How to Choose a Camera
With so many options and every brand rounding out their lineup of cameras to offer a new full suite of bodies with every kind of new feature, it might be getting harder to make that final decision over which system to embrace than ever. But on the other hand, the things that truly guide your decision haven’t really changed. When contemplating your next camera, don’t forget that the real decider is not what the companies boast, but what kind of photography you’re into.
Professional Studio and Professional Portrait Photography
I would only bring full frame SLR or medium format camera into a studio or to a high-end, professional portrait or headshot shoot, especially if I’m tethering or firing off strobes. My Nikon D850 is tailor made for a studio shoot with reliable performance, great dynamic range, easy access ports, Capture One compatibility, better/bigger/faster QXD and SD slots and a suite of available/rentable glass and backup bodies. The second most-important skill of a professional photographer, after getting the shot, is dealing with problems. There are always problems — it’s the nature of photography and humanity. I was reading a long complaint in a Fujifilm forum just yesterday about the camera locking up. It happens. But it happens less with Nikon and Canon than any other camera, because they’ve been iterating on studio-ready equipment for decades. But when things do go wrong, Nikon and Canon are prepared — as are the crews supporting you — with quick solutions to get you back shooting.
Case in point, on set a few weeks ago at some point my tech said that the images weren’t looking in focus, despite the focus being in the right spot. We went into the menu and adjusted the focus manually. Some of these kinds of problem-solves are simply years of muscle memory with a certain system, but any camera company that has had as many years to deal with picky professionals as Canon and Nikon have, have probably just worked out more kinks.
Wedding and Events
These are high-stakes events, too. So, reliability is key. A lot of cameras can get great shots when all the conditions are right, but only a few can get you excellent shots even when they’re not. And events and weddings are filled with difficult settings. To which, the Sony a7 series, high-end Canons and Nikons all will give you the extra dynamic range and speed needed when dealing with low light, people in shadows, and lots of movement, etc.
If you’re looking to make a profession out of it, the extra strength of the Canon EOS cameras are probably what most will tell you to invest in. But Sony is real close behind with lighter weight systems and plenty of advanced tech that might come in handy during the dynamic and ever-changing situations that surround events and weddings.
Artistic Photography and Urban Landscapes
The new burgeoning world of the Instafamous suits itself to full frame mirrorless cameras, as photogs of this nature are constantly on the road, in need of good, reliable wifi, dual SD slots, video, long exposure and more. Right now, Sony a7s are the camera of choice, though many find Fujifilm’s X-Series equally good and a better set of controls. Both offer great video with in-camera stabilization (though so do Nikons and Canons, but are fairly monstrous to try to lug around, by comparison).
If you’re looking for the system with the most options and the best raw quality, the nod goes to Sony. But if you’re looking for the simplest controls and the camera that will be the most fun to have with you everywhere, I’d choose Fujifilm, who has also developed a set of in-camera film looks that are better than anything you can do in post and are straight-out-of-the-camera good.
Fine Art and Photojournalism
I make a distinction between artistic photography and fine art photography. Artistic photography is any kind of image that you’re looking to just do a bit differently and more creatively than what you can do on a phone, including family, travel and imagery geared to impress on social media. Fine art photography, on the other hand, is being created for galleries, fine art books, magazines and the like.
I also make a distinction between events and photojournalism. In event photography, you might be hired to cover a wide range of activities, corporate, wedding or otherwise. In this, the more shots of various things, the better — it’s coverage. But in photojournalism, you’re at a specific place, with a specific thing happening, often involving people or situations where one key image, or a small set, can tell the entire story — and is often the accompanying image to an article or news story. The quality of that one image, much like fine art, must stand the test of time. Think about that amazing backstage shot of the band or an expose on life in a foster home.
In these cases, Leica‘s M line is hard to top, with full frame sensors, an incredible set of prime lenses, joy-to-hold construction, and purpose-built, manual focus controls. The result — gorgeous, high-detailed images, beautifully-rendered and ready to print.
For the Joy of Shooting
When you simply want to shoot because photography is awesome, I highly recommend investing in a 35mm film camera. The improvements in photography over the years since 35mm was in its heyday have only improved the professional or semi-professional market, but have done nothing for the joy of the medium. In fact, loading film, advancing it, aiming and shooting and then NOT seeing the shots until they get developed keeps you entirely in the moment — which is how regular life should be. You have plenty of immediacy with your smartphone camera these days, if you want it. If you want to love photography for the simple medium that it is, go with film.
There’s plenty of options here, all of which get you largely the same quality and more is determined by the film type than the camera. But you can’t go wrong with a used Nikon F2, Canon AE-1 or Leica M6 — all professional grade 35mm cameras with light meters. Enjoy not having to worry about charging a battery ever again.
But if you absolutely must go digital, the best simple camera out there is probably the Fujifilm X100. It has no interchangeable lenses, but the quality is undeniable and the settings so easy to deal with that it’s almost like going back to film — without all the costs of processing.
To be clear, any one of these cameras can pretty much do any of these jobs. But as there are so many options these days, it’s okay to think in terms of specialties. Each of the cameras listed are incredible pieces of machinery that you can shoot confidently with — so go ahead and buy, feel great about it and get shooting!