With the 2019 holiday season in full swing, and as we begin to scan our favorite web and/or brick and mortar retailers for Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, many photography amateurs and enthusiasts are looking for the best deals on cameras. But with so many from which to choose, the question I get most often is, “What’s the best camera for me to buy?” Invariably, I ask a number of questions before recommending a few good choices. After all, there is no one best camera for everyone and every photography circumstance.
For someone who is not a professional photographer, I think conversations about crop sensor vs full-frame sensor, ISO range, and number of focusing points quickly become pedantic, and result in more confusion than resolution (no pun intended). For sure, these are important specifications for those of us who engage in photography as a business, ranging from the weekend warrior to the full time professional. But for the casual shooter, it may be a bit much.
Apart from asking a trusted source, many amateur and enthusiast photographers check camera reviews on blogs and platforms like YouTube. These are often good sources, although such reviews often fail to include important caveats such as being sponsored by a particular camera manufacturer, or the fact that the reviewers are not photographers at all. Either of these represent an issue of credibility from my perspective. Would you find me credible if I were to write a glowing review of a mobile phone because the manufacturer paid me to do it? Similarly, would you trust me to write a critical review of that phone, based only on the specifications I’ve read, even though I never touched it? I would think not. Yet, that represents the status quo in many (not all) online reviews, particularly on social media platforms.
But there is another critical issue I’ve discovered. As few as 5 years ago, there was perhaps a marked distinction (for the most part) between cameras manufactured for still shots and cameras manufactured for video recording. But that distinction is virtually gone now. Most digital SLRS (DSLRs) and modern mirrorless cameras handle stills and video well. Manufacturers like Sony have their Alpha line that generally do well with both. Yet, Sony has created certain variants in the line that focus more effectively on video. The lower resolution A7III, for example, is said to produce better quality video than the higher resolution A7rIII (and arguably the newer A7rIV). Such is the case with Nikon’s new Z mount mirrorless cameras. The lower resolution Z6 is said to be better at handling video that its higher resolution counterpart, the Z7.
So why is this even a concern? Simple. If you were to do a search for reviews of these cameras on YouTube, you will quickly realize that the majority of the reviews appear to focus on videography, and barely deal with still photography. If your interest is still photography, you’ll have to tip through the tulips like Tiny Tim to find the occasional full evaluation of the newer cameras that actually address how they perform with still photography. Although I dabble in videos, I am primarily a still photographer. I am not in the business of making YouTube videos for monetization. To be sure, there is nothing wrong with that business at all. But it’s not my business as a still photographer. I am in the business of capturing portraits and shooting still lifestyle and fashion images. When I evaluate a camera, my interest is in its suitability for my work. And in reality, such reviews that focus on still photography are becoming a rarity.
If you’re in the market for a new camera, and want a camera that handles both still images and video well; or if your focus is primarily on still images, and want to be sure of the camera’s capability in this regard, be wary of those reviews that evaluate every camera as if the user wants to do nothing more than make YouTube videos. You may miss some good opportunities and you may be disappointed with the wrong choice.
On a final note, I should be transparent in stating I am currently a Nikon shooter who uses the Nikon Z7 and Nikon Z6 for still images and occasional video. But there are other brands I would recommend, including Sony and Canon. There are additional good brands out there based on what I've read and seen, but I am not in the business of recommending cameras I have never tried. That, in my view, is disingenuous. There are excellent DSLRs on sale this season, and there are some fine mirrorless bodies (which I tend to favor) available too. If you’re in the market, check out those reviews, but be on the lookout for the issues I’ve raised here. Additionally, ask a trusted friend who is a photographer. Their experience may be helpful to you. Depending on where you are, you may be able to rent one of the cameras you’re considering for 3-14 days at a modest price. That will give you an opportunity to try it out before buying.
Happy Holidays to you, and good luck as you shop for that new camera.
** Note: Throughout the post I’ve shared a few images I’ve shot recently. I know they have little to do with the actual subject of the post. But we photographers seize every opportunity to share our work. All have been shot with either my Nikon Z6 or Nikon Z7.
I am David Fraser, a university academic, photographer, and techie. I have been a photographer for roughly 20 years, and have shot across the US, the Eastern Caribbean, and South America. Today, I shoot primarily fashion, portraiture, and lifestyle. I live and work in Eastern Contra Costa County, in the San Francisco Bay Area, California. You may follow me on Instagram: @davidfraser.photography.