What's in My Bag - 1 Which Camera?


Over the years with my photography, I've been asked many questions on the gear I use. Typically it revolves around the question of, "which camera should I buy?", "which lens should I buy?", "I don't have a lot of money, what should I get?" So, every week I am going to talk about the gear I use and share some of my experiences with them. Please feel free to comment or ask questions.

Which Camera?

Most often when a new or non-photographer asks me about photography, they always start by asking which kind of camera I use, and namely, what should they buy. To me, the choice is obvious, but I try to back-pedal to remember the choice might not be so obvious.

A Little Background

When I was starting out, my only experiences with cameras were cheap one-time use film cameras. They didn't require any thinking other than pointing it in the right direction. Quality of pictures aside, it was good enough for me.

After getting my first job with a decent paycheck, a coworker showed me some of his photography magazines. I was amazed at the quality of some of the photos. Being a dabbler in arts, it made me want to get a camera that took good photos, but I also didn't want to spend a ton of money. Going to Best Buy, I picked out a simple film camera that cost me a whopping $89. It was the most I had ever spent on one camera and I was feeling ready to take some awesome pictures. The lens could zoom and it had a timer. Those were the crazy features.


One of it's benefits was it's size. I carried it around with me everywhere. After finishing every roll of film, I would quickly get the pictures developed to see what I got. More often than not, I was slightly disappointed in the quality of the pictures. I knew these pictures didn't look like what I saw in real life and I was often frustrated.

A friend of mine had an SLR camera and I figured I should make that jump to a better camera. I figured that since they were bigger, they had to be better. Shopping around, I noticed most entry-level SLR's started at around $300, way more than I ever expected to spend on a camera. A pro photographer friend suggested Canon and so I decided on a Canon Rebel. I took the $320 plunge with much anxiety. "Lord, help me" was my mantra. "Lord, I'm spending a lot of money here. Let me use this for You."


The camera arrived in the mail and I was quickly feeling a bit lost with it. Unlike my previous cameras, this thing had controls and a ton of settings. What those controls did, I had no idea. After a lot of trial and error, the idea of signing up for a photography class made sense. And what sense it made.

Shutter Speeds and Apertures Oh My!

In the class I went from knowing my name to knowing all the controls of my camera. All of a sudden the lights came on and camera settings quickly became second nature. What the class really got me thinking about was composition and picture building.

Ok, So what Camera should You buy?

Going off my story, I started with a camera I could afford. And looking back, the more important question I was learning was WHAT to do with the camera and not just WHICH camera to use. My advice is always to start with what you have access to, and learn the heck out of it. When it becomes a hinderance to your art, then it's time to upgrade.


"You don't take pictures, you make them" - Ansel Adams

If you're just starting out, I would submit to you that even just using an iPhone (I use mine all the time) would be a great place to start. It's not as fancy as a DSLR or whatever is out there, but it can get you thinking first about picture composition and capturing moments. Before you worry about frames-per-second, megapixels, or full-frame sensors, worry about the photography itself. Taking a course at a community college will get you lightyears ahead of just buying the most expensive camera. Remember, many famous photographs from the past century were made with technology from the 1800's.

Why I use a DSLR

For me, early on I was driven by trying to make a picture be like what I saw in person. With that, I use a camera that will try to make that. Point and shoots work (point and shoots are just that. You point the camera and press the button, and out comes a picture) to some extent. A lot of them can make a great picture. Sometimes though, they don't know what I'm looking for and make a picture I don't like. I like having control. So, I use a DSLR.

A DSLR is a digital SLR. When you look through the viewfinder, you're looking through the actual lens. Many come with a lot of automatic settings, but I rarely ever use them. From learning the control basics for all cameras (shutter speed, aperture, and ISO), I don't need most of those features. I know how to do those features by manually setting the camera. It's not to brag about what I know, but I had to learn those things. Often, the auto settings would make a picture I didn't like. I learned to correct where it was going wrong and never looked back.


Why I use a DSLR, first of all, is control. Secondly, it has to do with quality. A point and shoot camera may have some of the same guts as a DSLR, but they're stuck in that form or in that model. You can buy an entry-level DSLR and add better lenses later on. Often times, the lenses live longer than the camera technology. A few of my lenses I've had for years, with no plans to change them. The cameras I've had have changed, but the lenses have been compatible with all, keeping their quality.

Another part with quality is the sensors. I use a full-frame (full-frame means 35mm digital sensor) because I like the quality they produce. It comes in a large body, but I am always trying to get the best quality I have access to.

Again, if you're serious about learning photography, I'm not telling you that you should do is go buy a Canon 5D III or take out a loan. For some pros a 5D Mark III isn't the camera they want for their needs. Just because it costs more doesn't mean it's better for you. This is the importance of learning what you want to photograph.

For My Style

Admittedly, I'm a Canon shooter so I always recommend Canon. It's not to say Canon is better then everyone else, but I like their quality and am comfortable with Canon. I use a Canon 5D Mark III because in some respects it's an all-around camera. For high-action sports, it's not the best camera, but it can still create awesome images with sports. But if you're main gig is sports, I would suggest something like a Canon 7D Mark II. It's much better for sports or action. The 7D will capture 10 images in a second, while the 5D will capture 5 images a second. But, I don't feel it's image quality is on par with the 5D.

For my style of photography, I am also sort of an all-around shooter. I go from portraits, product photography, street photography, surfing, Dodger games, and landscapes. Different cameras would be better in each situation, but the 5D is somewhere in the middle of all of those, creating a great image.

But, if you can't afford a 5D Mark III but want to look into a DSLR, check out a site called KEH.com. They sell used cameras at low prices and with great quality. Check out a Canon Rebel SL1. It's small, easily affordable, and has the same sensor as the Canon 7D Mark II. The bells and whistles will be fewer, but you still get full manual control, use of all Canon lenses, and you will learn the essentials. It may even be all you need.


Feel free to ask any questions