It's that time of the year, when - if you were thinking about upgrading your camera - you are starting browsing the stores offerings and wondering if now is the time to take the plunge.
But also, if you want a new camera or lens - which one?
We have researched and tested and thought about some key considerations for you. All accurate as of Nov 2019
SO WHAT’S THE BEST CAMERA FOR ME?
If we had a penny for each time we get asked: “What’s the best camera to buy?” And I really wish I could just say – THAT one. But I can’t. Even if we take the cost out of the equation, there are still a lot of reasons that make one camera the right fit for someone and a terrible for another.
So how do you know? Here are a few questions that may be of help.
What’s your skills level?
If you’re just starting up, you certainly don’t need the £3,000 piece of gear. Instead, go for a camera that will not be too complicated to handle when you don’t know much, but at the same time, one that you won’t want to replace as soon as you’ve learned a little.
That’s why we tend to recommend cameras that are one shelf above the absolute starter camera – if possible. The production cycle of cameras these days is approx 18 months and sometimes the technical differences between the newest model and its predecessor are really insignificant ( like for example having or not having built-in wifi) so in some cases it’s better to choose a slightly older model from a shelf up ( which had gone down in price since the newest version came out) than the brand new shiny model from the bottom shelf.
If you're upgrading your camera, you already know a bit about what's important to you and you know the degree to which you tend to use it. If you find it lacking - I'd recommend going for a model that's 1-2 levels above what you currently have, so you can get some longevity out of it.
Weight and size – are those important to you?
Does the size and weight of your camera matter to you? If you have a few small people swarming around you, perhaps carting a larger piece of equipment is not really for you. Getting a heavy camera, however great it might be, won’t be of any use to you if its weight and bulk will make you reluctant to bring it with you frequently. The saying goes – the best camera is the one you have on you – and we certainly subscribe to this view. If you don’t use it, what’s the point of spending lots of money on it?
So if weight and size is a key consideration, you want something small and light ( that includes smaller lenses) which means you’re looking either at the smaller end of DSLRs or going mirrorless.
What's a Mirrorless?
Do not confuse mirrorless cameras with ‘bridge cameras’. Bridge cameras are essentially upgrades to point-and-shoot cameras which include the capability to shoot in manual modes and to manipulate a few other settings. More often than not, bridge cameras have one fixed lens which is not interchangeable with any others. We don’t tend to recommend these for one reason – even if they boast most of the features of an entry-level DSLR, they are usually designed with an Auto user in mind – not someone planning on using them in semi-manual and manual modes. The key settings tend to be hidden deep in the menus and not easily or ergonomically accessible.
But mirrorless cameras – that’s a whole different story. They are essentially designed to be the new DSLRs. They make away with some of the mechanical elements from the DSLR design ( the mirror which sends the image from the lens to the viewfinder – which does not actually take part in the photo creation, just pre-viewing the image) ) and often pack some great features and advanced settings. The quality they give you is as good or better than DSLRs. As of the last few years, they even come in professional-grade, full-frame varieties and we’re seeing more and more photographers switch away from bulkier pro DSLRs to the much smaller and lighter Mirrorless.
The future is Mirrorless
More importantly, camera manufacturers are definitely putting their money that way with Nikon for instance announcing they will not be further developing and updating their entry level DSLR ranges, and instead offering entry level Mirrorless in the coming years. So if you're thinking long term, mirrorless maybe the way to go.
The pros of mirrorless cameras are certainly the size. The downsides – well, they are on the pricier side, there are still fewer lenses available for them and they tend to be more expensive too and they can be more fragile. In some cases, depending on how you will be using them, the lenses can be almost as large as the ones for DSLRs ( though there are quite a few small and light ones so that’s certainly not a rule)
What will you be using the camera for?
Do you plan to use it as your family camera or perhaps thinking of working towards becoming a pro? If you have such ambitions, you will need a camera that’s reliable and precise above all. Those – and lenses that come with them – tend to be a lot heavier and bulkier so worth considering whether it’s a now or future purchase.
If you’re planning for it to remain a family-focused hobby ( for now at least) don’t worry about going full-frame and go instead for a good, small and compact camera that will be easy to take with you everywhere. It doesn’t need to be a mirrorless, there are some lovely small DSLRs out there that aren’t that much bigger.
Don’t forget that when you buy a camera, you are also buying into the lens and accessories ecosystem linked to that particular brand. So your canon camera will only work with Canon lenses ( or made-for-canon third party lenses – like Sigma or Tamron), and also that you will need different lenses for your starter DSLR, full-frame DSLR, and a mirrorless – even if it’s the same brand
And finally – budget
Let’s not beat about the bush. Photography is not a cheap hobby. The gear can be very expensive, but you don’t always need all that. We don’t all need to drive a Lexus if all we do is pop down the shops from time to time. All the more reason to shop with care and buy the kind of camera that’s actually well suited to what you need. It might also mean buying a camera body and lens separately to maximize your money.
