The Ultimate Guide To Buying a New Camera - Beginner To Intermediate

Buying a new camera is challenging, but that’s largely due to the overwhelming choices of quality equipment on the market. This is a good problem to have, but when it comes to spending your hard earned money you want to make sure you’re using it wisely.

What kind of camera is the best? What kind of camera do you really need?


‘Full frame’ and ‘crop’ refer to a camera’s sensor size. Full frame sensors share the same dimensions of 35mm film (24 x 36mm).

Crop sensors are anything smaller than 35mm, such as those found in APS-C and Micro 4/3 cameras. Focal length measurements on lenses are based on the 35mm field of view.

There’s no right or wrong when choosing a full frame or crop sensor camera – both are capable of producing excellent images, depending of course on the skill of the photographer!

It’s virtually impossible to distinguish between the image quality of a photograph shot in good light using a full frame or a crop sensor camera. (It’s only when the light starts to drop that the advantages of a larger, 35mm sensor become more evident, especially in the realms of higher ISO photography.)

Full frame Advantages:

1. Better Low Light Performance

2. Better Dynamic Range And Color Depth

3. Shallower Depth of Field

4. Less Distortion at Wide Angles

Crop Sensor Advantages:

1. More Focal Reach

2. Less expensive

3. Smaller and More Compact

4. Faster Frame Rate in Burst Mode

Is Full Frame sharper than crop?

Full frame cameras are not necessarily sharper than crop sensor cameras. Sharpness depends more on your lens quality and how it interacts with your camera than on sensor size alone.

Is buying a full frame camera worth it?

This depends on what you intend to use your camera for. If you regularly shoot in low light environments and/or need superior image quality no matter the time of day, then a full frame camera is worth it. If you generally shoot in good light and/or need a compact setup, a crop sensor camera may be a better choice.


DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex, and means that once light has passed through the lens, it hits a mirror angled at 45 degrees. The light shoots straight up and into a viewfinder that, when you hold your eye to it, shows you precisely what the lens is seeing at that moment. It’s a true optical path, with no digital processing in between. When you take a photograph, the angled mirror swings out of the way, revealing an image sensor behind it – it’s why DSLRs make that oh-so-satisfying 'ker-chunk' noise.

A mirrorless camera, unsurprisingly, doesn’t have a mirror. Instead, light goes through the lens, straight onto the sensor, where it is processed and, almost simultaneously, displayed either on the monitor on the back of the camera or on a very small monitor – an Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) on the top. When you push the shutter button, the camera records what’s on the sensor at that moment.

DSLRs use traditional technology which legacy companies like Nikon, Canon and Pentax have decades of experience with. On the whole, DSLRs tend to be robust, capable of great image quality and give you an extremely impressive battery life that the average mirrorless camera just can't match.

Removing the traditional mirror on mirrorless cameras, though, leads to several advantages. Mirrorless cameras don’t need a complicated optical viewfinder or a big mirror to reflect light, which means they can be a lot smaller and lighter. Some jobs, such as autofocus, can be done on the sensor itself, leading to very fast read times that mean some mirrorless cameras are capable of super-quick performance.

These days, there's also a high number of mirrorless cameras with full-frame sensors, too, so at the high end there is no discernible difference between the output of a mirrorless camera and that of a traditional DSLR.


Focal lenght

The first thing to consider when choosing your new lens is the focal length. The focal length is given in millimeters and specifies whether the lens is a wide angle or telephoto.

Both have their advantages and disadvantages. With a telephoto lens, you’ll naturally get closer to subjects far away. Telephoto lenses are also preferred for portraiture as they protect the facial proportions better than a wide angle. With a telephoto lens, it’s much easier to get a blurred background since telephoto lenses have less depth of field than wide angle lenses. Telephoto lenses usually have usually lower brightness and are more vulnerable to blurriness during the shoot if there is any camera shake. Telephoto lenses are usually physically larger than the wide angle lens.

