Things to Consider When Buying Your Camera – by C.S. Muncy

C.S. MuncyC.S. Muncy is a New York City-based freelance photojournalist with a client list that includes The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsday, The New York Daily News and The Village Voice. His work has also appeared in Time Magazine, The Smithsonian Magazine and Wired Japan. In 2012, he was selected for the 25th Eddie Adams Workshop, received the NPPA Short Course Travel Grant and won first prize in the National Geographic/Nikon “Full Story” photo contest. A graduate of the Defense Information School, he enlisted in the United States Air Force in 2002 and is currently a combat correspondent with the 106th Rescue Wing.

Canon Nikon

Friends of mine often ask “What kind of camera should I buy?”

Like…all the time.

I usually try to take a moment before answering them, going over what they need versus what they want. Sometimes they don’t like the answers I give. One person, after claiming that a consumer level Nikon was going to kill the professional camera market, simply responded to my advice with “Well you must not know much about photography.”

Over the course of the last ten years I’ve had the good luck to work at three different camera stores, exposing me to the entire spectrum of the camera-seeking public. My first was while I was in college, at Ritz Camera, a corporate store that tended to sell to the non-professional crowd. The second was at a very small shop called Camera Exposure in San Diego, where I learned about camera repair, reconditioning and maintenance. This shop sold mostly to students. My final sales job was with B&H Photo in Manhattan, selling used cameras. Here I catered mostly to professionals, with a smattering of non-pros, collectors and enthusiasts.

Here’s the first thing I ask when people want to know which camera they should buy: “How big is your budget?” I don’t ask this to wring every penny from them (quite the opposite, actually.) If you’re willing to buy used, you can pick up some great deals. For example, last year’s pro models can often be found for similar prices to this year’s prosumer bodies, and offer a lot more in terms of image quality. My D3, despite being seven years old, still performs like a champ in most situations.

Nikon D3

The second thing I ask is what they’re going to use the camera for. A student or casual user isn’t going to be crawling with their cameras through the mud or swimming through floods. They’re not going to need a D4 or 1DX. In fact, at B&H I’d often have enthusiasts with more money than common sense come through, wanting to buy the biggest, fastest cameras they could get their hands on. “What are you going to shoot with it?” I’d often ask. “Oh, I don’t know. My kids, probably.”  Likewise, plenty of celebs came through wanting to buy Leicas, because that was the bling of the day. I had one actor (whose work I loved, but was a helpless, mean spirited tool when it came to photography) wonder where the LCD screen was after he asked for an M6.

This brings me to my next point: ignore the latest trends. Right now mirrorless cameras are the big trend, and at some point they may very well catch up to DSLRs in terms of image quality, speed and toughness. As it is, even the best mirrorless camera leaves me somewhat underwhelmed. If a mirrorless fits your needs, then by all means pick it up (they’re great travel cameras, and with the right adaptors most will allow you to use lenses from almost any mount.) Otherwise, I’d go for a DSLR.

Also, remember to make room in your budget for at least one good lens. I had one customer stop by B&H who ended up buying a D3 and an 18-55 kit lens. Can a combination like that produce good images? Yeah, if you know what you’re doing. Is it a combination that takes advantage of all the camera has to offer? Absolutely not.

Lastly, remember that having a cool camera does not make for a great photographer. Many shooters don’t need the biggest, fastest, most expensive camera on the market. Now, having a great camera will give you advantages in shooting that you wouldn’t otherwise have, but if you’re taking pictures of your kids you’re not going to need a pair of 1DX’s.

So, if you’re in the market for a new camera, remember to ask yourself:

– What will I be using this camera for?
– How much do I want to spend?
– Am I ok with buying secondhand?
– Am I getting this because I need it, or because it’s trendy?
– Does my budget have enough room for good glass?

Note: It’s been half a decade or longer since I’ve worked for any of the stores mentioned above. In no way should I be considered a spokesman for any of them.

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