Used is not a dirty word
There is a thriving second-hand market for photography gear. Specialized sellers like mpb.com and wexphotovideo.com or camerajungle.co.uk will service all their second-hand gear before selling it on and then offer between 6 months to a 1-year warranty on it ( depending on the seller). This means you’re getting quality gear which you can rely on for a lot less than buying it new.
Sometimes the differences between the older models and their new version can be almost purely cosmetic - in recent years there were a few cases where literally the only things that change from an older to the newer model were the addition of wifi and touch screen - and all the actual photo taking bits remained exactly the same.
If money is a serious concern but you want to get more than just the entry-level gear, I would recommend considering second hand.
So with all that being said, what do we actually recommend?
A BEGINNER PHOTOGRAPHER
A beginner photographer does not need a £3000 camera. She does need a solid camera that is designed to allow her a bit of growth beyond the most basic features, that she’ll be able to build up on.
Nikon's entry-level cameras date from last year, as Nikon is moving onto mirrorless and have not released, now will release updates to the current entry-level range, but they're still great choices to start with, and more affordable than ever.
If you’re on a budget and she’s just starting up: Nikon d3500 ( from £299 on Amazon with a standard kit lens),
if you can push the money a little further NIkon d5600 ( from £485 on Amazon at the moment).
Alternatively, you could opt for the slightly older d5500 – Nikon d5600 is newer and more expensive than d5500, but beyond adding a few Bluetooth and wireless connectivity features they are practically the same camera). D5500 can now be bought quite easily second hand from around £300)
Canon cameras :
In the past couple of years, Canon released a few lines of entry-level DSLRs: Canon d4000 being the most basic, followed by 2000d - still entry-level, but a rung above, and then an update the 100 range - Canon 250d. All three can be good choices for a beginner photographer, but for different reasons.
Canon d4000 has the lowest resolution of all 3 - at 17Megapixels it lags behind the standard at that level compared to 24MP for the d2000 and d250. For that reason, and comparatively little difference in price, I would recommend jumping up to the Canon d2000 if it's no-frills, good, entry-level camera in a small and light package - from around £359 currently on Argos
But, if you can stretch the cash a little further, Canon d250 would be a better choice - it is smaller, performs much better in low light, shoots better video and has an improved focusing system.
There are other camera systems out there as far as DSLR is concerned - most notably Pentax and also Sony, but given the widest choice of lenses and accessories, we tend to recommend to sticking to these two brands.
If it’s a mirrorless camera you want to get, we have a few favorites from the entry-level range :
Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III
Currently on sale for around £428 on Amazon including a standard kit lens.
Great looking, very capable camera with a lot going for it. With very good performance on the move and a great focus mechanism, it definitely packs a lot of features in. Bonus – it uses a micro 4/3 lenses which means the pool of lenses available for this camera is wider than some of its competitors as you can use both Olympus, Panasonic, and a few other third party lenses. The slight downside is that the smaller sensor which results in a smaller resolution - of 16MP. However that really only matters if you plan on printing your images in large format, which most people don't tend to do often. A big bonus is 5 axis image stabilization which makes shooting sharp images in low light MUCH easier.
Fujifilm X-T100 or X-T20
New, entry-level kid on the block for the Fuji stable ( around £535 incl lens from various retailers)- this one is aimed at a beginner user and while simpler than the higher up and flagship Fuji models, it still offers a small, compact, yet versatile and stylish package. What we like a lot about this model is that unlike the more budget end of Fuji mirrorless end, it does have a viewfinder and does not rely on the back screen only ( a non-negotiable feature for a camera in our books).
But, If you can stretch a little further, we would still recommend going for the moderately older, but equipped with a better sensor and faster focusing mechanism Fujifilm X-T20 ( currently around £620 including a kit lens) - it's essentially a slightly simplified version of the photographers beloved X-T2 model and packs a serious punch both in style and substance.
Canon EOS M-50
Canon is expanding its mirrorless range and this little baby is their entry-level mirrorless. M-50 is not the cheapest of the range ( from £465 including lens) but beats the lower level camera by improved features and an integrated viewfinder. It has good resolution, a good sensor, good focusing system - all of which translate into a good little contender.
Sony A6000 ( or A6400)
We love the sony Full-frame range (a7 and a9 ) but the crop sensor models are great and full of features too. Sony d6000 ( around £400 incl lens) or the newer version – Sony d6400 ( on sale for around £749 incl lens) are both great cameras in little packages, capable of great things. Sony has been at the mirrorless game for a little while now so the range of lenses available is getting bigger with some third party lenses available as well.
She knows her way around her current camera. She wants the better low light handling, higher resolution, better focus options and other more advanced features that her current camera doesn’t give her. Or maybe her current model is just a little too old now to handle it all as well. Either way, you want to be looking at the mid-high range.
Nikon d7500 ( approx £760 at John Lewis right now) is a great choice up from entry level – a lot of the features trickled down from the the higher end, full frame models and for once, it is a significant update to Nikon d7200 ( approx £700) which already was a great camera.