Wide angle lenses, on the other hand, are fine for nature photography when you want to capture more of the landscape. They’re usually good both in brightness and depth of field, and are usually physically smaller and lighter than telephoto lenses. On the negative side the wide angle is not ideal for photographing people, at least not in a pure portrait context. A wide angle gives an impression of greater distance between what is close and what is distant, and it can thus quickly look like that model has a bigger nose and sunken eyes. You’re also more likely to get so-called distortion with a wide angle lens—the straight lines begin to bend into the edges of the image.

The cross between a wide angle and a telephoto lens is called a normal lens. This is a lens that renders the environment as we see with our own eyes (in relation to distance and magnification). In the 135 format, a normal lens is 50mm. Everything with a smaller focal length is called a wide angle, while larger focal lengths are called telephoto.

Fixed or zoom

For most, the most appropriate choice would be a zoom lens. You get several focal lengths in the same lens and therefore you can get away with fewer lenses to meet your needs. Zoom lenses always have two focal lengths specified, for example 18-55 mm, indicating the zoom range of the lens. If you want this translated into compact camera language, you can just divide the largest number by the smallest, which in the 18–55 mm case gives a zoom of about 3x.

A fixed lens, on the other hand, has some advantages. Fixed lenses are smaller and lighter and usually have better brightness than zoom lenses. It’s also easier to correct for various lens errors on a fixed lens than on a zoom, so you’re likely to get improved image quality on a fixed lens (although this will vary somewhat based on price and producer).

Some consider it more artistically correct to use a fixed lens and consider using a zoom to be cheating, in a sense, but it’s up to each photographer to decide what works best for them.

Image stabilization

Although you’ll find optical image stabilization in more and more DSLR camera bodies, major manufacturers continue to swear by stabilization in the lens. This is done by moving the elements in the lens, thus eliminating camera shake.

Below you can see the abbreviations other manufacturers use to specify that their lenses have built-in image stabilization:

  • Nikon – VR

  • Canon – IS

  • Pentax – Image stabilization in the cameras

  • Sony – Image stabilization in the cameras

  • Sigma – OS

  • Tamron – VC

Color refractive correction

Photography focuses entirely on the light, and the headache for lens makers is that light has some strange abilities. One of these is that the different colors of light bend differently when they pass through a lens. This can lead to color shifts, particularly toward the edges in an image. To counteract this, manufacturers are using what they call a low dispersion glass.

  • Nikon – ED

  • Pentax – ED

  • Sigma – APO

  • Tamron – LD


Distortion is a different lens error, where straight lines toward the edges of the image are bent either inward or outward. Most lens manufacturers take this into account during construction and correct it in the best possible way, but you might still come across specifications indicating that the lens has correction for this distortion.

  • Pentax – AL

  • Sigma – ASP

  • Tamron – AD

Perspective/focus shift

Some lenses have the ability to correct perspective. For example, when shooting a high building you may point the camera slightly upward, and the building will look thinner on top than the bottom. Lens perspective shift can rectify this. These lenses also have the option to change the focus plane so that you can improve or worsen the depth of field. As a common consumer, it is unlikely that you’ll need this type of lens.

  • Nikon – PC

  • Canon – TS

For non full-size image sensors

After SLR cameras took the step into the digital world, something had to be done with the lenses—first and foremost, because the digital image sensor had a much smaller area than a traditional negative. Since the image surface is smaller, lenses can be made smaller and lighter. But at the same time, these lenses cannot be used with traditional film cameras or DSLRs with a full frame image sensor.

  • Nikon – DX

  • Canon – EF-S

  • Pentax – DA

  • Sony – DT

  • Sigma – DC

  • Tamron – DI-II

For full-size image sensors

The manufacturers also make lenses for full frame image sensors, of course. These can also be used on regular film SLRs.

  • Nikon – Lenses are not marked with DX

  • Canon – EF

  • Pentax – FA

  • Sigma – DG

  • Tamron – DI


Macro is a feature many will recognize from compact cameras. It’s simply the ability to get very close to your subject and be able to take picture of the little things (insects, flowers, etc.).

  • Nikon – Micro

  • Canon – Macro

  • Sigma – Macro

  • Tamron – Macro

When deciding on a camera for yourself try and focus on the design aspects that are important to you, how much capability you actually need vs costs, and then be sure to handle a variety of cameras in person to make your final decision.



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