What camera should I buy?

The most asked question is “What camera should I buy?

This is a universal ongoing question I often get, so I decided to write up some of the important questions you should ask yourself, which will then be your answers. Confused? Continue reading and let me explain 5 points of importance.

1. What is your need?

First and foremost you must ask yourself what you would like to capture with your camera. Or what you are not presently photographing with the camera you already have.

If you want to go out in the street and capture people and scenery, bring a camera on vacation to take photos of your travels you should go light and small. Heavy cameras with big lenses are often lying around at home because they are just too clumsy and annoying to bring around.

5 examples of small cameras are:

  • Leica M including small changeable lenses
  • Sony Alpha but with larger lenses than Leica (other lenses can be attached with an adapter)
  • Fujifilm X-T-series with interchangeable lenses
  • Fuji X100-series with a fixed lens
  • Ricoh GR-series, fixed lens
  • Olympus OMD

Leica M9. A full-frame sensor and iconic camera for street photography. Leica M9 picture samples.

These 5 cameras are all some you can carry in a small bag, or have hanging over your shoulder with a good camera strap without being tired of it. Having a camera with you is what gets you to take the pictures you want.

If you are into nature photography, sports or portraits, not bringing a camera around everywhere you go, a larger camera with larger tele lenses and maybe even a tripod when needed, is your choice for that type of photography. Here you must ask yourself what needs you have.

Fuji X100 is a small camera good for travel and street photography. It is a 23mm lens but equivalent to a 35mm lens because of the APS-C sensor size. Some picture samples from the Fuji X100 can be viewed here.

These recommendations are focused on mirrorless cameras because DSLR systems are no longer being developed. Also, mirrorless cameras are generally more advanced for action shooting.

5 cameras for portraits, nature and sports may be:

  1. Nikon Z9 and D-series
  2. Sony A1
  3. Canon R5 and EOS-series
  4. Sony A9 or Sony A7-series
  5. Fiji X-H2S

A previous DSLR camera I owned and ended up not using much due to the size making it uncomfortable to bring around.

Summing up, there will be overlapping features, where for example a Leica M and a Fujifilm X-T with interchangeable lenses will be as good for portrait photography as any larger EVF (mirrorless) cameras will be.

2. What sensor size to choose?

The sensor size determines the ability of the camera to take up light and this has to fit with the lenses used. For cameras with fixed lenses, this is already taken care of. You can use a lens built for a full-frame camera on a camera with a crop sensor, but not the other way around because the lens doesn’t cover the full frame area.

There are some different sizes used for cameras:

  • 1″-Type
  • 4/3
  • APS-C
  • Full frame 35mm
Full-frame image sensors have an active surface area of 36x24mm, which is the same size as one frame of 35mm film. The 35mm film format dates from 1889 when it was introduced as a standard width for movie film cameras.
This more expensive sensor takes up most light and produces less noticeable noise and better colours when pushed to High ISO settings in low light.
Full frame sensor with fast lenses (read point 3), can render a very narrow depth of field (DOP) with the right lens shot wide open.
The smaller sensors often produce more noise with high ISO settings in low light, and they can’t produce the same narrow smooth DOP (Depth of field) as full frame sensors can. They are also cheaper than full-frame sensors. In normal shooting situations and where the DOP isn’t important it’s a good and cheaper choice than full-frame sensors.

3. Which lenses to use?

Some cameras come with a built-in fixed lens. This is the case for the more expensive Leica Q system and the cheaper choice like Fuji X100.

Leica M, Fuji X-T and Olympus OMD for example all have the possibility of interchangeable lenses. Leica M only manual focusing so you need to train and manage that, but it gives great control over the focus point. Most other cameras come with different autofocus choices, and some also can change between autofocus and manual controlled focus when needed.

Please notice that a full-frame 28mm lens on a full-frame camera is a 28mm lens, whereas the Fuji X100 lens built on the camera is a 23mm lens but equivalent to a 35mm lens because of the APS-C sensor size.

Wide-angle lenses are good for sceneries and street photography, where the 35mm lens is widely used as the “true” street photography lens.

50mm also goes for street photography and has been used traditionally by many famous street photographers. Also useable for portrait photos I find.

80 to 200 mm lenses (and everything in between) are great for portraits, sports and nature.

Lenses above 200 mm are for sport nature, and wildlife in general.

Zoom lenses give more flexibility if needed, but fixed lenses both train your way of shooting creatively and also produce sharp images and let more light in.

