Buying a Camera

Deciding what digital camera to buy is a very important decision that should be made with great care and research. There is now so much information available on products, I believe we are more empowered than ever to make a very informed decision on how and what cameras are worthy of photography . Online review sites and consumer reviews are plentiful and free. I recommend immersing yourself in studying your options before you lay out your hard-earned bucks.

Where To Buy

Where to buy a dslr camera (digital single lens reflex) from has become more limited than when I first started out. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, Philadelphia had three professional camera stores and a couple used equipment stores. Now there is just one, Webbcam, on 12th and Vine. B&H in NYC is the world’s mega store for all things photographic. It takes up a whole city block and is a kind of Mecca for photographers. It’s worth a visit and their online site is quite extensive. Webbcam and B&H have truly informed staff that can guide you with one-on-one support on deciding what camera to buy. You can hold the equipment and see things up close.

Some smaller “consumer” centered stores in my area carry some pro equipment, but I have not found their staff to be truly honest or informed. My cousin worked in one such store and he was trained to “up-sell” and push certain products. Buyer beware. Knowledge is power. By the way, photography manufacturers lie like politicians. I have often bought things from Ebay used. You can find huge discounts on all sorts of equipment. The cost savings is so huge that if what you bought is less than great, you can sell it back for the same price and try something else. Craig’s list might also have some stuff.

First Stop: DXOmark and DPreview.com

When deciding what camera to buy, or lens, my first stop is DXOmark.com They are a highly respected third party group that does very thorough analysis of sensor and lens quality. DPreview.com is my second stop for in-depth reviews and forums buzzing with experienced shooters loving and hating equipment of all sorts. Search the forums for posts about the lens or camera you are interested in and see what photographers are saying. Thirdly, at the risk of sounding trivial, I do love the Amazon reviews. If several folks are bitching about a product defect, then run don’t walk to the next product.

Start With A Great Sensor

The sensor is the part of the camera that collects data about light. A better sensor will give you more latitude, i.e. shadow detail and highlight detail, and more richness of color. These days most sensors are capable of good results if shot at a low ISO, like 100 or 200 ISO. Bettor sensors will give you good results at high ISOs, like 1600-64,00 ISO. This can be critical if you want to hand hold in low light situations. Personally, being able to hand hold and shoot in very low light situations has been a big game changer for me.

In my classes, I often see folks coming in with a new Canon Rebel or some other consumer entry camera for which they paid $300-700. These kinds of cameras may be a huge leap up in quality from using your phone’s camera, but in the hierarchy of cameras, they are on the bottom of the pyramid. The kit lenses they come with are among the worst lenses you can get. For the same money, or maybe a couple hundred dollars more, you can purchase last year’s latest and greatest used model. DXO gives a # rating for camera’s sensors and lenses. Let’s look at some examples I found with a quick search on Ebay.

What Brand To Buy

If you are shooting at low ISOs, i.e. with a tripod or in bright situations, then I think most of the big name brands will all give you great images. Especially if you  buy in their mid to upper range of quality.

Canon is the most popular brand out there, but have lagged behind in their DXO scores for the past 10-15 years! Canon’s high end consumer entry level camera, the 77D from 2017, comes in at around $700 with a DXO sensor score of 78. This is not a full sensor camera and typically would come with a low-quality lens. If you shoot at 100 or 200 ISO, the image quality will be ok for most purposes. But if you want to raise your ISO to over 400, you may find that the image quality suffers, especially in the shadow areas. This will considerably limit your ability to get good quality in a low light situation. Now, compare this option with an older or used Sony. The Sony A7 series has been rocking the pro camera world with its superior sensor quality. An A7 (a 2013 model) gets a very high rating of 90 at DXO. This camera new with a lens on Amazon is around $1000 new. I found the same set up used on Ebay for several offerings ranging from $400-750. This camera isn’t even that great compared to many later models of Sony, but its image quality totally shames almost all Canon models. Canon only just broke into the DXO sensor score of 90 with the Mark lV dslr. Meanwhile, Nikon has come out with the mirrorless Z6 for $2000 rated at 95 by DXO. Mirrorless cameras are smaller and lighter and come with a full frame sensor. Nikon also offers the D750, the D800, D810, D600 DSLRs for around $1500 new and $500-600 range used, all with a score of  around 93! I’m seeing used Nikon D850 with a DXO score of 100 for $2000.

In my early days of film, I was a loyal Nikon user. When digital came in, Nikon was slow to get their sensor quality going. Many of us pros switched to Canon. Then suddenly Nikon’s quality jumped over Canon and they never looked back. Canon has sat idly by while Nikon trumped them model after model, year after. But wait, along comes Sony from out of nowhere. Suddenly Sony and Nikon were duking it out for the top rung. I switched over to Sony when I realized I could get an adaptor and use my Canon lenses on a Sony. Canon recently came out with the Mark lV, finally a Canon in DXO’s 90s score level! A Mark lV will cost you around $2000, body only, and its score is 90.

I bought a used Sony A7lll for $1200 and it has a DXO score of 96! This camera’s high quality sensor gives me fantastic results when shooting in available darkness with lowlight at a high ISO. This has been a real game changer. I’m totally seduced by the luxurious latitude, low noise and glorious colors.

Buy a better sensor for less!

So, let me spell it out for you, don’t buy a new entry level Canon Rebel, but instead buy a used high scoring Nikon or Sony. Of course, if you have the budget, purchase the top rated new Sony or Nikon. I have used mid- range quality Canon cameras for my professional work for years. I’ve shot everything from school portraits, to weddings, to Magazine covers with my Canon 6D. The quality is good and my clients are happy. So, Canon is great, but Sony and Nikon are better. The big three are Sony, Canon and Nikon. All three of these companies are popular with professionals. The lenses and flashes from these big three are all very good. At this point in time, Sony lenses are more expensive and they only have one pro level flash. You’ll find a ton of used Nikon and Canon equipment out there, at far lower prices. Sony is so new to this top tier of photography, there isn’t much used and the discounts aren’t as good.

Really, you’ll be fine buying any of the big-name camera companies. In my classes, I have seen photos from every kind of camera. I have never looked at a photo and thought that must have been taken with _____ camera. When you are deciding what digital camera to buy check out the DXO score and read a few reviews and you should be good to go. And by the way, the top phone cameras have been so good in the past couple of years that they might be all the quality you need.

blog post main image