Updated: Sep 19, 2019
Yes. That is not so much of a note to self, but since I get this question too often, I thought of writing a little something about it.
- Which camera should I buy?
- Which is the right lens for street photography?
- DSLR or mirrorless?
Well, to give a short answer, if you are asking, you are not yet ready to spend too much on a camera. That is unless you have a significant amount of money you want to spend for no reason.
You see, newcomers always believe that by getting a better camera, they will be able to make better pictures. That is a great lie, and big camera manufacturers won't say otherwise, cause -you guessed it- they want to sell cameras to you! They will be able to spend enough money to their marketing campaigns to convince you that a better camera makes a better photographer. This is why you believe it. Just take a moment and think about it.
Because of that, when we all start in photography, we get the G.A.S., which stands for Gear Acquisition Syndrome. We believe that we need a better lens, cause our photos look like crap with the one we got, or a better camera, or more filters, or tripods, or... or... whatever.
Don't get me wrong here, better cameras serve certain causes much better, but to the novice photographer -you are novice, you asked which camera to buy, remember?- they don't really.
If you are not a chef, you won't become one by cooking in a professional kitchen.
If you are not a writer, you won't write a great novel by using a mont blanc pen.
If you are not a pianist, you won't be able to play Rachmaninoff, by sitting on a Steinway & Sons piano.
See where am I getting at? The camera is the means to make art, but it takes an artist to make art. So you cannot become a photographer overnight just because you spent 5,000 euros on a camera. It takes time to develop your skills and your artistic approach to do that.
Cameras don't make photos, photographers do. They may TAKE photos, but they don't MAKE photos, which is a great difference. With a modern camera, you can more or less make a correct exposure. This is taking a photo. This however is not an actual photograph, it is not art. When photographers MAKE a photo, they direct the world around them. They project themselves to the resulting image by CONTROLLING the exposure, the composition and the content.
Photography is a language of communication, same thing as with any kind of art. You need to be able to speak the language and then start saying something which is significant.
Failing to do that and just expecting to become a photographer by getting a good camera is the analogy of saying: "Look! I can speak Chinese: Chin chan chon!"
YOUR FIRST CAMERA
OK George, I get it! I need to develop as a photographer to be able to make actual photographs! But where do I start? I need a camera to start working on photography don't I? Which one should be my first camera?
Yes, of course you need a camera to start your photographic path. I would just say to that, buy the camera you can easily afford, any camera. I would be even bolder and say, just get the camera you like seeing and touching, the one that has a nice colour and feels nice in your hands.
If you can move up a notch from a compact camera, that would be great. Find the cheapest DSLR kit or mirrorless. Zoom lens is fine, prime lens is fine, just go for the kit which usually comes cheaper. Don't spend over 500 euros!
So why do I say not to go for a compact camera? By all means though, if that is all you can afford go for it! Better to have a camera that not :-)
Well, you need a camera where you can manually dial in three very, very, very important factors.
Also known as the exposure triangle.
And you know what? that's all you need in any camera. So all of these extra stuff that modern cameras do, you actually don't need, or better, they are an unnecessary luxury.
There are even master photographers that never manually use their camera. Or they work with compact cameras and make great images that are sold for tens of thousands euros.
Camera brand is not really important at this stage. Most of the cameras can do waaaay more than what you need. The brand is important when you reach a point where you start buying lenses and so on, so you invest a significant amount on your 'system' -IF you ever do that-. You see, you need to be buying your brand's lenses to go with your body.
Guess what, 100% of my work is done on a compact camera. The same one. And my lens is a prime one. Yes, there is no zoom to it.
THE RIGHT CAMERA FOR THE JOB
- "So I have had a camera but I want to move up. I am doing street photography and I hear that a 35mm lens is better for street photography. And if I get a f/1.4 which has a 1500 euros price tag I will be getting much better results."
Read the introduction again! 10 times. Really?
So since you know everything why do you ask? That's G.A.S. right there. Why do you need this lens? No one can tell you which lens to use for the specific work you are doing. You can do street with a 14mm lens and you can do it with a 400mm lens. You can use a wide aperture of f/1.4 or a tiny one of f/16. Everything has to do with your personal view and sensitivity for the world and the scene in front of you. If you are a shy person, you won't be using a wide lens, cause then you will have to interact with your subjects. If you are a bold and social person, you won't be getting a telephoto lens, because then you will not interact with your subjects.
Why would you use the f/1.4? To get this bokeh you see everywhere, the blurred background. You know what I think of that? Someone who won't bother work and study to be able to make beautiful compositions. To me, bokeh is composition cheating, yielding uninteresting results. I am working with an aperture of f/11 to f/16. I will only get my aperture wider if I don't have enough light to work with. So I could work with a 100 euros lens in pretty much the same way I am working now. If you start working with a lens that doesn't give you the option to have a bokeh, guess what, this will help you develop your composition skills.
The more expensive cameras and lenses, are bad for you because you are a novice photographer. Why? Well because they give you too many options. To start with, you need as less options as possible. I could even suggest you bought a film camera. This way you have less options to your exposure, but you have to also take your clicking down, because you have to pay for film. This makes you think more and shoot less. Also, it takes time for you to see your images, until they have marinated in your brain, so you can select the best ones easier, because you will have been emotionally disengaged from your 'babies'.
Adding barriers and removing options from your game, gives you the opportunity to have something to brake. I you have no barriers, there is nowhere to go beyond.
An example of my personal barriers. I keep these for some years and if I feel I have to change something, I do:
- Only use one lens, 28mm at the moment.
- Only shoot horizontal images.
- Only shoot in B&W.
- Never crop images.
Although I shoot in B&W however, I have a small side project, shooting portraits of girls, where I am free to experiment with colour.
So if you are a new photographer and you are about to get your first camera, remember, go for the one that you can easily afford. Any camera will do to start, but it would be helpful, for practise reasons to be able to manually adjust aperture, speed and ISO, so go for a DSLR or mirrorless that give you this option.
Find the one that looks nice and feels great in your hands. You become better by taking more photos. So if you feel happy taking pictures with your camera, it is more likely that you will pick it up and go for shooting.
If you want to upgrade, think of that twice. Is there a real reason behind your upgrade or is it just G.A.S.? If you are bored with your current system and never pick it up, you might want a change. If you can easily afford it, go for it. But maybe you just need a new idea, read a book, or go on a trip, or go to opera. Maybe you will find inspiration and you won't need to buy a new camera.
- "I want to do this new awesome project, but I need this new lens to do it and I cannot afford it."
No no no nononono^999 !
Wrong thing to be thinking of. Do another project, or do it a little bit differently with the system you already got. If you just sit there, waiting to get this new lens, you are not doing any progress. Maybe this new think you start without this lens, will be much better that what you have thought of.
Inspiration doesn't come like that. It comes during your work. By taking photos, you can get inspired to move on and follow different paths that will develop you as a photographer.
So before going for any new equipment, start a photography project with your mobile phone's crappy camera and see where this takes you!