Every now and then a friend of mine or someone on social media fires across the message "Hey Sam, I'm looking to get a new camera, what should I buy?". Now like most open ended questions there is a suitably open ended answer. I am a firm believer that a camera is a tool for creating photos rather than some bit of wizardry with a feature hidden inside to create outstanding perfect photos. With this now in mind you need to narrow down your parameters to something more tangible than "a camera" so the first question I usually ask is what are you looking to do with this camera.
What do you want to do with it?
As you start looking at different camera (and later lenses) you need to consider what kind of demands you are going to place on it. For example someone that is shooting pictures of friends on holiday in the sun is going to have very different (and significantly cheaper) requirements than a pro shooting sports indoors in the dark.
Criteria To Consider:
Daytime or night shooting - Are the majority of your photos going to be in bright daylight or do you want to be able to shoot in a church for example without flash?
Speed - Do you want to shoot sports with lots of moving action and want a camera that sounds like a machine gun?
Insert stupid camera nerd video...
Size and weight - Are you happy carrying around the sort of thing you see on sports photographers or would you rather slip your camera into your shorts and be on your way?
Once you've considered the above the next thing to consider is budget. Now my experience has been mainly with DSLRs (from cheap up to relatively expensive) so that is what most of my knowledge base is built around. As I stated earlier i think of cameras as tools and base them solely on their ability to perform tasks up to the required standard. If you are looking at point and shoots everything is included in the one price whereas if you have the ability to change lenses this is where things get complicated. I would always suggest spending money on good glass (what we photographers call lenses). Lenses will last you a loooong time whereas you might upgrade the camera body over time. I still own lenses I used with my first SLR despite that being buried and dusted a decade ago.
The Big Two
Canon vs Nikon..which is better?..Honestly I don't care, they both make amazing cameras and my top tip is to go for the manufacturer that someone you know uses. This gives you the ability to share lenses and equipment if the need arises. I shoot canon and I've encouraged my friends and family to go to canon just so that when they need help I can tell them very quickly and easily how to solve their issue. If you hand me a nikon I can work it out but it takes a while to get used to the new configuration and that just gets in the way of taking photos (remember you've got the camera to take photos right?)
There are other manufacturers..apparently there are other manufacturers. Honestly I'm sure they make great cameras but the catalog of lenses available for Nikon and Canon far outstrips the other brands. All the pros I know who use these things day in, day out, use Canon or Nikon.
But what about Sony?
Sony are very much the "trendy" brand at the moment (apart from Leica but they've always been cool so not really a trend..) and they have shaken up the market quite a bit. At least once a week I see a youtube video or a blog post about "Why I ditched Canon (or any other brand) and switched to Sony"..
My Take – I first bought a Sony A7s and that camera intrigued me but wasn’t the complete item I needed. A year later I swapped it for the a7rii..and…WHAT A CAMERA! There is so much I love about the A7rii, the resolution provides amazing detail (this is a double edged sword tho as file sizes get a bit ridiculous). I love how Sony chuck a bunch of features in the camera and see what people do with them. There is the option for little apps that people make (one I’ve discovered let’s you fake long exposures by stitching a bunch of photos together in-camera, whilst I’d prefer to do this manually I don’t always have the right gear with me to do so and the results this little app produce are really quite good). Wifi! The fact that my Canon 1DX Mkii doesn’t have inbuilt wifi just straight up pisses me off. They could have put it in there and they didn’t. For me I honestly see Sony as my future, they are churning out amazing lenses to fill the gaps in their lineup all the time. It is the camera I grab if I want to take some personal photos and it’s the camera I grab for the highest end stuff that isn’t action based. Definitely give these cameras a look. I would like to add that the A7rii has some funky focusing that isn't in the other models and because of this it is the ONLY one that works properly with non-sony lenses. This was quite a big thing for me as I can actually use my Canon glass properly finally (altho i see myself getting the Sony equivalents over time to take advantage of the video abilities and other functions). It isn't a perfect camera tho, it's write speed is atrocious, you can't review an image you've taken straight away because there is a small delay, doesn't sound like much but beyond annoying. You also can't move the focus point around very quickly, a knob like on the Canons would be much appreciated.
Reason Number 2..Toughness - I could use my 5D to hammer a nail into the ground in a downpour and on the upswing turn around and shoot a car flying past..it would not skip a beat (the pro bodies are even tougher). This allows me to stop worrying about my camera and get the shots i need regardless of the conditions. I try to be careful but accidents happen sometimes and more often than not my dslr is still working perfectly afterwards and able to complete the task at hand (i think i breathed on my a7s and it chipped the screen).
Sensor Size - Sensor size is something you might hear photographers talking about. Personally for me sensor size trumps megapixels every single time.
