Content creators and digital cameras are a long-held match made in heaven. With the right camera, you can hone your craft, improve your image quality, and unearth your unique perspective as a photographer.
It feels like there’s a new, shiny new piece of camera equipment rolling out every few months, but that doesn’t mean the newest, trendiest gear is the best choice. The perfect camera for you might be a tried-and-true model, but you won’t know until you dive into all the details.
There’s so much that goes into the decision-making process when you’re in the market for a digital camera, especially if you’re shooting for your business or your passion projects. Professional photographers know that the gear you choose can make or break you and your reputation as a creative.
We put together this guide of things we wish we’d known when we were starting out. Read this before adding a new digital camera to your cart.
What Should You Consider When Buying a Digital Camera?
Before you start shopping, you’ll need to know the essentials. Here are the most important facets to consider when purchasing a digital camera:
Types of Cameras: DSLR vs. Mirrorless
DSLR cameras, which stand for "digital single lens reflex," are some of the most popular cameras in the market. Here's how a digital SLR works: light travels through the lens to a mirror, which sends the image to a prism or image sensor when you press the shutter release.
On the other hand, mirrorless cameras don't have a reflex mirror. You might see them referred to as DSLM, or "digital single lens mirrorless." Instead, they use an electronic viewfinder or digital display system, which can be great for shooting video. They're lighter weight and less bulky than DSLRs, but there are more limitations in the kinds of lenses available with mirrorless cameras.
Mirrorless and DSLR cameras both have crop sensors and full frame sensors. The rule of thumb for sensors is: the bigger the sensor, the better your images will be.
There are also two key varieties of sensors: crop sensors and full frame. While full frame sensors are the same dimensions as 35mm film, crop sensors are smaller and designed to tighten your field of view as you shoot. Full frame sensors tend to complement wide-angle photography, particularly when you’re shooting landscapes. Crop sensors can zero in on details that make nature and wildlife photography pop.
Budget: Starter Camera vs. Investment Camera
Are you investing in a camera for the long haul, or looking for a starter camera to hold you over while you discover your style? That will influence the price range that's possible for you.
Cameras under $1k are considered entry level, but professional kits can range anywhere from $2-3k and above, and a lot of pricing depends on the specs of the camera. Keep in mind that doesn’t take into account lenses and other accessories like bags, filters, and stabilizers.
Capabilities: Video vs. Photography
Most cameras today can shoot for both video and photography, so you don’t necessarily have to choose between one or the other! Some people will only use the video functionality. Some may only use still photography. We really like the versatility. Even smartphones like the iPhone and Galaxy or point-and-shoot cameras, also called compact cameras, are equipped with 4k video functionality these days.
Once you’ve decided on those three essential elements, you can start to consider brands, camera size, and extras.
Brands To Know
Some people start with a camera brand and become loyalists for the rest of their lives. Others want to try out a little bit of everything until they find "the one." Here are a few of the big players:
Canon and Nikon lead the way in the DSLR space, particularly with camera models like the Nikon D35000 and the Canon 90D. In general, Sony A6000 and a Canon EOS M50 are two of the best-rated mirrorless cameras.
You could classify certain Canon and Nikon models as entry level camera types simply because there's so much information out there on how beginners can make the most of this gear.
While brands like Blackmagic are newer to the professional camera world, they're pioneers in their own way; they recently launched their first 12k video camera.
Size Things Up
The question we always ask—how much can you get from a smaller, more agile camera?
Point-and-shoot cameras tend to be on the lower end of the price ranges for digital cameras, and they're far more lightweight than your average DSLR. A professional-grade Canon DSLR can weigh up to three pounds. Compared with the 1-1.5 pound weight of compact cameras and mirrorless cameras, that adds up and creates quite a workout.
Let's face it—lugging a camera and gear around gets tiresome and heavy, particularly if you have helpful extras like a tripod, camera stabilizer, and additional lenses. Today there's also a new emphasis on waterproof and heavy duty options from Pelican cases to shockproof backpacks. Still, you're lugging around a lot of equipment on the average shoot day.
Don't forget: what's on the inside matters too. Do your research on memory cards and storage. For example, the Sony Alpha a6400 can record approximately 30 minutes of video footage. Keep in mind what you’re shooting, if it’s a live event that or podcast you where you would need a continuous take with a longer duration, you might need to find either an external recording solution or find a camera that’s classified exclusively as a video recorder. Don’t worry there’s a quiz at the end of this section will help pair you with the right option!
Check Out the Bells & Whistles
The fancy features on a camera shouldn't be the first thing you consider, but sometimes these bells and whistles get you excited about a particular type of camera.
What sets the camera apart from its competitors?
Does the mirrorless camera that caught your eye come equipped with stabilization?
What's the battery life like? For example, a DSLR can take more photos with its battery life compared to a mirrorless camera.
Don't Forget About Editing
It's rare to get the perfect shot without any editing whatsoever. A key part of your photography budget is editing software, which can quickly get pricey.
Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere Pro are two of the most popular for video editing, and they often come bundled into a monthly subscription. For example, a subscription to Adobe Premiere Pro comes up to $19.99 per month. If you’re interested in photography, Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom is the standard for most, and the two come bundled for $9.99/mo. However, we should also add that Adobe offers 20+ creative desktop and mobile apps including Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Premiere Pro, and Acrobat for $59.99/mo with an annual subscription.