Getting Started with Photography: Part 2 – Choosing a System

One of the very first questions asked by potential photographers is “what camera should I buy?” but really it’s not just as simple as which camera to buy but also which camera system do you buy into. Let me explain, an SLR camera requires lenses to function and lenses are specific to their various systems as they tend to have manufacturer specific lens mounts. Not only that, but even within manufacturers there can be several different lens mounts. An example here is the Canon system where the older “FD” mount were almost exclusively manual focus lenses, where as the later “EF” mount lenses were auto focusing and did not work on “FD” mount cameras. To confuse matters further, there are now “EF-S” and “EF-M” lenses for the crop sensor and mirror-less systems which don’t work on non-compatible Canon cameras.

Now on the whole, there are pros and cons to every system, but really to be quite frank about it, it really doesn’t matter. The camera is just a tool used to express one’s creativity. A photograph taken with good technique and correctly exposed and processed will look almost the same regardless of what camera you use. Now this is within reason of course, and there are features that a professional will want to pay more for, but for the purposes of this series and the amateur photographer it just doesn’t matter. The most important things to consider in my opinion are as follows:

  1. Fit in hand: The most important thing above all else is that the camera fits in the hand well and is comfortable to use. A tool that is easy to use and suits you is more likely to be used than a tool that you just don’t like the feel off.
  2. Availability of second hand equipment: New camera gear can be very expensive, and the desire to buy many different lenses is great, as such the availability of second hand equipment is really important because most gear depreciates very fast. On the whole if the gear is reasonably well looked after it will tend to last a long time. I have personally used lenses and bodies that are older than I am and in better condition to boot. It is advisable to purchase from reputable dealers where possible but some deals can be had on eBay too if you’re careful.

I would advise you visit a local store to get your hands on some gear to help you better appreciate what you like the feel off. A lot of towns have second hand stores too where you can get feel some second hand gear to see how they feel in hand. It is better to get gear from a local store wherever possible too as they tend to have a small warranty and test gear before selling.

Personally, I chose Canon when I first started out and I will be doing so again for the purpose of this challenge.  The primary reason for this is that Canon camera controls have always suited my hands better than other manufacturers but this is very much a personal thing and many of my friends, including my mentor, actually preferred to shoot Nikon. Further, purely for the sake of simplicity, all Canon EF lenses will focus on all Canon EF cameras which just makes life easier, compared to Nikon where some bodies do not autofocus with some lenses.

Now an SLR camera is made up of 2 parts, the body and the lens. Put simply the body of the camera is responsible for actually recording the image on the sensor or film and the lens is responsible for forming that image. Any moderately modern body will do the job and the lens is far more important for creating a quality image.

I would always advise that the minimum amount of money be spent on the body that has the features you feel you really need, and spending the balance of the budget on the lens. The lenses you buy will tend to follow you through as you eventually feel your body is constricting, but your lenses will stay with you throughout. I’ve still got and actively use my 200mm F2.8 L lens which I’ve had for quite a few years now.

Hopefully this should help you get started in your hunt for your first camera. In the next post I will highlight the important features one should look for in a body. I have a few thoughts on what I intend to suggest as a beginner camera so the hunt is on to find a suitable body.


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