top of page

Answering the question, 'Which camera is best for a beginner?'

I'm involved in a number of different photography groups, both on and off line - many of which involve beginners who are looking for advice and support. One of the most common questions which comes up over and over again is 'Which camera should I get?' - and of course, it's almost impossible to answer without more information. Which is why it always amazes me when people just respond by telling them they must get 'a DSLR', and usually a particular DSLR - namely the one they have themselves!

Despite there being a number of other options, which may be the right answer for that person at this stage of their journey, it seems there is an element of being blinkered when it comes to a large proportion of the photographic community - and, dare it say it, possibly the older bracket?

If I'm trying to answer the question myself, I start off by explaining the four different types, which is simple terms goes as follows:

Compact Camera - not all have manual override (the ability to choose your own aperture and shutter speed), so make sure you choose one that does, even if you don't know how to use it yet. Most compacts have a small sensor but an excellent zoom - so while the image quality is lower, and you may not be able to enlarge the pictures as much as you would with a larger sensor, you are able to zoom right into the action.

Bridge Camera - very similar to a compact in terms of sensor size and zoom, but with a larger DSLR shaped body, which can be much easier to hold and easier to operate, though you can't put it in your pocket in quite the same way. Many also have filter rings, which can be useful later on, and some have a fixed aperture throughout the zoom range - which is a good thing, even if you don't know what that means yet! One downside vs a more advanced camera is that you're usually limited to a minimum aperture of f8, vs much higher options (around f22) on interchangeable lens cameras.

Mirrorless/Compact System Camera - these come in a range of body shapes from smaller, more 'compact like' to larger more 'DSLR like', so the choice is yours when it comes to how it feels in your hand. However they are generally smaller and lighter than most DSLRs. They have much larger sensors, so the image quality is better - and use interchangeable lenses, so you have a far wider range of options available to you as you advance. If you're upgrading from a compact or bridge camera, you will also find the electronic viewfinder* (EVF) very familiar, vs an optical viewfinder on a DSLR.

DSLR - considered to be the 'best' option by many, but not necessarily the case - though image quality will be the highest level possible. But you have to ask yourself whether you need this, and if you plan to enlarge your images to the size of a billboard poster anytime soon? A DSLR is larger and heavier than any of the other options, and while it has a bigger sensor (either the same as a mirrorless, or some have larger ones) there are some potential downsides around complexity of use. Also, if you're upgrading from a compact or bridge camera, you may find the optical viewfinder to be somewhat limiting, in comparison to what you're used to.

Of course, these are just my thoughts, and also just a quick overview - but it definitely helps to start by explaining the different options, before you get down to specific models. Many people think a DSLR is the only way to go - and that any other options are 'not doing it properly', so it's worth taking the time to explain the pros and cons of each. In fact, many people have not even heard of mirrorless, so don't even know it's something to consider.

My main issue when people make sweeping statements about DSLRs is that they have not even asked what the person's current situation is, and where they are on their photographic journey, if anywhere. A great example the other day was when someone asked if they should upgrade their Lumix compact to a Canon DSLR because it would 'take better pictures'. Many people immediately weighed in and recommended various Canon and other DSLR models, but no-one asked why they wanted to upgrade, or why they thought the Canon would be a better option.

I started by asking what their current level of knowledge was, which turned out to be minimal. So, as the Lumix was a good model with full manual override, I suggested that they first learned the basics of aperture and shutter speed, using the camera they already had. This would help them to 'take better pictures' and then, once they understood how it all works, they would then be better placed to decide on their next camera. My suggestion then was that they looked at Lumix mirrorless, as the software would be familiar and they wouldn't lose their electronic viewfinder!

So, going back to the original question - 'Which camera is best for a beginner?', there is no right or wrong answer. The only thing that any of us should do when faced with this situation is to ask more questions first - and not assume that the camera we have is necessarily the best for them too, just because we like it.

*OK, I know not everyone likes EVFs - but for a beginner they are so much easier to learn with! I'll write another post on that sometime soon I think . . .


bottom of page