7 Questions That Will Help You Decide Which Camera To Buy

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People often ask me for advice on which camera to buy. Most often they expect me to say, “Buy a Nikon” because that’s what I use. But that is not what I tell them.

If you were to ask me which camera you should buy I would first ask you a series of questions. From the answers, you give me I would guide you towards either a compact camera, mirrorless, or DSLR. So if you aren’t sure which camera to get, ask yourself these seven questions before you go shopping.

1. Why do you want a camera?

Doesn’t your phone take good enough photos? I’m not joking, this is a serious question.

Phone - 7 Questions That Will Help You Decide Which Camera To Buy

I know if you are asking questions about buying a new camera you’ve already given some thought to the decision and are reasonably serious about it. I’m looking for an answer telling me how your phone is failing you in your endeavors to make photos. I want to know what you are hoping a camera will do that your phone cannot. Your answer will help me guide you towarwd the type of camera that will best suit you and your needs.

2. How and when will you use your camera?

The answer to this question will help determine what size camera to buy. Recently I’ve had two friends who are embarking on a once in a lifetime traveling experience ask me about what camera to buy. Both were thinking of buying DSLRs, expecting that those big cameras would give them the best results. But, I encouraged them each not to buy a DSLR because they are big and heavy!

It’s often said that the best camera is the one you have with you. If your camera is reasonably small you are more likely to want to carry it everywhere with you while traveling. Read more on this subject here: Must Have Gear for Travel Photography Newbies.

Compact travel camera - 7 Questions That Will Help You Decide Which Camera To Buy

If you want to mainly use a camera to photograph products for your online store or to take pics of your garden I would be more likely to suggest you look at DSLRs (depending on the answers you give to some of the following questions).

The size and weight of a camera must be seriously considered because it’s no good buying a camera you find too big and heavy to carry with you. You will not use it often and will be disappointed with your purchase.

3. What will you use the photos for?

Enthusiast - 7 Questions That Will Help You Decide Which Camera To Buy

Your answer to this question will ascertain the level of image quality you will need. These days most people want photos to share on social media. If this is you, then you will not need a camera with the maximum megapixels available! Most compact cameras these days will produce images of high enough pixel quality for social media posting.

Producing prints, photo books or photos to sell online will require a camera with a larger sensor. For people who enjoy time in front of their computers post-processing photos, more megapixels and a larger sensors in DSLR and mirrorless models will be an advantage. Which leads me to the next question.

4. Do you take time to post-process your photos?

Full frame dslr - 7 Questions That Will Help You Decide Which Camera To Buy

If you enjoy taking the time to do some post-processing on your photos and want to maintain high technical results, this starts to narrow down your camera options. Generally, cameras with larger sensors will produce photos that hold up to more post-processing. For example, a full frame sensor (36mm X 24mm) containing 24 megapixels will allow more post-processing before the image starts to deteriorate than a smaller 24 megapixel micro four thirds sensor (17.3mm X 13mm.)

You want to have confidence that your image quality will remain intact as you apply some color balancing and filters or more advanced post-processing techniques.

5. How big are your hands?

Small hands - 7 Questions That Will Help You Decide Which Camera To Buy

Seriously! If you have small hands you will find it difficult to use a large camera. If you have big hands, you will find it more difficult to use a small camera. You will need to consider the layout of the buttons and dials on a camera so you are comfortable using it.

Some camera manufactures manage to design small cameras which have well configured layouts and are easy to use, others do not seem to do such a good job. Before you buy, go hold the cameras you have short listed in your hands and see how they feel.

Small hands - 7 Questions That Will Help You Decide Which Camera To Buy

6. What’s your budget?

This is an obvious consideration for most people, but you are best to consider it along with these other questions, not separately. Sometimes budget limits your choice considerably. Sometimes the answers to other questions will lead you to purchase a camera and spend less than you may have thought initially. I think both my friends who asked for travel camera advice found this to be the case.

You may find a high-end compact camera with a one-inch sensor will give you more pleasure and provide high enough quality photos than a DSLR … because it’s small and you will take it with you everywhere.

Compact happy - 7 Questions That Will Help You Decide Which Camera To Buy

7. Do you have a preferred brand?

I do have a preferred brand of camera. But I will never push people to buy the brand I use just because I like it. If you are already familiar with a camera brand and are happy with it, that is a good reason to stick with it.

Dslr - 7 Questions That Will Help You Decide Which Camera To Buy

Camera manufacturers often configure their cameras to feel and function the same with each upgrade they produce. I like it when I purchase a new camera that has the same feel in my hand as the one from which I’m upgrading. It makes it quicker and easier to start using the camera intuitively.

If you do not have a preferred brand I encourage you to stick with one of the major brands that fit within your budget.

