As a professional photographer, I get asked all the time: What is a good camera to buy? What should I get to document my upcoming trip? What do I need to capture non-blurry photos of my kids?
And my all-time most commonly asked question: What do I do with all the pictures and videos I have on my phone? As a pro, I understand the benefits and limitations of cameras very well, but I am not an all-knowing camera salesperson. Instead of trying to pretend to understand your ideal photographic solution, let me shed some light on the differences between each category of cameras, and you can make an informed decision from there as to which camera is right for you.
First, let’s discuss what you need the actual photos for, and more importantly, what you plan to do with them. This will help you to understand what modern tool you need for the job. In the old days cameras were much more straightforward. For the most part, you bought rolls of film, inserted them into your camera and took photos. When you got the photos back from being developed, you either enlarged and framed one or two or even bought a basic sticky album to put them all in. (Or worse yet, you just left them in the envelope they came in from the lab.) That was a simpler time in imagery for sure. Now we seem to be more thoughtful storytellers with our photos and need the right tool to make it painless and simple to operate, manage and distribute all of our work.
Some fundamental questions to ask yourself before picking the right camera.
- Am I creating a visual documentary of my travel journey?
- Will I be capturing photos only or photos and videos in the same device?
- Are the photographs I’m capturing for Instagram, SnapChat, Facebook etc.
- How will I carry the camera and how big can it be?
- What is my budget for a camera?
- Will the photos be brought to an archive system and saved for future use and printing?
- Will I be creating a masterpiece for the wall of the RV/Home?
Although diving deeply into this series of questions is an entirely separate blog post, you must first know the outcome of your work to know what tools you need. Let me guide you through the types of tools you can bring with you on the road, and you can refer back to those questions to find your answers.
There are essentially four basic types of cameras.
The first camera is probably the most common one, and that is the camera on your phone. The second is the most common “real camera”, and the one people think about purchasing first – the DSLR camera. The third is the exciting newer genre of cameras that has dominated imagery the past few years – the Action Camera and 360º Cameras. And lastly, the slowly dying breed of cameras called Point and Shoots.
The first camera to talk about is your phone’s. Phone cameras are at best as middle of the road point and shoot cameras. They are of similar quality, but with excellent editing and sharing capabilities (Sharing is SO vital to so many people, and the lack of low overall quality is overlooked for the convenience of shooting and sharing.) Yes, even the newest phone’s camera sensor is not in the same quality league as the sensors from DSLRs and Mirrorless SLRs. Despite their quality shortcomings, their ease of use makes them the go-to camera for millions. Coupled with the speed of sharing and accessibility, they will continue to dominate. The drawbacks to the camera phones are many and begin with lack of true manual control (to override the auto settings), lack of quality accessory expandability (like lenses), and lots of people claim to feel that creativity suffers when using their phone.
How does the camera phone cause lack of creativity? Simply put, the camera phone is so readily accessible, people tend to shoot anything and everything that might spark their interest. So much so, that they are carelessly shooting nonsense much of the time, which ultimately buries their greatest moments deep within piles of garbage pictures.
When we load a memory card into a Mirrorless SLR or DSLR, we are essentially saying, “Ok, I inserted my blank canvas. My camping trip to the shore will be my paintbrush to work with.” When using a DSLR I treat each memory card as if it was a roll of film for that day/event/place only. I then deliberately capture to paint a beautiful story of our trip. One picture at a time I pick and choose what I want to capture and document. For some reason, the act of carrying that camera with me forces me to think one frame at a time and the results show. Something a phone just can’t seem to do as well. (Side note/Pro Tip: I then download that memory card the second I get home and label the folder of images MMDDYYYY_NameofTrip/Event and save it under a folder of the year)
The DSLR and its modern cousin, the Mirrorless SLR, are likely the only cameras you will handle that will genuinely give you that sensation of working with an actual creation tool. The long and short of SLRs are their endless expandability from lens options to flash options to the sheer quality in the files. (What I mean by quality in the files is how clear the images are at close zoom while viewing in the computer) Big camera sensors mean big clean files you can enlarge, enhance & print. You can change lenses that allow you wide-angle viewing as well as telephoto zoom lenses to get you right up close. DSLRs are larger than anything else you will handle, but the quality of file of your once in a lifetime trip will be something that is undeniable.
You have to weigh the cost vs. size vs. personal use of images to know if an SLR is for you. Most all, SLRs now offer incredible video capabilities as well that translate to a powerful multitool for both mediums and increases their value. SLRs have always been the only way to go, and the whole photography industry is watching everything that is happening around the new smaller Mirrorless SLR phenomenon. Only an SLR will allow you to do something like this 30-minute exposure of our camper in the middle of the night.
The incredibly shrinking niche in the photography market is undoubtedly the Point and Shoot marketplace. For all practical purposes, these cameras have always had small lenses and small sensors, and quite frankly, the camera phones of today just outperform that of the traditional point and shoots. One point and shoot exception is the “Tough Waterproof Cameras.” They offer unique differences like underwater shooting and shockproof/drop proof shots. These types of cameras as you can imagine, make exceptional backpack cameras for hikes, beaches, vacations, etc. They are virtually indestructible pocket cameras that aren’t fixed wide-angle/fisheye cameras like action cameras. Point and shoot cameras still have a purpose such as manually overriding the auto settings, long exposures, self-timer, etc, but more and more you will see this segment dwindle away as phones take over their space completely.
Wearable action cameras have been the fastest growing segment in photography for a few years now. These little pint-sized cameras are mostly known for their impressive video capabilities, but quite honestly, I have ALWAYS used them as still cameras. Whether attached to my bike, my backpack or even my dog Cole. (Side note/Pro Tip: I set these little powerhouse cameras to take interval timer photos (once every 5 seconds) and let them shoot away. Then I submerge my family in the scene and act out life as usual.
The result is a memory card full of images, but after I select a handful of my amazing favorites, I delete the rest and enjoy a few fantastically candid scenic photos of ourselves. Action camera benefits are clearly their size, their wearability, and their environmental proofing. Recently, I have been having a blast with my new 360º camera and that market has yet to officially take off.
OR Embed in VR with photo on our FB Iframe Code: <iframe src=”https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Four1chance%2Fposts%2F1934410313269591&width=500″ width=”500″ height=”614″ style=”border:none;overflow:hidden” scrolling=”no” frameborder=”0″ allowTransparency=”true” allow=”encrypted-media”></iframe>
Keep your eyes out for how the cool VR/AR photos and videos will play out over the next 4 years.
So, with all that said, which type of camera is the most important to have?
THE ONE YOU HAVE WITH YOU! I know that isn’t the answer you were looking for but it’s a complex subject. As a pro photographer, I happen to have all of these types of cameras and can honestly say I use them all for each of their individual strengths. Captured with my Phone
No one camera is going to be your end-all, so you have to work within your budget and decide if you want something expandable, self-contained, wearable, etc. Each one is so uniquely different that I feel the need to have all of them to feed my soul as an artist, but of course, I don’t expect people to get all types. (My DSLRs are what I make a living off of so those tools of the trade are unfairly weighted)
I’d love to continue the conversation with you about camera needs, wants and desires. Leave a comment below with some questions or head over to our blog http://www.our1chance.com or on social @our1chance and DM us your question.