in high-school who don't know anything but how to sell, then you're going to end up with something that you don't want. The sole exception to this is London Drugs who doesn't skimp on experience in their camera sales counter. As a former camera salesperson who worked at both a private retailer and at London Drugs with 6 years of advanced photographic experience (back then in 2007), I was one of the top sellers there.


I can't stress that enough. Not only will you have the benefit of experience to cut through the bull that the salesperson might feed you in order to get the camera that will give him the biggest amount of commission, you will walk out of there with a camera that is suited to what you want to accomplish with it that falls within your price range because that friend will be able to know just how important that purchase is to you. In short, he/she can also help you learn your camera too.

These are the key points that you need to understand in order to make a purchase that is going to help you in your photography.

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