The sensor in a digital camera is basically the "film" that captures the light and processes it. In the diagram above you can see the difference between a "Full Frame" 35mm DSLR (like the Canon 5D) and a point and shoot like the Canon IXUS 275 HS which has a sensor very similar in size to the 1/2.5" box. When manufacturers start talking about Megapixels they are saying your camera has x number of million pixels crammed into the sensor. A small sensor is going to have a harder time dealing with this than the same amount of data spread over a larger surface. Basically I have one rule, get the biggest sensor you can that still fits all the other requirements.
So after talking about cameras for a bit and probably not actually helping you distinguish between diddly squat I've got some recommendations in different categories.
Point and Shoot Cameras:
I love the Sony RX100 cameras because they are jam packed with all the fun features and Sony generally tries to fit large sensors into smaller bodies and prices range from £265 for the Mk i up to £815 for the latest greatest (Mk V)(As you go up you are paying for more incrementally better lenses but mainly for the video functions like 4k in the top camera) Link below:
At the moment I don't really recommend bridge cameras because if you look at the sensor sizes available vs everything else you are more likely to be better off with a DSLR and a decent all round lens for similar money and much better image quality.
This class of camera has come on leaps and bounds in the last few years, mainly spearheaded by Sony cramming it's massive sensors into the tinniest bodies it can imagine and then updating them at a serious rate of knots (listen up Canon and Nikon!). These cameras come right out of the bat with features like wifi for sending pictures to your phone for social media (or a quick backup as I recently used on holiday) and controlling all the features right from your palm. The lens selection is ever growing and these chaps are still small enough to not be an effort to lug around. My first pick is the Sony A7ii which jams a full frame sensor and 5-axis stabilisation (helps removes camera shake) into a very small package for £1200 (not cheap but the quality is very high for a small camera). You can get the earlier model (A7) for much cheaper which retains most of the features apart from the stabilisation.
If you want to go all out and still remain in the mirrorless system you have to look at the Sony A7rii that just came out. 42MP, in camera stabilisation and a full frame sensor but it comes at a price of £2600 (absolutely phenomenal camera tho but probably overkill for most people)
This is the realm of the big boys, the stuff you see hanging from every professional photographers neck, those illusive white "Pro" lenses.
Price: Around £500
In this price bracket you have to be a bit careful as you are going to be sacrificing something. The first thing to suffer at this price is the lenses as good zoom lenses are a bit more expensive. What you are able to do is pick up a good prime lens (has a fixed focal length aka no zoom feature but kicks the arse of the standard kit lens you get with the cheaper cameras and is great for portraits if you stand a little back. You can pick up a Canon 750D which is better in low light than the 1200D and has some more features such as better focusing for £495 with the 18-55mm lens (good for landscapes and people photos). Due to these cameras being "Crop" sensor bodies you get a multiplication factor if you put a normal "full frame" lens on them. This means that putting a 50mm f1.8 lens comes out at roughly 80mm which is great for portraits and a bit more zoom along with allowing you to throw the background out of focus. This comes out to £563.
Price: Around £1000
Once your budget goes up a bit more I would immediately suggest picking up the Canon EF-S 18-200mm IS lens. For £355 you get a lens that will fit pretty much all your needs (I wack this on a camera when i go skiing). It goes from pretty wide to zoomed and has stabilisation to help you hand hold shots at slower shutter speeds. You could combine this with the Canon 750D (body only) for £841 or step up the camera body again to the 70d which comes with better focusing again and the ability to shoot up to 7fps which is great for action. These two together come to £1083
Price: Around £1500
The only thing I would change at this price point is upgrade the body to the new Canon 7D Mkii which comes with a leap in focusing ability and the ability to shoot even faster (10fps which is frankly ridiculous). I would still use the same zoom until you find you need something more specific. The cost of the pair is £1475
In this price bracket for Canon I would go straight for the 5D MKiii, it's what I shoot with and it's bloody amazing. You have now stepped up to a full frame camera body and because of this you can't use the previously stated zoom any more. You can get the 5D Mkiii with a 24-105mm f4 lens for £2520 which will look after most of your needs but after that it get's expensive pretty quickly. The 5D has now been replaced by the MKiv but i don't really see the need to spring the extra cash for the newer camera. If budget allows i'd go for the 4 because of features such as wifi and better focusing etc. I'd also be looking seriously at the a7rii (much slower camera so not really a run and gun weapon).
And the rest..
Depending on how serious your photography is going to be after this point you will be looking at multiple zoom lenses that let in lots of light and give you that out of focus background that everyone loves (you can get this with primes for much cheaper but lose the flexibility). My staples are the Canon 24-70mm f2.8 (the lower the number f the more blurry you can make the background and the darker the environment you can shoot in) and the 70-200mm f2.8, I will not go anywhere without them.