Once you have decided to delve into the world of photography, you might face the first daunting challenge: Which camera should you buy to start out? The vast array of different manufacturers, models and price points can be exhilarating, if not slightly overwhelming. And, as you can probably imagine, the question of which camera we recommend for a beginner is one of the most frequently asked questions at LIoP. Likewise, at LIoP we deal with so many different camera models on a daily basis that we have a pretty good idea of which ones work particularly well as a first camera system for our students.
Read more about why we recommend Nikon’s Z50 and Canon’s R10, the amazing Sony A6400 as well as used Full Frame cameras from the THREE BIG PLAYERS:
- General considerations
- APS-C vs Full Frame – does size matter?
- DSLR vs Mirrorless
- How about lenses?
- Buying new or used?
- Our recommendations
- Equipment review pages
The best news first – there are basically no bad cameras made nowadays! What might be considered an entry model these days boasts specs that are similar to a professional model 10 years ago. Nevertheless, you’ll have a to make a choice but there are a few general consideration when buying your first camera.
Explore the leading camera brands which are Canon, Nikon, Sony, and Fujifilm. If you’re planning to make photography your career, it’s crucial to consider those supported by major equipment rental services. This allows you to rent specialised equipment as needed, rather than purchasing items you might use infrequently. This pretty much narrows it down to full frame cameras from Canon, Nikon, and Sony.
Generally in photography, the more you spend on your equipment, the more specialised the gear becomes, rather than being more versatile. Like horses for courses, unfortunately there’s no camera that would be perfect for all photography genres. For example, a camera that’s perfectly suited for street photography might not be the best choice for fashion studio work, and vice versa. But most beginners don’t know yet which genre they want to specialise in and because of this we would recommend not to aim for the highest price segment, under the assumption the more you spend, the better the camera is.
A budget of between £700 – £1,200 for a camera & lens combo provides you with equipment that is versatile yet good enough for jobs and commissions.
Personally, I’d recommend visiting a physical store to get a hands-on experience with various cameras. It’s essential to find one that feels comfortable and intuitive in your grip and you should consider size and weight before you purchase a specific model.
APS-C vs Full Frame – does size matter?
When talking about digital cameras, Full Frame and APS-C are terms used to describe the size of the image sensor, which in turn can affects image quality, camera size and aspects of photography. Here’s a breakdown:
Full Frame cameras have a sensor size that’s equivalent to a 35mm film frame, which measures approximately 36mm x 24mm. Generally, full frame sensors perform better in low light situations because they can house larger pixels, which capture more light which can lead to better high-ISO performance. Due to the large sensor size, they also make it easier to achieve a shallow depth of field (blurry background, often desired for portraits) is easier but they tend to be larger, heavier and more expensive than their APS-C counterparts, both in terms of the camera body itself and the lenses.
APS-C sensors are smaller than full frame sensors. Their exact dimensions can vary slightly between manufacturers, but they typically measure around 22mm x 15mm. APS-C cameras and their lenses are generally smaller and lighter than full frame systems, making them more portable and often more affordable than Full Frame systems, making them popular choices for amateurs, enthusiasts or when you want to travel light or draw less attention to yourself.
The choice between full frame and APS-C largely depends on the photographer’s needs, preferences, and budget. Modern APS-C sensors have come a long way and can deliver outstanding image quality, often indistinguishable from Full Frame cameras and offer a great balance of performance, size, and cost.. However, in challenging lighting conditions and for shallow depth of field, or for photographers who are looking for a platform that’s widely supported by equipment rentals, a Full Frame camera can have the edge. For professionals or those who prioritise low light shooting, a full frame might be preferred.
DSLR vs Mirrorless
There are two general types of cameras: DSLR and Mirrorless cameras. In simple terms, DSLRs (which stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex) use a movable mirror between the lens and the sensor. These cameras have been around for about 60+ years and represent a very mature and extensive system. With Mirrorless cameras, in comparison, the image is consistently projected by the lens onto the sensor. This system is the not-so-new “kid on the block”. While DSLR cameras offer incredible opportunities when it comes to buying used equipment, the future of photography is mirrorless. It’s doubtful whether the two big DSLR manufacturers, Nikon and Canon, will still develop new DSLR models, and we wouldn’t recommend buying a new DSLR these days.
How about lenses?
Lenses are optimised for either Full Frame and APS-C cameras but often use they same mount which can lead so some confusion. In general, due to the larger image circle, a full frame lens can be used on full frame cameras as well as on an APS-C camera, whereas APS-C lenses should be used only on APS-C cameras.
Zoom lenses allow you to easily and conveniently change the framing of your image. For those nifty APS-C cameras, the 18-55mm lens or 24-70mm or 24-105mm for Full Frame cameras are kinda like your Swiss army knife. They are sometimes called standard zoom lenses as they extend equally into the wide angle and telephoto range and are intuitive.
