Know Yourself: How to Buy Your First Real Camera

If you’re buying your first real camera, then ask yourself these questions.

How does one buy a camera these days? Do you still even care about megapixels? These are essential questions for any budding photographer. Of course, there are tons of professional features. But most people who buy cameras these days are hobbyists. And those hobbyists care about the things that pros get simply because they want them. They don’t need them. In fact, you don’t even need a real camera–but you buy one because it’s your passion. So if you’re considering buying a new camera, then check out these questions you should ask yourself.

How Patient Are You?

This is a two-pronged question. First off, it could relate to how long of a wait you have until the successor to the current generation comes out. Luckily, there are tons of rumor sites that report on this. If you want to wait, then that’s your decision. I always personally say that the best time to buy a new camera is now if you’re really passionate about it. If you have one already, then stick with what you’ve got until you feel the upgrade is well worth it.

The other part of the question has to do with how patient you are. Some cameras are more complicated than others. Some are more targeted to newbies than others. Some have lots of big tech in them, while various cameras focus on specific features more than others. Maybe you hate lots of buttons because you came from the touchscreen side of life. But different cameras have different learning curves. Modern point and shoot cameras and most interchangeable lens cameras have an Auto mode on them. While some folks will hate on us for saying this, don’t buy a new camera if you’re going to spend your first six months with it shooting in Auto mode. Considering all the tech that’s in your phone, there’s no point. If you’re going to buy a camera, you ideally should use it for what it’s capable of doing. There are tons of free videos on YouTube to teach you about this as well as many a blog post for you to read about how they work.

Oh, and you’re going to have to read the manual.

As a photography and camera instructor, I’ve seen people want to take their cameras and throw them right out the window on top of never wanting to read the manuals. Because of their impatience and sometimes the complexity of the manuals, they get frustrated and never learn to use their camera to its fullest potential. Further, they never get the most out of the money they spent. If you don’t have a real willingness to learn about your camera, don’t buy a more advanced one.

What Do You Shoot/Want to Shoot?

Ask any hobbyist that’s just getting into buying a real camera, and they’ll say, “Anything.” It’s never quite clear what they want to shoot partially because they don’t have a photographic identity yet. What this translates into is some cameras being better for sports while others giving you all the details in that gorgeous sunset right in front of you. Here’s how you find out what you want to shoot with it: go through your daily routine. And when you think about each and every part of your life, consider whether or not you imagine a camera being around your neck. Is there a camera around your neck, chest, or in your hand? When would there be one? And what’s in front of you that you want to photograph? Do you want to get into street photography? Are you enamored with buildings? Do you want to shoot portraits?

When you go to buy the camera, let your customer service rep know what you’ll be using the camera for. A good rep can help you.

How Will You Use it?

Battery life is essential for your camera, but so too is another significant factor: weather sealing. What are you doing with this camera? In general, how careful are you with the products you use? Let’s put it this way: look at your phone. Is there a screen protector? Does the protector have a crack? If so, I’d probably spring for either a camera that doesn’t have interchangeable lenses or one that has weather sealing. Make sure that the lens has weather sealing too.

Let me share a horror story with you: years ago, I was leading a photo walk with the Reddit NYC group in Brooklyn. One man got off the train and pulled his camera with no body cap out of his jacket. Then from his other pocket, he pulled out the lens with no mount cap. The entire time he complained that his images were blurry or hazy, and he didn’t want to do anything about it. Please, don’t be this guy.

Who Will be Using it?

Is it just you using this camera? Or is this a camera meant for everyone in the family? If it’s for everyone in the family to use, then consider everyone’s learning curves. Before my parents got divorced, everyone was technically literate except for my mother. My sister, father, and I would all understand the tech in front of us and adapt to it. My mom wouldn’t. When they divorced, I was the only tech-savvy one of the children left. My dad remained very savvy. But even into her last days, my mother couldn’t figure out how to use an HP printer. I’ve seen folks complain about it, but they’re really not difficult to work with. Cameras too! Just dedicate yourself to it, or sell it off after you’ve bought it.

What Can it Do to Help Me?

This is a bit of a complicated one as some cameras have GPS built-in, others have full Wifi and Bluetooth capabilities, yet a few let you do things like retouch your skin. This is why it’s so important to try a camera out in person before you buy it. It’s a personal experience.