“I want a new camera. What should I buy?”

As a photographer, I am constantly fielding questions about ‘good’ cameras, which camera to buy, how to find a camera that ‘takes better pictures’. And don’t get me wrong, this is great. People should ask for advice before deciding on such purchases. But being the public photographer I am, I also get emails from my lovely readers asking me how to answer this question for their own friends and family. Now that I think about it, I kinda can’t believe I didn’t write about this until now!

So. There are a three questions I ask someone wanting to know what camera they should buy:

  1. What camera do you already have?
  2. Why do you want a different one?
  3. What do you hope to do with your camera in the future?

What camera do you already have?

Most people asking this question are already somewhat photography minded and probably have a camera of some sort already. Most first time buyers {in my experience} go for price and don’t have the slightest clue that there are differences, benefits and drawbacks for cameras other than price. It isn’t until they buy a crappy cheap thing that they start searching online and find this great big world we’re already pretty deep into. But knowing their past and presets experience with cameras is important. If they have a pocket-sized point-and-shoot, the jump to a 1D would be a pretty asinine recommendation.

Why do you want a different one?

This question was posed to me a few years ago by a camera dealer when I wanted to buy a 5DmkII from him. At the time, I had a 450D and my answer to him was the typical “I want to take better pictures”. He suggested that I spend an hour lesson with him addressing whatever I felt was wrong with my current camera and he very gently hinted at the fact that it wasn’t the camera, it was ME that needed to progress. But you know what, I upgraded anyway. Not to a 5D but to something like a 550d. I had it in my head that I wanted a flashier camera and so I bought it anyway. Now, I take his same advice and hand it out like candy to budding photogs and wonder if they’ll be as silly as I was and buy a different camera anyway. So keep in mind that many people have something stuck in their head that a better camera = better photos and they’ll  just go for it anyway.

What do you hope to do with your camera in the future?

I always get a feel for what they hope to get out of their camera. If they say “I want to be a wedding photographer” I would suggest something serious they can grow into and of course, it will need to be a DSLR and a good lens. If they say they want to take fun pics of their kids, their dog, their pottery then I’d suggest an advanced point and shoot like a Canon G12 or even a bridge camera to give them the mini-DSLR feel without the confusion over lenses.
So you see, you really need to probe the person asking and if doesn’t result in them buying the exact thing you’ve recommended, it will at least get them thinking about the fact that there’s more to consider when making this choice than first meets the eye.

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  • I would also ask: How do you plan to use this camera?

    For me, yes, I’d love a full frame camera. But the truth is, I’d never use it. Why? Because my camera is ALWAYS in my purse. I take it with me everywhere. It was a better for me to go with a Rebel, that is a moderate size, than something larger. I’d rather be able to TAKE pictures than to have a better camera which sits at home. :)

    I do upgrade with every Rebel simply because they keep getting smaller and lighter (love!).

    If I was someone who mainly took pictures in my house, or had a business where it would be feasible to lug equipment, I’d get the other.

    I tell this to my friends. They never listen (of course) and they all end up with gigantic cameras that collect dust while they’re using a point-and-shoot when we’re out and about.

  • Paul Parkinson

    I get asked this all the time. My answer is similar to yours but a little more direct. I ask them do they know why they want to upgrade? I ask them if they know the difference between needing to upgrade and wanting to upgrade. Most times they get it – they understand that it’s a “want” and not a “need”.  They will know when it becomes a need.

    If they have a DSLR already and have some cash burning a hole int their pocket (i.e. they HAVE to buy something NOW!) I tell them to get a prime lens with it. Buy better glass if you HAVE to buy something and any prime is better than the kit lens that came with the camera…. 

  • So can I ask this question to you, but a little more specific…
    What should be my next purchase.  A Cannon 7D or the 50mm F1.2 (I have been dreaming of this lense)?
    Right now I have a Cannon Rebel XT.  I think I have finally maxed out my potential on it.  As for lenses I have: the 20-70mm f2.8; the 50mm f1.8 (this is what makes me dream of the f1.2, I love that creamy bokeh, but the lense lacks clarity, and slowness in focusing is difficult with kids); and I have the the 18-200mm F/2.5 -5.6 (But I hardley ever use this any more, I think I last used it 2 years ago on vacation).
    I am mostly a hobby photographer, and am toying with the idea of doing photography as apart time side job (I just don;t think I will ever make as much as my current job). I do photoshoots for family, friends, and coworkers mostly.  
    So I can’t decide which purchase would serve me better immediatly.  Any advice?