Prime lenses are lenses with a fixed focal length and consequently fixed angle of view. Due to their wider aperture in comparison to Zoom lens, they are particularly useful to achieve images with a shallow depth of field and if you’re all about those dreamy, blurred backgrounds, prime lenses are where it’s at. But honestly, because one has to buy and carry around more prime lenses to cover a similar angle of view range as a standard zoom lens and zoom lenses these days are so fab that you’re not compromising on clarity, we would not necessarily advise to start with a prime lens. Still interested? Here’re some faves, a 50mm f1.4 or f1.8 is a great starting point and the Sigma Art range (chef’s kiss for image quality!) is legendary.
Now, while the camera brand lenses are the obvious choice, Sigma and Tamron are not only excellent but sometimes even better than those from Nikon, Sony, and co. What’s even better, they’re often more affordable. Tamron and particularly Sigma have been stepping up their game and can totally hold their own and are well worth looking into, in particular Sigma’s Art series for Full-Frame and the APS-C DC DN series for selected APS-C cameras.
Buying new or used?
We all love buying new equipment and although it’s the obvious choice, used equipment offers many advantages. A budget that can get you a new APS-C sensor camera could also get you a used full-frame camera and companies like MPB offer 6 months warranty on all used equipment. If you’re prepared to take a little extra risk, then you can get some real steals on Ebay.
Let’s begin with entry-level mirrorless camera system. I would recommend the Nikon Z50 with 16-50mm zoom and the Canon R10 with an 18-45mm zoom, along with the possibility of using Sigma APS-C DC DN lenses.
Let’s break down these options:
Nikon Z50: This is Nikon’s mid-entry-level mirrorless camera in the Z series. It uses an 21 MP APS-C sized sensor and the Nikon Z-mount. The Z50 is a great choice for those wanting to step into the mirrorless world. Its performance and image quality are commendable for its price point.
Canon R10: The R10 can be seen as Canon’s equivalent to the Nikon Z50 and there really is not that much between them. It uses a 24MP APS-C sensor and is very much on the same level as the Nikon. From our experience Nikon tends to have marginally better image quality and Canon’s are often slightly more user-friendly but we would rate these two both on the same level.
Sigma APS-C DC DN Lenses: Sigma’s DC DN lenses are designed for mirrorless APS-C systems and are available for several mounts, including Sony E-mount and Micro Four Thirds. They are renowned for their sharpness and value for money. These lenses have been made available for the Nikon Z-mount (not currently for Canon’s RF mount that you would find on the R10) and are available in 16mm, 30mm and 56mm f1.4 prime lenses.
If you’re thinking about transitioning to a full-frame in the future, there are plenty of suggestions I can make.
Considering a used full-frame camera can offer great value. MPB.com is a reliable platform to explore, providing access to top-tier camera models that might be pricey when bought new. Some notable models include:
Nikon: D850, D810 and D800E (in order of preference)
Canon: 5D MK IV
Sony: A7R IV, A7R III and A7R II (in order of preference)
From our experience, Canon has the best user interface and are the easiest to use and the Sonys are the most technically advanced but some of our students struggle with the complexity of the Sony menu. The Nikons are somewhere in between (they often use Sony sensors). If we had to pick two cameras from the list above, it would be the Nikon D850 and Sony A7R IV but used bodies are in the £1,500 range and we would only recommend them if you want to make photography a career.
By opting for a used camera, you can get exceptional quality while potentially saving a significant amount. Combine them with a used 24-70mm f2.8 or a 24-105 f4 lens and you have an unbeatable and versatile combo.
Our tip when buying used camera bodies is to pay attention to the shutter count. It’s said that a camera’s shutter has a life span of at least 250,000 shots (similar to a car in miles :). A camera with a shutter count of up to 30,000 is just about worn-in and a shutter count of up to 70,000 is acceptable. Anything higher than that and I would be slightly weary.
Here’s an editor’s pick: The Sony A6400. It boasts the same illustrious sensor with exceptional dynamic range found in the legendary Ricoh GRIII. Its autofocus tracking? Simply sensational. You’ll get a real APS-C powerhouse with an incredibly small form factor. Hook it up to the Sigma 18-50mm f2.8 lens and you’re ready to go.
Equipment review pages
But things move on, and they move quickly! Check what equipment review page have to say about the latest equipment and technical developments. We regularly check the main three:
But while it’s always exciting to delve into the technicalities of photography and stay updated with the latest innovations, it’s crucial to remember that photography, at its core, is an art form. The camera, no matter how advanced, is merely a tool. What truly makes a difference is the vision behind the lens and how you choose to capture and convey that moment. So, don’t get too caught up in specs and scores; focus on the story you want to tell and let your creativity take over.