I’ve had many discussions with people who want to learn photography but have no idea where to start.
I admit that it is very easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of photographic stuff that you can buy. Stepping into a camera store can completely overload your senses. But honestly, you don’t need that much to start learning photography. You need a camera body. And a lens. That’s it.
You need a camera body. And a lens. THAT’S IT.
Let’s break it down:
This is the part of the camera that records your image. It can be film or digital, but I would suggest getting a digital camera to start with. Film is a niche area these days and you don’t want to be paying for film + processing when you’re just learning.
There are TONS of camera brands to choose from. At the beginner end of the spectrum, there is no one brand that is better than others, despite what other photographers may tell you. That said, it’s useful to look ahead when considering what brand to start with. Although right now you’ll be starting with one camera and one lens, you might – over time – add to your collection. Changing your mind and starting from scratch with a new brand is a very expensive exercise, so people generally stay with the one brand for the long term.
I personally recommend one of the ‘Big Two’ brands – Nikon or Canon. In my experience, they have the best after market support, and the greatest range of both proprietary and 3rd party lenses and accessories available on the market.
When deciding on a brand, it’s worth visiting your local camera store rather than looking online. Ask to try lots of different camera bodies. Hold the camera in your hand. Does it feel comfortable? Try to manipulate the buttons and dials. Can you reach them without straining? Hold the camera to your eye. Can you reach the shutter release button easily without looking?
Try holding the camera with a lens on it (preferably the lens you intend on buying). Use your left hand under the camera body and/or lens to support the weight. Do you feel balanced, or do you feel like your wrist is tipping one way or the other? Does anything hurt? Is the camera a good size for your hand? If the camera is too small, you’ll find your fingers tripping over each other. If it’s too large, you’ll have difficulty holding it comfortably.
Check out the menu system. Is it intuitive?
Each camera manufacturer does things slightly differently. You will likely find that one brand just feels better to you than the others, even if you can’t put your finger on exactly why. If you get this feeling – trust it. That’s the camera brand for you.
Next, you’ll need some glass (a lens). This is the part of the camera system that takes the light rays, and focusses them into the image that the camera will record.
Most experts will suggest starting with a 50mm (also known as a ‘standard’ or ‘nifty fifty’) lens. The 50mm lens has been the gold standard of lenses since… well, since forever. It’s the one that most closely replicates what we see with our eyes. If you have around $300 to spend, get a 50mm. However realistically, a single 50mm will start to feel limiting fairly quickly. If you have a little more to spend – up to $1000 perhaps – a zoom lens in the range of 24-105mm will give you a more versatile system.
Here’s where my advice will probably contradict the advice given to you at the camera store. Stay away from kit lenses. There I said it. And I’m not sorry. Kit lenses are the ones that come bundled with a camera as part of a beginner kit. They are usually the cheapest and dodgiest lenses available, bundled together to make the kit seem like a fabulous bargain.
Instead, buy the camera body and a lens separately (or make a DIY kit if the store will let you).
You should be spending most of your money on the lens.
The lens is where most of the image quality comes from and it’s worth paying extra for it, even it it means scrimping on the camera body.
Every 2 years or so, each of the major camera manufacturers will bring out a new camera body, making your prized possession suddenly obsolete. However, they rarely upgrade lenses. And even when they do, there’s nothing “wrong” with the old one. Many of us (ahem) dinosaur photographers are still using the same lenses that we used with our film cameras all those years ago and still getting great results from them. Yes, I am that ancient. Suffice to say – look after your lens and it will last you a lifetime.
look after your lens and it will last you a lifetime
I know that lenses can be expensive. Trust me, I know!
An easy way to save money on lenses is to buy them used. Understandably, many people are reluctant to buy camera gear used… who knows where it’s been or what knocks it has received? For this reason, when I buy used gear I only buy from reputable dealers who provide a full warranty. KEH is my favourite used camera online store. They have a fabulous reputation and everything I’ve bought from them has been spot on. Plus you save a ton of money compared to new prices.
The only other thing to buy might be a bag or case to carry the camera in. Get something fairly sturdy with generous padding. It doesn’t have to be expensive.
For now, don’t buy filters, a flash, cable releases, or other lenses or attachments. You’ll just end up confusing yourself and your gear will stay in it’s bag, unused. Keep it clean and simple and start shooting. Shoot everything and anything. Pretty soon, you’ll start to gravitate to particular subjects or situations that interest you most. Only then, when you’ve reached the limit of the gear you own, should you consider buying anything else. Your wallet and your conscience will thank you.