Fast lenses with an aperture between 2.0 and below are good for low light photography and where you want a narrow depth of field shooting wide open. One of the fastest lenses in the world so far is the Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH. Other lenses with the same aperture are done, but this is one “that exceeds the perception of the human eye,” says Leica. It’s expensive though as you might imagine. Less can do, and my favourite 50mm Summilux 1,4 is the main tool for me in many cases.

Fast lenses make it possible to create a narrow depth of field in a full-frame camera, where this feature fades off when using small crop sensors.

4. How many pixels are needed?

Pixel hunting has gone crazy in the later years. It is like everything is about more pixels. In reality pixels above 16 megapixels isn’t necessary for most of us. It is sufficient to make a good quality A3 photo print, and for screen use and many other purposes, no one makes use of more pixels if cropping the pictures in the post-production isn’t a factor.

The still-going-strong Leica M9 (introduced September 2009) is a full-frame digital rangefinder camera from Leica. It comes with an 18.5-megapixel image sensor which is more than enough for most photography. If you should nature and need to crop there are cameras with 60 megapixels where you can zoom in afterwards and crop out what you need. For sports, this also can be beneficial where the lens doesn’t reach.

For most photography, you should ask yourself if 20 – 30 megapixels isn’t enough. If you do not crop heavily or need to print posters on a larger scale, this is sufficient for most photography.

5. What will I pay for a camera?

I put the price as priority 5 simply because I think it is more important to know what genre you like to shoot and then decide what camera can fulfil your needs.

Full-frame cameras with exchangeable lenses are generally more expensive than cameras with smaller sensors, fewer megapixels and fixed lenses. Secondly, it comes to quality and brand. A Leica M or Q is known for both being quality build and because of branding value.

There is no need to spend a lot of money on a camera used occasionally. The more advanced photography you do, the higher needs may arise when get more specialised.

If you do not need a full-frame camera, shooting mostly at middle aperture settings, and less in low light, then a cropped sensor will save you some money. If you like the full-frame quality you must spend more on that.

So what if I shoot both vacation and nature sceneries? Either you have to choose one for all, or you might have a more expensive camera for the most important part of your photography and a cheaper extra camera for the vacation memories if that is your priority.

Searching for the camera you need can be done in two ways. First, put a maximum prize and look at what cameras are available.

Then make a priority list of the most important features of the above-mentioned, and see what comes closest.

Finally, it depends on what feeling you have about cameras and gear. Just remember that it is the photographer who takes the picture, and the camera is just a tool. So it’s more important to have a camera you will use, rather than an expensive camera placed on a shelf and not being used. The camera doesn’t do the job for you. You do.

A list of choices

I add three lists here to give an idea about what cameras, lenses, sensors and megapixels will be an option for different scenarios.

Street and travel photography – cheaper

  • Small camera (rangefinder or EVF)
  • Small lenses (fixed)
  • Crop sensor: 4/3 or APS-C
  • From 16megapixels and upwards

Street and travel photography (and portrait) – high-end

  • Small camera (rangefinder or EVF).
  • Small changeable lenses, 28, 35 or 50mm.
  • Full frame censor.
  • From 16megapixels and upwards.

Portrait photography

  • Medium to large-sized cameras (EVF).
  • Changeable lenses, from 80mm to 100mm.
  • Full frame censor (or APS-C if you do not need shallow depth of field on a fast lens).
  • 20 megapixels and upwards.

Landscape and sports – high-end cameras)

  • Medium to large-sized cameras (EVF).
  • Changeable lenses, from 80mm to 3-400mm, alternatively also zoom lenses.
  • Full frame sensor for detailed resolution on landscape and low noise for high ISO settings for sports.
  • 24mp and upwards. More megapixels add the opportunity to crop images afterwards without losing details.

Why not join a workshop?

If you need more inspiration and lack trust in your photo style and how to bring up your level then why not join a workshop?

You don’t need to have the experience to learn. If you have just bought your first camera and need to know how it works and what you can photograph with it, join in.

If you are experienced but need a boost and see new creative opportunities to develop your skills, join in.

I arrange photography workshops in inspiring cities around the world and teach all levels. There are two-day workshops over a weekend, and there are longer masterclass workshops where we also look a post-processing in Lightroom.

If you have any requests, drop me an e-mail and I will get back to you as soon as possible.

Check the workshops available on the workshop page.