Equipment Matters – A Camera Buying Guide For Sane People

It always irks me when I hear people say that camera equipment doesn't matter. That “good” artists can use any disposable camera to shoot a great wedding or take their next masterpiece.

Then why don't we ever see that?! Pros always use the best equipment they can get their hands on.

Another one is that upgrading cameras won't magically make a “bad” photographer produce good images.

Guess what? YES IT WILL!

I guarantee you that if I put a Nikon D810, loaded with a 50 mm f/1.4 lens, in the hands of nearly anyone and told them to just point it at someones head and press the shutter button – they would take one of the best portraits of their lives. And that photo would be better than any image posted by their friends on Facebook that day.

Camera gear matters.

Which is why so many of us photographers spend our days dreaming of the latest and greatest, the biggest and most expensive.

I took on my first wedding gig because I desperately wanted the highly coveted Nikon 18-200 VR when if first came out – and I couldn't afford to spend $1000 from my family budget.

Gear envy and lack of spending discipline has a serious dark side. It's easy to lose yourself in the shiny new toys that are flashed before our eyes – everywhere we look. At best, we can never feel satisfied with what we have – and at worst, we spend and spend until we drown in debt or drain our checking accounts.

I want you to buy new gear. But we need to be sane to make good choices with our limited resources.

So with this in mind, I present:

A Camera Buying Guide for Sane People

Step 1: Determine how much money you have to spend

You don't want to start shopping without knowing how much you want to spend.

It's easy to overspend – and the consequences suck (buyers remorse and debt) so this first step is critical to making a sane purchase.

And if you're thinking about buying a dSLR or Micro Four-Thirds system – you'll want to keep in mind the cost of accessories – like lenses, bags, memory cards, and maybe even software.

Step 2: Go as expensive as you can afford

With your budget figured out, I can safely tell you to shop around for the most expensive camera (and/or lenses) you can afford.

Generally, with camera gear, you get what you pay for. So when you fork over more cash, you'll get a better camera. And, as I mentioned at the start of this post, a better camera will make you a better photographer.

Step 3: Compare options with reviews and recommendations – ignore spec sheets

There are countless sites dedicated to (over) analyzing the image quality of each camera and lens on the market. It's easy to get lost in the data – and it's easy to feel like any decision on a camera will not be the PERFECT choice.

There is no perfect camera. Let's get that out of the way now.

The best thing to do when comparing cameras is to use the power of the crowd to help you find one that won't disappoint you.

Amazon is the obvious choice for this information. Rely on the thousands of consumers that have bought and tried every camera on the market and use their reviews and ratings to help the good products rise to the top.

Also, have a look at what your favourite photographers are using – knowing they may have demands similar to yours and have done their own extensive homework.

Trey Ratcliff's post on the death of dSLR's greatly impacted my decision to move to a micro four-thirds camera system.

Step 4: Consider special features

The tilt LCD screen feature is a must have for me. Helps me get these "on the ground" images.

The tilt LCD screen feature is a must have for me. Helps me get these “on the ground” images.

I love me a good tilt LCD screen. Helps me get shots at odd angles that others don't often think off. So when I'm considering a new camera, this comes into play for me.

And when I bought my last camera, I went with an Olympus OM-D EM-5 because I was sick and tired of carrying around my big Nikon dSLR. I also wanted to start shooting street photography – and the sleek EM-5 is nice and discrete.

I treat the camera like a nice looking accessory. Even if I don't plan on shooting, I want it around my neck when I head out of my house.

Other considerations:

  • fixed lenses vs. interchangeable lenses
  • size and weight
  • brand name (this matters to some)
  • water resistance and shock resistance
  • colour
  • external flash
  • video capabilities (like HD)
  • external microphone
  • Built-in GPS or wi-fi

Keep in mind it's nearly impossible to find a camera that will have everything you want. You may need to prioritize your desires.

Cnet.com is a great resource for filtering out features.

Step 5: Try before you buy

There's a good chance the search for your next camera will come down to 2 or more very good options.

It's time to go to a local camera store and get your hands on these cameras. The one that feels best in your hands is the one you should go with.

It's as simple as that.

My recommendations

I am in love with the iPhone camera. I am so amazed at the technology that allows us to shoot relatively remarkable photos with our freakin' phones!

It really is true that the best camera is the one you have on you.

Sure, there are limitations – like low-light, high noise, lack of zoom, etc. but for documenting most of our daily lives, the iPhone is as perfect as you get.

But when you want more…

My love affair with my Olympus OM-D EM-5

A photo of my favourite camera, the Olympus OM-D EM-5 (with battery grip) taken with my second favourite camera, the iPhone.

A photo of my favourite camera, the Olympus OM-D EM-5 (with battery grip) taken with my second favourite camera, the iPhone.

I have to recommend the camera I currently shoot with, don't I? :)

When my Nikon D90 smashed to a million pieces (true story) I went on the hunt for a new camera.

It would have made perfect sense for me to stay with the Nikon system – so I could use all my existing lenses, batteries, etc.

But I knew I needed a change. I wanted to go smaller and sleeker. I wanted a camera I was attracted to.

With the Olympus OM-D EM-5 it was love at first sight.  Retro silver, small, tilt-screen, high-quality lenses, great reviews from experts and customers alike…..ahhhh…..be still my beating heart.

With my street photography – it's nearly perfect.

I was concerned that the camera would feel too small in my hands. And it was. But this was easily rectified with the additional battery grip – which adds just the right amount of space for my fingers.

Happy Shopping!

I hope that this guide helps ease your anxiety about buying the “perfect” camera. We all work hard for our money and we should spend it wisely.

I want you to unwrap something you're excited about – but doesn't give you buyers remorse cause it was more than you could afford.

Lastly, be grateful for living in a time when access to amazing technology (like the iPhone) is available to nearly all of us.

Forget What’s In the Bag, What IS the Bag?

Camera gear is a touchy subject.

Google “Nikon vs Canon” and you get over 52,000,000 results.

So I'm not going to even attempt to lay out the dozens of bag options, give a long list of features to compare and analyze until you're blue in the face.

If you're like me and addicted to reading product comments, head on over to Amazon.  Come back when you're done — in an hour or two.

In this post I'm simply going to tell you what I am currently using, why I like it, and what I'm saving up to buy.

My Old Bag – the Lowepro 200 AW

The Lowepro 200 AW is a swing bag – and was the biggest of the Lowepro swing bags at the time I bought it, a few years ago. Looks like there is a larger 300 now.

The main reason I chose the swing bag was the fact that it is extremely mobile, like a backpack. But, unlike a backpack, the sling bag is much more accessible.

The images on the Amazon product page show how the bag swings from your back to your front without you having to take it off.  Then the zipper and the pockets are perfectly designed so that nothing spills onto the floor from 4 ft in the air when you open it up.

During a wedding shoot, the action is happening very fast. I need to move quickly, with all my gear, and be able to grab whatever I need (lens, flash, batteries, etc.) without having to say to the bride, “hold on a sec.” [Read more…]