What Kind of Camera Do I Need?
By Kyle J. Glenn
We get this question all the time from folks who have signed up for one of our photography or videography workshops.
We do our best to resource everyone who takes a workshop with a camera that will be sufficient for our purposes. Sometimes this looks like sharing a mirrorless camera, using an iPad with available software, or simply the phones in our pockets. Often students want to bring in their camera to get greater insight into its capabilities.
In this post we will attempt to break down the different types of cameras that are out there that will work in our workshops, as well as our recommendations. The most basic recommendation is that you want a device with manual capabilities for photo and/or video.
Phones & Tablets
The phones and tablets we carry with us everywhere are getting more advanced everyday. Manufacturers recognize that we are using them to capture everyday moments, as well as once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and are upgrading optics and imaging sensors to support this use. They have quickly become contenders in the digital photo and video market. There are many apps that can be downloaded on phones and tablets to maximize their imaging technology for capturing and editing. Here are a few of our favorites:
Photo Camera Apps
VSCO App - Free (iOS)
Camera+ 2 - $2.99 (iOS)
Pro Camera App - $5.99 (iOS)
Camera FV-5 - $3.95 (Android)
Video Camera Apps
FiLMiC Pro - $14.99 (iOS & Android)
Photo Editing Apps
Snapseed - Free (iOS & Android)
Video Editing Apps
iMovie - Free (iOS)
Consumer "Point and Shoot" Camera
Many consumer "point and shoot" cameras now come with manual modes. Look for manual modes that allow you to set aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and White Balance. These often come with zoom lenses which can be useful in getting experience with different focal lengths (wide angle to zoom). We highly suggest that you choose optical zoom over digital zoom.
Prosumer DSLR & Mirrorless
To take skills one step above point and shoot, there are options ranging from $300-thousands of dollars. The most common systems in this price range are Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) and Mirrorless cameras.
Many people are familiar with the DSLR form, it has been the workhorse of photography since the days of 35mm film. It is still a favorite of many professional and amateur photographers.
With a DSLR the light enters the lens, hits a mirror, and is bounced up into a prism that shows you the image you are making in your viewfinder. When the shutter is released, the mirror flips up, allowing the light to hit the sensor.
If you are interested in the DSLR we suggest looking at the canon rebel series as a starting point. They come in a range of price points depending on resolution, sensor size, etc.
As you may have guessed, mirrorless systems forgo the mirror. Instead the light passes through the lens and goes straight to the sensor. A preview is captured by the sensor and displayed on a screen in the viewfinder or the rear LCD. Mirrorless systems benefit from a smaller form factor than DSLR, can be lighter in weight, and are virtually silent when the shutter is released.
In recent years mirrorless systems have surpassed DSLR in low-light shooting, autofocus and in-camera stabilization.
At Story Gorge we shoot primarily on the Sony Mirrorless Alpha systems. The a6500 is a good place to start, as is the Panasonic Lumix GH5.
The greatest investment will always come in the optics. Everything we will learn will translate to almost any camera so a single lens will do the trick. More lenses just mean more creative freedom in the long run. It is okay to start with less expensive ones but in time those may become limiting. The most important spec to pay attention to when shopping for lenses is the f-stop or aperture number. A fixed aperture (f2.8. f4 etc.) will cost more but be superior in image quality. A variable aperture lens (ie. f3.5-5.6 ) will limit light entry the more you zoom the lens. This is where limitations become very noticeable. Most students start with a variable aperture lens and eventually graduate up to more professional fixed lenses.
Students will have a stronger grasp on what they “need” after learning a little about the difference in what is available. Because of the lens investment, folks generally stick with one brand. Again, canon and Sony tend to be my first source for recommendation.
Carrying Case - Do what you can to keep your investment safe from harm. Some cameras have form fitting cases, or you can find bags of varying sizes that can hold other accessories.
Memory Cards - Memory cards are essential storage, and do not often come with cameras. Make sure you pay attention to storage size and write speed. If you plan on shooting a lot of video you will need a card that writes faster than if you are casually taking photos. Also make sure you get the right card for your camera (SD, MicroSD, Compact Flash, etc) . Typically we will suggest cards that are capable of read write speeds of at least 90 mbs
Batteries - Extra batteries can be the difference between an epic shoot and an early night. There are many off-brand options available on amazon and other resellers, but these can often take longer to charge and get zapped faster.
Hard Drives - Photos and videos can clog up your computer hard drive very quickly. External hard drives are a great option to make sure you keep your main drives clear. There are many options and sizes available. Brands we trust include Seagate, Western Digital and LaCie. We recommend you think about redundant backup of your files for protection. "If your data is in one place you are borrowing it. If it's in two you are renting it, and if it's in three - you own it."
Where to Purchase
If you are willing to drive to Portland, Pro Photo Supply is one of the last great brick and mortar camera stores in the country. They have a very knowledgeable staff and generally a pretty wonderful used section.
For online buying, our go-to is B&H Photo Video or Adorama. Both also have reputable used gear.
Hope this helps! If you need further assistance or support, please email firstname.lastname@example.org