What camera should I get is the number one question I get in my inbox every week and to be honest I never quite know how to answer this as I don't use entry level cameras in my own work anymore!! But, I can share some tips on what to keep in mind when you’re shopping for your first camera, and what to look for in a lens!
In New Zealand there are five main brands in the market – Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji and Olympus – and if I was starting out I’d be happy to use any of these. Many professional photographers shoot on either Canon or Nikon, many have also moved to Sony mirrorless systems. I started out on Nikon, but eventually decided Canon felt the most intuitive for me, so I switched. I now use the Canon R5 model mirrorless cameras which I absolutely love for their ability to perform in low light, the image stabilization and focusing features, as well as the beautiful video (which I am yet to make the most of!). As for lenses, I have just about every focal length under the sun, but will mostly use a 35mm and 85mm combo on my harness. This gives me the ability to both shoot wide and long at the same time, which works well, especially in situations when I need to be really quick like at a Wedding or portrait session. I do pull my wide angle lenses out for commercial work when I need to capture a scene, and this is great in a pinch at weddings too!
Every brand is slightly different in terms of where the camera’s different functions are accessed, so my advice is to find a store that stocks at least two of the models you’re interested in and have a play. Get a feel for what you like and what feels right to you.
I also recommend choosing a camera that will allow you to shoot in full manual mode. This means you can manually set shutter speed, aperture and ISO, the three settings that work together to control exposure (how bright or dark your image is).
Speaking of sensors, the more you spend on your camera body the better your sensor will be, which will improve factors like your camera’s dynamic range and sensitivity to light. A lot of people ask me whether to spend more on the sensor or more on the lens and there are two schools of thought here. I have a friend who bought the best camera body she could afford and paired it with basic kit lenses while she was saving up for better lenses. Today the body is still going strong and she is really glad she focused her initial spending on a high-quality body and sensor.
I know others who would say spend your money on the lens. That's where the quality matters and what will make an awesome image outstanding. Lower quality kit lenses are made cheaply so the manufacturers can get a good profit margin on their product. So when upgrading or looking at getting higher quality gear, upgrade that kit lens first and your images will be a thousand times better :D
When I had only a few precious $$ to spend on my lenses, I bought a 24-70 f2.8 zoom lens. This meant that all my bases where covered should I have needed to photograph close up I could use the 70mm, but if I was in a situation where I needed to go wide (like a big family group in a tight space!), then I could get away with it by using the same lens on 24mm. My second purchase was the Canon f 1.8 50 mm lens which allowed me to photograph in lower light settings than the zoom lens could at f2.8. I absolutely loved this lens and could often photograph a whole wedding on it!
With lenses, they can be hired out reasonably cheaply. This is great if you want to get a feel for a certain focal length without the big initial investment.
Another thing to keep in mind with lenses, is are they fit for purpose for what you need? For example, if you are a sports photographer that can't get close to the action then a long lens would be most suitable for you. If you are photographing landscapes you'll want something wide.
My final finishing thoughts....in my many years shooting weddings I have often seen guests lugging around gear that is worth far more than I was using. Remember, the gear is great, but its NOT the gear that makes the photograph, its the person behind the gear! Its about how you use your gear, how you compose and see the image before pressing the shutter and ALL about capturing that light.
Enjoy your shopping!