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FAQ: What kind of camera should I buy?


There was once a shoot-out between a group of professional photographers. Among them was Yervant, one of the world’s top wedding photographers. Unfortuantely for him, he did not bring his camera and had to borrow an old Rebel from a friend. He picked it up, took a look at it, and said, “Good camera.” Everybody else snickered, because they all had their top of the line camera bodies and $1500 lenses and whatnot. But then at the end of the day when they gathered to compared their images, Yervant’s images were by far the very best.

Remember this: The camera is only a tool. It’s not a magic wand that helps us take amazing pictures. It’s not a guarantee that the $3000 we spent on the body will help us take $3000 pictures. The imagery that comes out of the camera will only be as good as the photographer behind the lens, because far more important than the equipment is our own vision.

I have seen amazing photography taken with simple point and shoot cameras. At least one commercial photographer I know of sometimes uses a Canon G10 (a point and shoot camera) for ad work that goes up on billboards across the nation–and you wouldn’t have known if he hadn’t mentioned it. At the same time, I have also seen pictures from a $6600 1Ds Mark III that don’t look any better than if they were taken with a Rebel Xt.

If our purpose is to own the latest and the greatest, or if we have a lot of disposable income, then by all means–we should go out and buy the best equipment we can. More expensive models are generally much better cameras than cheaper models. But if you’re like the most of us with a limited budget, keep this in mind: a camera is only a tool, and the pictures will only be as good as our vision.

So if you are a beginning photographer and don’t have thousands of dollars burning in your wallet, here is what I recommend: Start first with a lower end camera body. Ditch the stock lens, and spend a little more money buying a good lens, because the lens is generally more important than the body itself. If you have money left over, invest in some workshops with talented photographers you respect. This is the fastest and best way to improve your work. It’ll put you leaps and bounds above the other photographer who just bought the 5D Mark IV but did not invest time and money in improving his vision. Keep practicing, keep learning, keep getting better in your work. And eventually, when you start finding yourself being limited by the equipment you’re using rather than a lack of skill or vision, then it’ll be time to upgrade. But by that time, the equipment will be cheaper, the technology will have improved, and your photography will be *that* much better.

For the rest of the answer to this question, click here.

(Note: This is part of a series of Frequently Asked Questions that I receive on a regular basis. Over time, I will be adding answers to more FAQs from brides and photographers. FAQs will also be accessible via a table of contents page, which I will put up … eventually. Hopefully this will be helpful for you guys!)

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  • Thank you Junshien for paving the way for me. It has changed my life. And yes a camera is just a tool. I love your work. Keep it up!ReplyCancel

  • So right on Junshien. Sure we need to have the equipment to bring forth our vision and if the equipment is what is limiting you, then you must also make that investment at some point but as you said the knowledge is the power. I had someone ask me about what would be the best thing to do if they really wanted to get serious. I recommended a workshop. Their reply was “Oh, that would be nice but for the price I could get a nicer camera.” My thought “Yeah, so you can take nicer bad pictures.”ReplyCancel

  • Totally agree. I clunked around for a while with a mid-range Nikon and felt really self-conscious when rich guests showed up with their D300/D700/D3s and whatnot, but I only upgraded once i had the money AND I felt technically limited by the camera. Love this post!ReplyCancel

  • Thanks so much for this! I’ve seen some very average stuff out there that I know was taken with top of the range equipment, while a photographer I know shoots beautiful stuff with her 400D – hardly top line, but she knows how to get the best results!ReplyCancel

  • Dot

    Thanks for this post! I’ve actually been contemplating a DSLR the past few months and keep getting sucked into wanting to get the latest and greatest! Are there any photography workshops that you would recommend for beginners? And I do mean BEGINNER. I’m not looking to become a professional. I just want to capture better our travels and do some of that gorgeous scenery justice! =)ReplyCancel

