If you’re looking to get started with photography today there are plenty of options. You probably already have a smartphone with a decent camera, and of course there are plenty of options for point-and-shoot cameras and DSLRs. My advice for a designer who is just getting started with photography is to start small with an inexpensive camera and avoid the temptation to spend a few thousand dollars on a higher end option. If you buy an inexpensive camera and in a few months or even a few years you decide that you want to take it further you can always upgrade your equipment.
Spending a lot of money on a fancy camera won’t guarantee that you take amazing photos. In fact, starting with a basic camera can actually be helpful for allowing you to focus on the fundamentals like composition and lighting. In today’s market you can get a camera with all of the essential features at a reasonable price. Another good thing about doing it this way is that when it does come time to upgrade you’ll have a better idea of what you really need from your camera, and you’re likely to make a better buying decision.
Here are a few things that I recommend that you look for when buying a camera.
1. Manual, Shutter Priority, and Aperture Priority Modes
The most important thing is that the camera allows you to take control of shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. We’ll look at these elements a little bit later, but for now you need to know that your camera will allow you the option to get off of auto mode and make some of these creative decisions for yourself. In order to take your photography to the next level, and even just to really get a solid understanding of photography, you will need to be able to have control and experiment. In manual mode you will control the shutter speed, aperture and ISO. In shutter priority you will control the shutter speed and optionally the ISO and the camera will automatically choose the aperture. In aperture priority mode you will control the aperture and optionally the ISO and the camera will automatically choose the shutter speed.
2. Ability to Shoot in RAW format
If you’re just getting started with photography, chances are JPGs are the only file format that you have ever worked with coming straight out of the camera. Cameras don’t actually capture images in JPG format, they are converted into JPGs during the export process. Some cameras, like DSLRs, allow you to export photos in their RAW format. Each camera will have it’s own RAW format (for example, Canon’s is different than Nikon’s). One of the reasons JPGs are so popular is because they are universal and every program can work with them.
In order to be able to work with RAW files you will need a photo editor that is compatible with the RAW file format of your camera. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is an outstanding option and they are always adding support for new cameras, so just about any camera from a well-known manufacturer will be supported. You can even work with RAW files right in Photoshop thanks to Adobe Camera Raw. Lightroom does offer some additional organizational tools and features that you won’t get in Photoshop, so I highly recommend Lightroom. And if you are already a Creative Cloud customer you will have access to Lightroom.
You may be wondering why you would want to shoot in RAW instead of JPG. Well, when a camera converts a photo into a JPG during the export process some details are lost. By having the RAW files you will have greater flexibility when it comes to editing and post processing. Simply put, RAW files allow you the potential to get better end results. Most cameras that give you the option of exporting RAW files will also give you the option to shoot in both RAW and JPG. This means that every time you will take a photo the camera will record two versions of the image. This takes up a lot more space on your memory card or hard drive, but I recommend starting out this way until you are comfortable working with RAW files in Lightroom or Photoshop. The downside to RAW files is that they often come out of the camera looking a little dull or flat. During the camera’s process of converting a RAW file into a JPG it may add some contrast, vibrance, saturation, or sharpness that help the photo to have a little more life. Almost every raw file will need some sort of editing in order to look its best.
3. Macro Capable
In you are buying a point-and-shoot or a bridge camera, I recommend looking for one that has a macro mode. If you are buying a DSLR you will have the option of buying a macro lens or extension tubes. By having a macro-capable camera you will be able to take extreme closeups of subjects like textures, flowers, insects, etc. This isn’t absolutely essential, but it is a nice option to have.
4. Tripod Ready
Almost every point-and-shoot camera, all bridge cameras, and all DSLRs will be ready to be screwed in or attached to a tripod. Typically this really only eliminates smartphones, although there are even some types of small tripods that can be used with smartphones. A tripod may seem unnecessary, but there are a lot of benefits, and some shots are even impossible or extremely difficult without one. If you want to do landscape photography, especially at sunset, night, or in low light you will need to use a tripod. Tripods are also needed for some macro and still life photography. And tripods can do more than just hold your camera steady. They are also helpful for forcing you to slow down and think a little more, especially when it comes to composition.
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