If money can stretch further – all the way to full frame, pro grade – Nikon d750 ( from £999 right now) is one of the best entry full frame models – relatively small and light but with lots of features from the higher end models. Just be aware that with a switch to a full frame body, you will need full frame lenses. And those do not come cheap.
Canon 80d ( from £965 at the moment) is one of the Canon cameras for enthusiasts which is receiving great reviews. Without having to go for a full frame camera, you get lots of the advanced features without the price tag and having to change your lenses to full frame.
If you’re ready to make a switch to full frame, 6d mark II received a significant update to the sensor and focusing system from the already excellent 6D. It's a direct competitor to Nikon's d750 and boasts similar range of features. Whether you choose one or the other is often a choice between which of the two you prefer in handling, colour rendering, or which system you may already have lenses for. Both will make a great first step into full frame systems, and be cameras you won;t be in a rush to replace soon.
There has been an explosion of higher-end mirrorless cameras in recent years - from enthusiast to full pro level. The choice is now greater than ever with many manufacturers
Sony a7 iii or Sony a7 ii
Sony a7 iii is up there as one of the best cameras for pro photographers - it has amazing focus ability, fantastic low light performance, exceptional resolution, dual memory card slot - there is lots and lots to love about it, even if Sony has since produced a newer Sony a7R iv. The only weak point is common with most other mirrorless at this moment and that's weak battery life. It isn't cheap - the camera body alone will set you back in the region of £1,700. However, if you still want great performance and don’t need some of the more sophisticated functions, the older a7 ii could be a fantastic choice. It's around half the price too if you shop around.
Fuji X-T3 or X-T30
Fuji X-T3 replaces the XT -2 which has long been a darling of photographers. We love it for the cool design (let’s not pretend it’s without importance) but above all, for the beautiful richness of colours, great focus and a good selection of small and light lenses. Unlike the Sony a7 range, Fujis are still crop sensors rather than full-frame, but beyond that, both are brilliant The X-T3 itself has been joined by a more budget-friendly XT-30 alternative, one that includes a lot of the same specs but in a slightly less pro-design body and surprisingly with one bonus over the XT-3 which is a built-in pop up flash. XT-3 retails at around £1,200 while the XT-30 at around £850 if you shop around
Nikon Z6 or Z50
Nikon Z6 - Nikon was comparatively late to the full-frame mirrorless game but it more than made up for it with this beauty. It packs in a pro-spec - great resolution, superb focusing, great handling, brilliant low light performance, plus, often bundled in with the camera body, a converter which makes it possible to use all your old DSLR fit Nikon lenses. It has also struck deals with third-party manufacturers such as Sigma to bring more lenses into the market, so it could definitely be one to jump on to if a pro level is what you need. If you don’t want all the pro-spec, go for a more junior option - Nikon Z50 - it will mean stepping from full-frame to crop sensor and there are a few compromises on the side of build and resolution, it is a great package with the same lens mont as its older brother and the same lens mount converter. If you are en existing Nikon user and loathe to part with your lens, collection, this may be a great choice for you. Nikon Z6 is selling for around £1,400, while Nikon Z50 will set you back in the region of £850 - comparable to Fuji XT-30 - also a crop sensor.
Panasonic Lumix G9
Panasonic Lumix G9 - I've not mentioned Panasonic mirrorless in the entry-level section and that's partly because as far as its more junior models go, other brands take the edge on the quality vs cost comparison. But G9, aimed at an Enthusiast level is a different story. It's a very capable camera that excels in several areas such as fast focus, great low light handling - it has built-in 5 axis stabilization, great video performance, and all-round great handling. It's also splash and dustproof, which is a great feature when you cart it around kids that - like mine, love to roll in mud and splash in puddles. Like some of its competitors, it also offers face/eye detection. To get your hands on one, you are looking to spend in the region of £900 at the moment
Canon EOS RP
Canon EOS RP - yes, there is the Canon R - the highest resolution mirrorless you can get, with all the tricks and trimmings. BUT, it retails at around £3300 which makes it out of reach for most non-strictly-pros. But, then there is EOS RP - with a slightly lower resolution of 26MP ( which is still above most of its competitors), full-frame sensor, smaller body but still a brilliant spec. It has a great focus performance, great low light capability, touch screen, and a very fast processor. It falls short of its competitors in the image stabilization area which is reliant on lens stabilization only. It also comes in with a handy lens mount converter often bundled in, which allows you to make use out of your existing Canon lenses in the same way, Nikon does with its mirrorless range.
Whatever camera you choose, remember it’s just an instrument. A great photographer will capture an amazing image with the simplest camera. It really doesn’t matter all that much if yours is a Nikon, Canon or anything else – noone has ever looked at a photos and went – oooh, yes, I can see what that canon did here…. It’s the person behind the camera that matters most.
Let me leave you with a quote by a magnificent photographer, Ernst Haas