I’m often asked by friends and colleagues which camera they should purchase to take their photography to the next level. There is clearly no one answer. It would be like me asking someone which car I should buy simply because he or she drives a car. Don’t get me wrong; I love to help anyone, but the answer only comes after several more questions.
While I’m not an expert on all brands and formats, I do know what works for me and try to pass that knowledge on to help them narrow their search. With the many consumer- and professional-grade options ranging from GoPros to digital single-lens reflex cameras (DSLRs) to smartphones, the options can prove to be overwhelming. You have to find what works for you.
My first thoughts often go to an expression I’ve heard several times — the best camera is the one you have with you. This may be a grand oversimplification, but it’s true. The answer lies in what camera you will keep with you most of the time and which you will take time to master the controls and settings.
Questions to consider: What do you plan to photograph? Is video important to you? What’s your budget? Can you carry heavy equipment?
Budget is often the most limiting of these answers. New equipment can quickly become a large financial commitment. Professional DSLRs can cost thousands, even before you pair them with lenses.
Some general parameters to consider include cost, durability how easy it is to destroy by dropping. The lower-cost or off-brand lenses won’t be as sharp or as fast as high-end lenses, and the better the sensor and processor are in the camera, the better the images will be.
Something else to consider before investing in new equipment is to properly learn how to use what you already have. This also goes for your smartphone. I mention smartphones only because almost everyone has one, and we never leave home without them. Smartphone cameras can be excellent and become more advanced with nearly every upgrade. With the basic point-and-shoot settings, they can capture excellent, spontaneous moments we would otherwise miss. Just learning how to set your smartphone’s focus and exposure can greatly improve your results.
If you have truly outgrown your current equipment, one of the best things you can do is visit a local camera store. Professionals will guide you through the myriad of choices to help find the right solution for what you want to accomplish. You can hold different levels and different brands of cameras in your hands to get a feel for what fits.
When I captured this image of a white-tailed deer fawn in Montana, I had my Canon 5D Mark III in the passenger seat as I drove around scouting for subjects in the late-afternoon light of West Glacier. If my camera had been in my backpack in the back of the vehicle, I would have missed this one.
I had just driven down a river access road and stopped when I saw the light on the water. As soon as I rolled down the car window, this fawn popped out of the tree-lined bank along the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. I got about 10 frames shot just as the deer began to snack on a few sprigs of cane. Then, as quickly as it had appeared, it raced up the bank and away to another adventure. It was a fleeting moment of being at the right place at the right time with a camera in hand.