    • Junshien

      @Dot: Sorry for the late response! Hmm… off the top of my head, I can’t think of any workshops aimed at beginners. Maybe check your local camera shop, because some of them occasionally host workshops at their store, sometimes free, sometimes for a small fee. Also, remember that beginner workshop I held earlier this year? If you can get at least 4 people together, I can hold another one and cater it towards the needs of the attendees. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • It sure does help! Thanks….:DReplyCancel

  • As an experiment, I was shooting with a Hasselblad H3D last week. Was it any better than my Nikon D200? It has the capability of capturing technically better image files, sure. But, the camera itself won’t make fantastic photographs, the photographer does. In any case, I always tell people the best thing they can do is upgrade the nut behind the viewfinder. Oh, and the Hasselblad is a porky slow camera. Slow AF, slow fps, slow workflow. It’s a *nice* camera, but is a difficult tool to work with, especially for wedding photographers.ReplyCancel

  • […] are scratching your head about which camera to buy, I had recently come across a very well-written article from a very talented wedding photographer and acquaintance of mine based out of San Fransisco. I […]ReplyCancel

  • Great post, Junshien! I take offense to you referencing the 5D mk II. haha!

    btw, a hassalblad is really great for studio work. MF cameras, used right, give awesome and breathtaking results. But you don’t see action/sports/photojournalists using them often because of its responsiveness.ReplyCancel

  • But really, I think it is both the person and the camera, not really either or. The camera and tools will set the parameters of what you can do, within its own limitations, but it is up to the person to actually actualize what the camera can do. So for a pro, sure he/she can do without, but many times he/she needs a better equipped camera to get closer to the vision he/she envisions.ReplyCancel

  • Tammy

    THANK YOU for writing this! I agree 100%. I was actually peeved when some “photographer” told my friend that her budget wasn’t enough (it was more than the cost of my own start up) and should increase it by however many times. To be honest, I thought that was a snarky thing to say …ReplyCancel

  • I take it one step further and tell amateurs that, if they REALLY don’t ever see themselves needing to upgrade to a $3000+ camera body, they can actually do well by staying AWAY from Canon and Nikon. Why? Because all the other companies are putting features into their beginner / amateur cameras that they know Canon and Nikon will never be able to. Pentax’ entry level cameras are weather-sealed and have pro-level cross-type AF points, if you’re an adventure, wildlife, backpacker-type photographer who needs that. Olympus’ also offers a killer system for those adventure-y types who want as light a system as possible. And Sony, along with the others, offer certain things that Canon and Nikon may NEVER adopt, like in-camera stabilization.

    Something to consider. I only ever advise that people consider buying a Canon / Nikon entry level camera if they really are into certain kinds of photography, such as low-light or portrait photography. Because feature-wise, really the only reason to buy a Canon / Nikon beginner camera is so that you’ve got the professional system to grow into. Otherwise, the D-Rebel and Nikon beginner lineups are kinda limited feature-wise…

    But hey, that’s just the ramblings of a know-it-all camera geek! Don’t listen to me! (But you gotta also promise not to listen to any dumb sales pitches from anybody else!)


  • Heather

    wow! this is SO true and so encouraging! I too have been sometimes ashamed of having “lower quality gear”…but, i couldn’t agree with your statements more and it REALLY makes me want to keep going and becoming more proficient and actually much more worthy of having a nicer camera when I can afford to upgrade. anyway, this is just inspiring and I thank you. BTW, Kim Nodurft is my teacher and she says “hi!”.ReplyCancel

    • Junshien

      @Heather: Thanks for your comment. And hi back to you and Kim! 🙂ReplyCancel

  • […] one of those people, this list is unfortunately useless to you. Instead, let me direct you to this other post and the corresponding comments; it will be much more helpful in leading you where you want to […]ReplyCancel

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Heather M. Smith. Heather M. Smith said: timeless advice from a photog i admire….gotta keep reminding myself. http://tinyurl.com/ybjvmdq […]ReplyCancel

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