Things to Consider When Buying Your First Camera

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Here at Beyond Megapixels, we strive to provide a simple, unfettered look at the world of photography, and attempt to offer information geared toward beginners as well as more advanced photographers. In the hundreds of articles currently residing in Beyond Megapixels’ archives, there are posts focusing on such topics as technique, composition, recommended gear, and post-processing. Today I feel it is appropriate to step further back in the process of improving one’s photography, and start a discussion on the most basic of topics – how to choose your very first camera.

In writing this article, I am considering what thought processes I exercised when purchasing my first camera. I was looking for something in keeping with my current skill level, that would achieve the types of photographs I was looking for, but would also allow me to grow in my skill. It is unsurprising that I chose a point-and-shoot (film!) model as the first camera that I purchased for myself. I practiced composition and technique and got used to looking at the world through a viewfinder. Through trial and error, more and more of the photographs I received back from my developer were deemed “keepers”, and album-worthy, as I grew in my skill.

The continued cost of film and developing, though, convinced me that my next camera purchase would be of the digital variety. The very first digital camera I bought was also a point-and-shoot (a Mavica), and saved the photographs on a 3 1/2 inch FLOPPY disc, of all things. The flexibility of being able to see a photograph before it was printed encouraged me to just take more and more pictures, practicing away with complete freedom in the knowledge that it wasn’t costing me money on film and developing fees to take so many “throw away” shots. And thus, my skill progressed further.

Finally, I grew bored and unsatisfied with the limited flexibility of the point-and-shoot model (I’d upgraded to one that actually saved photos on a memory card, after the Mavica), and wished to become proficient in the world of SLR cameras. Daunted by the as-yet mysterious realm of ISO, aperture, shutter speed, white balance, metering modes, and the like, I looked for a camera that would help me grown in my skills, but still have “automatic” settings that would allow me to slip back into my “point-and-shoot” days when I grew frustrated or discouraged. I conducted weeks of research and consulted several professionals, who pointed me toward the Canon Digital Rebel series of D-SLR cameras. In my Canon Digital Rebel XTi, I found a true treasure, with all the flexibility I would need to grow my skills, and all of the ease-of-use that made for a gentle introduction into the vagaries and mysteries of photography as an art. In fact, it so exactly suited my needs, and had such room for growth, that I am just now preparing to move up to another model (the Canon EOS 7D) – I’d purchased the Rebel in April of 2007. Three years of growth and self-education is an excellent find in a camera, in my opinion.

So, that’s the story of my growth and promotion through various models of cameras, to where I am today. With that in mind, I offer the following points to consider when choosing your own first camera:

1. Film, or digital? While the world is trending ever faster toward all digital, all the time, there are many who still feel that film photography is the purest form of the art. Personally, I feel that digital photography offers more scope, more flexibility, and more freedom, but your opinions and needs may vary.

2. What kind of pictures do you want to take? Do you have only occasional photography needs, to commemorate a holiday or birthday or other occasion? Then a simple point-and-shoot model may be best for you. Do you want to print out (or develop) your photographs and hang them on the wall, or put them in scrapbooks or albums? A digital camera with a higher rate of megapixels, or a high-speed film SLR, may be the right way to go. Do you want to post your photographs on-line, or use them in a website? Digital photography offers the easiest transition from camera to Internet. Do you want to take photos of a variety of subjects, such as portraits, landscapes, architecture, sporting events, or wildlife? Choose an SLR that allows you to change lenses and modes to suit the occasion.

3. How much do you want to learn? If you don’t anticipate your interest or needs to grow beyond your current skill level, consider buying the camera that has just the capabilities that you require. If you find your interest into the “why’s” and “how’s” of photography to be growing, consider an SLR camera that has all of the features and ease-of-use of a point-and-shoot, but has the capability to be used in a manual mode that allows you to learn all about shutter speed, aperture, and the like. It is important not to start with a camera that is TOO advanced, or TOO difficult to learn, so that you don’t become discouraged with your purchase, or your budding photography passion.

4. How much do you want to spend? The cost of a new camera ranges from under a hundred dollars, to well into the thousands. And, you pretty much get what you pay for, with some exceptions and variances in product capabilities. For example, the exceedingly popular Nikon Coolpix point-and-shoot that a certain Mr. Ashton Kutcher has been admirably advertising runs for between $89 and $179 or so, depending on the model. It takes great pictures and is very easy to use, but lacks the capabilities of a full SLR. The model of Canon Digital Rebel that I bought as my first D-SLR ran me $899 at the time, with a kit lens. I was willing to spend the money because I knew I wanted to grow in my skill, and it has served me very well for nearly three years. The next step up for me, the 7D, is currently running at right around $1,900. Since I plan on growing my photography business, I consider this to be an adequate investment.

I hope that you’ve found my experience, and suggestions, to be helpful while considering your first camera purchase. If you have any questions, suggestions, or experiences of your own, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Photo Credits (in order of appearance):
- “MMIX (Ten things you can do to improve your photography in 2009)” by Page Dooley on Flickr Creative Commons.
- “Photography Rule #77″ by fotographix on Flickr Creative Commons.

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