  • Anonymous

    A new camera will be just another camera. The 1.2 will blow your mind! And it might transform the camera you already have into something you never dreamed it could be.

  • I would agree 90% of the time.  Better to invest in glass than a camera upgrade.  Except that the XT is the 2nd generation rebel that came out in 2005 (technology has changed alot).  Only 8megapixels.  Horrible noise if your ISO is higher than 400.  I thought getting my first L series would improve the quality of images I got with the camera.  But I still have not been happy. 

    Hence my dilemma…

  • Lorafamily

    I’m new at photography (although I’ve been taking pictures of my kids for years), I have a Canon EOS rebel 1000d.  it came with the kit lens and I bought a 55-250 lens. But it takes terrible sports action pictures. after looking around, it seems I have to spend alot of money on a zoom lens that will take great action pictures…but I’m so overwhelmed. which one should I buy? and there are soooo many lenses! I see these amazing pictures you take and I wonder If the only way IS to buy an expensive camera and lens…..

  • Michelle

    ok Elizabeth…so I absolutely LOVE this blog and read it all the time. I have been slowly growing my very small business and I have an incredibly long way to go, but here is my question… I started everything with an olympus evolt E-420. At the time, I wasn’t even thinking about making money through it but here I am now. Today was Christmas for me when I got my Canon 5d markii in the mail! AHHH! so excited! I soon figured out that, all of a sudden, my Olympus screen will not come on! And I have a session scheduled Sat with a good friend! uggh! I figured out very quickly…I see why all these pros are screaming “have a backup camera always!” sooo, my question-I had a cheezy ole Olympus and am wondering, what would be a good backup? I was wondering if you would consider your ole 450D to be a good one? I’m looking for something not too pricy since I just used a good chunk a change on this big fella I just got.

  • elizabethhalford

    Hello Michelle! Thank you so much for your compliments :) First, CONGRATULATIONS! Wooo hoo! *confetti and whatnot!* The mkIII was like seeing for the first time, even compared to the mkII. So well done, you!

    Yes, you always need a backup. Mine is my 7D. But yes even a 450D would be better than nothing and now that they’re super cheap, having one (or something like it) in your bag is a no brainer I think.

  • morganleighcraft

    Hello, Elizabeth! I loved this post, it was very helpful, but I’d like to ask another question! My parents gave me a Nikon D3000 for Christmas/Graduation my senior year of high school. It came with the kit lens, and they bought me a 55-200mm lens as well (because I was shooting sports photography for the year book at the time). The camera body and these two lenses have seen a lot of love! I recently dug in more to the world of photography and learned how “bad” it is to shoot with the kit lens (oops!), so VERY quickly I invested in a Nikkor 50mm 1.8. I love this new lens! My photos have improved, without a doubt. I am trying very hard to market my business and launch my photography career. I would love to upgrade my camera once I earn the money to do so. Here’s the thing-all this technical stuff gets me so lost! Also, I have never touched a Canon, so I worry I am cheating myself. “What if Canon is better quality than Nikon?” I love my Nikon, but it seems like most photos I adore were shot with Canon! Now, is that because of the photographer, or the camera (mainly the camera lens)? Please help! I would love any advice! I know you shoot Canon. I interned with 2 photographers last summer, one shot Nikon, one Canon. Neither of them had anything bad to say about the other brand! Which is good, but I still feel lost. Also, I just want someone to tell me what the best choice is for portrait/wedding photography! Like I said, I always get lost when I try to research these things. Sorry for the long post!! Thank you very much!!! Morgan

  • GlowingFieldsPhoto

    I currently have a canon rebel t1i, and although I love it, I want a camera with higher ISO settings and more sensors… (without breaking the bank) I have my eye on the Canon 70d. What are your thoughts?