What camera should I buy? DSLR advice that won’t be obsolete in 3 months


It happens every three months. A friend, family member, colleague, acquaintance or the dude washing his hands beside me in the bathroom asks me, “I’m just getting into photography, what entry level DSLR would you recommend?” I’ve been giving the exact same response for 6 years – so I figured it’s about time I publish my answer. Please don’t take offence if the link I shared led you here, if I wanted to be a dick I’d tell you about this thing called “google” but wouldn’t do that because I despise that answer. I’ve approached many people with similar google-able questions because I wanted more as I’d much rather cut through the information overload and get the lowdown from a verified source I respect. I assume you want the same.

I’m too lazy to dig beyond the first page of google let alone click on any of the links that pop up when you search “what camera should I buy”, “entry level DSLR” or the like. I did read each of the listings and it appears they ALL aim to tell you WHAT camera to buy. Those affiliate links pay their bills after all. The problem with this approach is twofold, one it doesn’t really ask any of the important questions, two, all those recommendations will become mostly irrelevant within a year when all the recommended camera makes and models are obsolete.

So, here’s the Greg Samborski Photography guide to buying your first camera. I am in no way claiming it’s the right way, and certainly not the only way. It’s just the way I would do it if I could do it all again – looking back with 6+ years of industry experience. Ask yourself the following questions below:

What is it I want that my current camera can’t do?

You might be saying, “what camera Greg?”. Your PHONE camera! These things are truly AMAZA-BALLZ these days. Back in the decade of Motorola flip phones, Samsung sliders and even pre-iPhone 4, the phone camera was a little more than a last resort. I carried my entry level Canon 350D Rebel everywhere with me. Today’s integrated cellphone cameras ALMOST outperform that camera in every way. They shoot bigger images, faster and still offer the most pleasurable viewing and sharing experience. So, what is it you DON’T LIKE about your phone’s camera? Seriously, take a few minutes to write down what it is that’s bothering you. Below is a list of common phone complaints that you, after reading, might just be convinced are your own.

So here are the common complaints about phone cameras:
– My shutter is slow, it doesn’t react quick enough
– I want that really blurry background effect, you know that professional cinematic look, I think it’s called bokeh
– My image size/resolution is too low, I want bigger images to edit, share and print
– Under low light my photos come out really blurry or look grainy
– I want to create photos where lights go streaky like those city shots with moving cars or star trails
– It’s hard to see what I’m taking a photo of in the bright sun
– I need to look more professional, I can’t show up to a wedding with a smart phone

All of the above are legitimate reasons to want a newer, bigger, better, fancier camera but don’t assume that just because you start lugging around a DSLR that you will somehow be a better photographer. This is akin to you buying a helicopter so you can get to work faster. Yes, the helicopter is a far more advanced transportation tool but there is a huge learning curve to flying one and at the beginning you may actually be slower/worse than before. It takes time to master a new tool and many are shocked to discover it’s HARD WORK!

If I haven’t talked you out of spending your hard earned money on a new camera then let’s move on to the next question:

What do I want to CAPTURE with my camera?

Maybe you started your own line of chicken bone necklaces and you need to get stellar detailed shots for your new Esty page (is Esty still a thing?). The camera needed for that job is vastly different from the one that backpacker hoping to fund his world travels through ironic street photography requires. The first is essentially a controlled studio environment where size of camera and lens don’t really matter whereas the backpacker requires something far more compact and discreet with good lowlight and battery life.

If you’re anything like me (and the majority of civilization) you’re thinking “I don’t know, I want to capture a little bit of everything, kids, vacations, sunsets, food, selfies, cool cappuccino art…” I know it’s super hard to narrow it down. There are so many types of cameras, I just can’t cover them all nor can I honestly say I even have the knowledge to talk about them. I’ve spent the majority of my time with DSLRs so that is what I can speak for.

What brand of DSLR should I buy?

The best answer I ever heard to this question is “whichever one most of your friends have”. The fact of the matter is this question is kind of like a Kia Morning driver asking, “which luxury car should I get, the Mercedes, Bentley or Audi?” The fact is all those cars are amazing and will outperform your Kia Morning in virtually every way. You buy the brand most of your friends have so you have someone to turn to when you have questions and want to borrow gear.

If no one you know, no friends, family, co workers or facebook aquaintances have DSLRs then it pretty much comes down to:
-whichever brand’s service centre is closest to you
-whichever brand feels most ergonomic in your hand
-the the color and font you like best

I can offer a little more advice based on my experience in the industry (note this is based on info as of December 2017)

If no one you know, no friends, family, co-workers or Facebook acquaintances have DSLRs then it pretty much comes down to:
– Whichever brand’s service center is closest to you
– Whichever brand feels most ergonomic in your hand
– The color and font you like best

I can offer a little more advice based on my experience in the industry (note this is based on info as of December 2017)

Canon and Nikon, still the heavyweights of the DSLR world though losing ground fast, both have a stellar reputation for rugged build quality, outstanding service network and wide ranging, and a high-quality selection of lenses.

-CANON: Many like the so called “canon color” the glass and camera produce. Most beloved by sports shooters. Favored by most videographers over Nikon. My primary system since the start. There’s only one pronunciation unlike Nikon.

-NIKON: One lens system which means every lens they ever made will fit. Bodies are usually cheaper than Canon, but lenses are typically more expensive. Most beloved by nature shooters.

-SONY: Comparably new to the DSLR game but they are the ones changing it putting the two heavyweights on their toes. Tons of innovative features including in body image stabilization. Many complain about Sony’s frustrating menu system, poor build quality, less than satisfactory customer service, and selection of native lenses. There’s a reason why Canon and Nikon still makeup the majority of professional cameras at major events because they are the most reliable. On the flip side the Sony A7 series is already a legendary video camera in the eyes of videographers due to outstanding low light performance and video features such as D-log and Zebras. I tried the Sony system with Sony glass for a few days and I didn’t like the ergonomics or the files.

-FUJI: Really growing it’s following fast. Outstanding color reproduction. Fuji typically lays the camera control out like they were on film cameras which makes controlling the camera very easy and intuitive. Personally, I find the controls too small for my big hands though. Fuji does have build quality issues, my colleagues who own many systems have all had far more visits to the Fuji service centers than to the Canon and Nikon ones. Fuji packs a ton of quality into a tiny, lightweight package. Two of my colleagues have made Fuji their primary system after shooting Canon and Nikon for years. Their bags usually weigh 1/4 of mine! Personally, I just couldn’t find the Fuji love and my XT-1 mostly collects dust. I don’t like how the camera feels in my hand, the crop sensor and the plastic-y image quality when shooting above ISO 800.


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