Buying a Camera When to Buy and How to Research

A Real Need or GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome)

Buying a camera is one thing but replacing your existing camera is another. Digital camera technology is changing rapidly. Often, one can get caught up in the excitement of new “bells and whistles” and have difficulty deciding if replacing the camera will improve your creative process. David duChemin’s video discusses how to choose whether or not to upgrade your camera. The following points summarize his process of asking himself if he needs this new camera.

  • Does the new camera offer an advantage to you in making your art that the previous camera does not allow? Was this a need you felt before the new gear was announced? Look at what you actually need to create the images you want to create.
  • Can you afford it? New cameras range from $1000 to $50,000. All cameras have restraints within which you can create. Decide what restraints you can live within.
  • Read a handful of reviews, but be careful reviews are often very subjective. Pay attention to how the reviewer talks about how the camera helped them do their work but ignores the superlative praising parts of the review.
  • If you find a camera that will help further your creativity, get it in your hands and play with it. Try and see how it fits, feels and whether how it operates works easily for you. In other words, does the camera get out of the way quickly? Some camera stores, like Beau Photo, have rentals where you can try a camera, and if you decide to buy, they deduct the rental from the purchase price.

Research Tools

When I am considering a new camera, I look at several things can I afford it, where are the controls located, how big is it, how big are the lenses, how old is the engineering, have the reviews found this I might not like, and what are the technical specification compared to my existing cameras and others. I also want to know what size the sensor in the camera might be as this impacts the depth of field, resolution and image quality. The following internet tools allow you do some preliminary evaluation from your computer.

Is the camera new?

New cameras are not always new. Like most manufacturers, something designed and built 3-6 years ago is likely still being manufactured and sold as new in camera stores. If you are shopping at discount stores, often buy a new discontinued stock that camera stores can no longer sell, and these can be very attractive price-wise.

Digital cameras, which effectively have the film stock built into the device, now age very rapidly. They are computer devices, and computers like cameras have a 3-8 year life cycle depending on your use of the device. Lenses still have a much longer life. If you buy a camera that was engineered 5 years ago, it will become more rapidly obsolete as your skill level increases than if you buy a camera that has been engineered more recently.

DPreview is an essential tool for discovering the engineering age of a camera. In the image below, they list cameras in descending order by the date they were announced.

Camera Cost

DPreview does list camera prices, but they are in US funds, and these do not translate uniformly into Canadian Dollars. In Canada, The Camera Store website is easy to navigate and has a wide selection; Beau Photo’s website has a well-curated selection of the best cameras; B&H Photo in New York‘s website is extensive if you are looking for something unique and it has a Canadian price mode.

Where are the controls, size and lenses? is an excellent site for seeing where camera controls are located, how they compare in size to other cameras and the size of lenses. In the images below, you can see the site provides you with a view of the front, back and top. There is also a sideways view. It also allows you to add any lens made for that camera, including third-party lenses.

In the two images, the first two cameras are medium format, the third is full frame, and the last is APSC. These are all mirrorless cameras, not DSLRs.

Camera Reviews

There are thousands upon thousands of camera reviews out there. If you have found yourself lost in this sea of videos and websites, here are a few reviews that I use and trust.

  • Camera Labs has an excellent in-depth side, and Gordon Laing has a good Youtube channel that provides both preliminary and in-depth reviews.
  • Three Blind Men and an Elephant Productions also provide in-depth reviews in perhaps a more poetic fashion.
  • On the lighter side, Kai W’s Youtube channel provides a more amusing approach to camera reviewing.
  • DPReview TV provides a review of both the photographic and video experience of the camera and some operational observations. DPReview’s website also provides written reviews and news of new camera releases and lenses, drones, and phones.

There are other comparison tools that might be useful:

What size is the sensor?

Sensor size impacts how large you can print, image quality and depth of field. When I consider a camera, the smallest sensor that appeals to me is an APSC sensor. That is not to say smaller sensors might not be just fine for others, but my choices are influenced by making large prints. If you are only posting on the internet or wanting smaller prints, smaller sensors like 4/3 sensors and one-inch sensors might be just the thing. Even the smaller sensors in iPhones make excellent eight by ten images.

The chart below gives you some idea of the relationship between the sizes of sensors.

The most popular sensor sizes are 4/3, APSC, Full Frame and Medium Format, which I have listed in ascending order according to sensor size. As the sensor gets larger, the depth of field decreases, so one of the advantages of 4/3 and APSC is that it is much easier to get everything in focus without resorting to a tripod. The disadvantage is it is more difficult to blur the background and create bokeh. The smaller the sensor, the smaller the lens, the less light passes through to the sensor, making them less effective in low light situations—also, the smaller the sensor. These fewer pixels can impact resolution and image quality. The disadvantage of Full Frame and Medium format is with a bigger sensor, and lenses are larger, heavier, and often cost double to get the same image quality.

You may wonder how sensor sizes impact image quality online and in print. If you are posting online, any size sensor will do a great job. The resolution of most computer screens is very low. Resolution wise, and if you are printing 8 by 10 or even 13 by 19, the resolution found in any of these sensors will be fine. That is not to say you can not print larger, but there are differences as the print gets larger.

DSLR versus Mirrorless

Most major camera companies have moved their development staff to mirrorless cameras, and some have entirely abandoned DSLR cameras altogether. Canon has announced they will stop developing lenses for their DSLR line. Sony is discontinuing its DSLR cameras, and Nikon has announced they will concentrate their energy on their mirrorless line. In addition to this, the camera market is shrinking, so camera manufacturers will need to focus on less variety. Mirrorless cameras have several advantages over DSLRs as they are smaller, lighter, and have more advanced technologies like pixel shift, advanced tracking and IBIS.

So if you are buying your first camera or don’t have a lot of lenses, a Mirrorless came is your best bet. If you are heavily invested in lenses, you may want to upgrade to another DSLR or look into lens adaptors for mirrorless cameras or cash in your lens to finance new mirrorless lenses. I have noticed that the newer mirrorless lenses have different characteristics than my old DSLR lenses. The newer mirrorless lenses seem sharper, and the sweet spot on the lenses is one or two stops lower than my DSLR lenses.