“What camera should I buy?”. I have been asked this question often. And I am sorry, I have yet to find the perfect answer. The right one probably is: “I don´t know.”. But being a polite person that I am - well most of the time, I know that this answer won´t be sufficient to most people. So I will try for a different response here.
First of all, though I understand where the question comes from. And I feel with everybody asking because I have been there myself when starting out. You are willing to invest into camera gear. You have a vague idea what you would like to use it for. You can name a bunch of images that you like and would like to be able to reproduce with your own gear. Of course, you want the best for your buck. And that is just fair. But you are unsure if you will even be able to tell if the lens is sharp or if it is yourself that does not set the focus right. I have been there, too. Trust me. When getting my first camera it wouldn’t have helped me to do some test shots in the store because I would not have been able to judge if I even use the camera correctly. So instead of revealing myself as a clueless noob in front of an expert camera salesperson inside a store, I went for specs and reviews online. And then just bought it. Believing that I had minimized the risk of going for the wrong gear as long as I picked what people recommended who I thought had a credibility and seemed to know what they are talking about.
Was I wrong? Yes and no. Wrong because I relied on opinions and facts that turned out to be of less importance for me. Right because at that time I was just happy to find some way to start with. And really, in the beginning you simply do need a way to start.
When I had my first DSLR (an Olympus E-510) I was just happy to have a camera that could capture my new born son nicely. I shot a lot and often. And I was content going with aperture-mode in the end (I did not dare touching manual mode though). People in my family knew I liked to shoot and since I was the one with a DSLR - instead of them having a small pocket camera (or the first camera functions on mobile phones. Does anybody remember what those images looked like in the beginning?), I was the one asked to capture family festivities and even a wedding (big mistake). And yes, I did photograph that. And the amount of images that went shit by far exceeded the ones that stayed on my hard drive. And I can tell you that I was way less picky then than I am now.
Came the day that I realized shooting in low light (I have always hated the built-in camera flash. And I still do!) just won´t be possible with what I have. Not without horribly sacrificing image quality (ISO beyond 800 proved to be too much even for my not so trained eyes and taste). That was 4 to 5 years after having bought my now just casually used DSLR. So I wondered if I should get better lenses than the 2 kit lenses I owned or go for a new camera altogether. To make a long story short: 8 years after my entry level DSLR I bought the Sony a6000 because reviews praised its fine all around capabilities (look at the links to 2 clips in German, for example). And what I read and saw on YouTube seemed to match my needs back then. Of course I still wasn’t really able to tell if the camera was a good fit or not or how I could even really judge. With that camera though that´s when I started to actually learn photography and discovered my passion for landscape photography. This camera is indeed very, very good and very capable of capturing beautiful images. It helped me learn and enabled me to shoot all different sorts of images: my fast moving kids, portraits, street photography and ultimately landscapes/cityscapes and nightscapes.
I tried shooting in all different conditions and in different modes (yes, eventually having me shoot in manual mode most of the time). ...Wait! I still have to try the creative jpeg modes with all different sorts of in-camera effects. I have left those out. And I believe I always will... Anyways, after spending countless hours processing those files I got to know the limits of those raw-files and the different lenses I used. I got confident using the camera to achieve the results I wanted. I did lead the camera and not have it dictate me. And I knew how far I could push it to its limits. I tried different lenses and started to rely on my own impressions instead of reviews and influencer opinions. Heck, I still like to read and watch other´s opinions. It is helpful. But it doesn’t make up my mind anymore to the point that I will not rather trust my own experience. This ultimately leading to the Sony a7riii that I am using now. But the gear I am using I will leave for another blog article to come.
So when you are asking yourself what camera you would like to get you should ask yourself what you want to use it for, in the first place. I would say shoot, shoot, shoot and try different things with what you have. Seriously, maybe a good smartphone will do it all for you if you are the kind of person that does not want to go fancy with different apertures or focal lengths. Nothing wrong with that. Creativity and composition is more important than the quality of display anyways. Once you ‘work’ your way into photography you will lean and progress naturally. And you will learn what you would like your camera to do. That is the point when you can start addressing and fulfilling your needs. For your budget´s sake I would not do it the other way round. Rather safe money on the camera body and look for decent lenses instead. You will probably be able to use those on a new body once you will upgrade in the years coming. Believe me, I spent more money on knowledge of how to actually shoot and edit and also on traveling than the actual gear when starting out. Looking back I feel that was definitely the right thing to do.
And lastly, let is not join the useless discussion on what is the best camera available. It´s just absolutely pointless to me. I strongly believe that no available camera combines all possible best features. And every camera has its downsides. Is there such thing as a “best for everything?”. What is the best car? What is the best pant? What is the best toilet paper? …you get my point. So when you are starting out: don´t stress yourself on the goal to get the best camera. There is no such thing. All you need is something that helps you have fun to start and learn. Once you progress you will see what features you use. What features could be helpful and what benefits your future investment brings. I doubt driving a Ferarri would be of much help when starting to learn to drive. So take what you feel gives you the most joy to use over and over again. And take it from there. And then: enjoy it, no matter what the industry or the many self-claimed “I know all the camera models and what technically works and does not work”-people say. The latter are more active in sharing their details about camera specifications than good images. …which in the end might be alright, too. There is a place for everything and everybody. Even for the car lovers that know every detail and fact of a car without even having a drivers licence.
About Kai Hornung
Kai is a landscape photographer based in Hannover, Germany. Well known for his fairytale-like images and lively Instagram stories.
The enthusiastic German has been published and awarded by the likes of Epson and the Light & Landscape Magazine.
You can join Kai in the Lofoten Islands from March 15-22, 2019.