Conclusion

Doing some careful research will help you make a decision to be able to buy a camera you’ll be satisfied with, one that will hopefully last you a long time. Using your new camera frequently and enrolling in a course or taking a few workshops will help you up-skill more quickly and gain more enjoyment from your purchase.

What other questions might you ask yourself before making a decision on which camera to buy? Do you have any other tips or advice for photography newbies just starting out? Please share in the comments section below.

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Kevin Landwer-Johan is a professional photographer, photography teacher, and filmmaker. He began his career in newspaper photography in the late 1980s and has freelanced, covering many different genres of photography ever since. He prefers photographing portraits and doing documentary style work. Please take a look at our Indiegogo campaign for some great deals we're offering on our online and in-person photography workshops. Kevin is offering DPS readers a generous discount on his popular online course “Ten Top Tips - Be More Creative With Your Camera”. Click Here to enroll for just $10. Learn more about the photography workshops Kevin and his wife run in Thailand.

  • Pete Mueller

    A valuable tip I’ve run across (maybe here on DPS?) is to consider whether you have another family member, close friend, etc., using a particular brand… especially if they’re a more accomplished photographer, they can provide a lot of help and instruction in your learning experience if you buy a camera (DSLR, vs Compact, etc.) of the same type/brand.

  • Kevin Lj

    Thanks for that tip Pete. Having the same brand as a a family member or friend could also mean you can share lenses and other accessories.

  • Brian Nickson

    As someone who is in his seventies but who is still trying to improve his photography, (and enjoy it) I recently upgraded my camera. I chose a micro four thirds system with lightness in mind but because I now have mild arthritis in my hands and a slight tremor, both a substantial grip and in-camera stabilisation were important considerations for me. The latest Olympus model could have been specifically made for my requirements as it perfectly fits the bill.

  • Kevin Lj

    Hello Brian. It sounds like you have just the right camera! I recently used a friend’s new Olympus and was very impressed with both the feel of it in my hands (I’m used to a Nikon D800) and the vibration reduction. Great to know you are always wanting to progress in learning new ways to improve and enjoy your photography!

  • This post really helped me to choose what to buy
    Thanks

  • Kevin Lj

    Great. Thanks for telling me 🙂 I would love to know which camera you bought and why you chose it?

  • Lisa Weiss

    I’d appreciate any input on a camera and lens for doing table-top macro, photographing objects. I want to be able to create prints for an ongoing installation. I’ve been looking at the Canon 5DS and the 5DSR. For lens I’m considering the Canon 100mm F2.8L or even the Zeiss if I can get one used. I do want to use the camera for other projects in the future, and am wondering if a 5D Mark IV would be a better all-around choice? Open to other camera suggestions as well. Thank you.

  • Yes, it’s a real pain when you see a fantastic photograph and they say, “I took it on my phone”!
    However, a year or so ago, I took the plunge and bought a Nikon 3200. Why? And this is the big question, as this article underlines.

    I am, for want of a better description, an artist. I like the way things look. I want narrative and drama and reality. I wanted control and wanted to master, eventually, what is an utterly fascinating art.

    But here is the catch: it is very easy to start collecting bits of kit. And then finding that this bit of kit does not go with that bit of kit. I therefore advise anybody who is starting out, having read this article, to think very very carefully about the type of picture they want to take. And post processing; useful but a minefield. I have seen some putative “professional” shots that make real people look like dolls. So I keep away from it unless the subject needs a special “look”, but I do shoot always in raw, just in case.

    I am on a strict budget, but my tip for people interested in taking pictures of people, who want to get ahead is to get a reflector with multiple options – gold, silver, white, black etc. They cost next to nothing and probably represent the best leap forward in results for your currency than any other item you can buy.

  • Kevin Lj

    Hi Lisa. I’ve been a Nikon user for years, so am not so familiar with the Canon models you mention. I shoot with a full frame Nikon D800 and use a 105mm f2.8 macro. I am sure the quality will be very similar to the Canon 100mm f2.8. I also have an old 55mm micro which produces great macro shots. It might pay you to look at macro/micro lenses around this focal length (Nikon and Canon produce 60mm macro lenses)

    For a camera it can really depend on how much you want to spend. The more budget you can afford the better sensor and ease of manual control you will have. Full frame sensors generally provide superior image quality and allow more manipulation in post processing stage before the image looses integrity.

  • Lisa Weiss

    Kevin, thank you so much for taking the time to respond to me. Great tips, and I appreciate it very much. Hope you have a nice week. Thank you for your site.

  • Richard

    Have a sony rx10lll, 28-600mm—-considering going back to changeable lens camera such as sony A2 ll, with 16-35 for a good wide angle for better landscape photos—enjoy bird photo as well and have nikon p900 with huge zoom—-suggestions?

  • Kevin Lj

    Hi Richard. Hopefully my article will have given you some good direction and help you choose an new camera. Sorry, I am not able to follow all the latest camera/lens releases enough to be able to recommend a specific model or brand for you.

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