What is a perfect camera for a beginner?

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This is a common question on the internet, and the answer is amazingly simple: anyone. You are a beginner?  You want to take photos?  Well, take that cellphone out of your pocket and there you go!

Photography is not about equipment.  It is a practiced methodology of thinking applied to an idea/concept/task.  And frankly, any camera will do the job!   A cellphone, a baby Canon, a big Nikon, a DSLR, mirrorless, crop frame, full frame, medium format…  they all do exactly the same job!

But if they all do the same job, why do we have cheap cameras and expensive cameras?  Won’t any camera be just the same as any other camera?  Well, if you are a beginner, then working on an insanely expensive Mamiya or a really cheap pre-loved Pentax K1000 from the 80s will teach you the exact same principles in the exact same way.  And if you are a seasoned pro, you would be able to use either of these—and any piece of equipment in-between—adequately.

The only differences between cheap and expensive, small and big, entry level and pro, are ease of use, build quality, and high-end tech specs.

I need to cover that last part here.  Expensive cameras have higher-end technical specifications.  These do not translate into better photos!!  All it means is that the more expensive cameras can handle the challenges at the extreme ends of technical photography.  Allow me an example:  My wife is German, and a few years ago we traveled to Cologne to visit her family.  It was my first time in Europe, and I lugged my Nikon D810 with 24-70 lens along with me.  Eventually that camera felt like I was carrying a home-gym all around town.  Within a few days, I got tired of carrying my professional studio camera around for taking happy snaps of my trip, and started using my cellphone instead.  Now it is five years later, and if I look at the photos of my first trip to Germany, I do not know which picture I took with my expensive camera, and which one with my cell.  I had to look at the exif data to figure out this was a cell phone pic.

Impressive, huh?  That little pocket camera was every bit as good on the street as my pro piece of equipment.

But here is the thing:  on that same trip we went to Svalbard to look at a solar eclipse.  And get married.  (My wife and I are the only people who can say they got married in the north pole under a solar eclipse!).  I wanted to take pics, of course.  A one-in-a-lifetime experience of standing at minus 28°C on a frozen fjord and take a picture of mother nature’s greatest spectacle.  In that case, if you do not have the right equipment, then you are wasting your time.

So: unless you are planning extreme-end tech photography and shooting high-grade commercial, you don’t need an expensive camera.  You do not even need a medium-range camera.  Any baby camera will do.

But if you are serious about learning, as in really, really learning, then go for the cheapest camera you can find, and get a 50mm f/1.8 lens.  Throw away the kit lenses, they will only make you lazy.  Turn the dial onto ‘manual’, and learn to shoot.

Header Image: Jean-Daniel Francoeur from Pexels

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On September 29, 2020
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