Free Photography Class #6: All About Camera Bodies
I was recently at a soccer game watching my oldest son play and saw someone taking pictures with a DSLR. Nothing out of the ordinary except her son said, “Mommy, he has a camera just like you do!” She then explained to her son, “no, his is much nicer.” When did camera bodies become a fashion piece?
I love the modesty; I smiled and continued taking some test pictures to get the lighting right. But hindsight, I wish I had turned around and told her that photography is a community of support and learning. Camera bodies come in different sizes and shapes, brands, costs, and abilities. But only one thing determines how well that camera performs and that is the eyeball behind the viewfinder. If you received a Canon Rebel from your parents for your birthday, be proud! Know that I have taken amazing, award-winning pictures with one. And with its kit lens to boot!
It’s about creativity, recognizing a unique moment, and seizing that moment. If you are looking for a camera and want some basics, that’s what this article is for. Plus, I will lay out some differences and why one camera is $4000 and another is $200. But whatever you have, use it. Practice what we will cover in the upcoming discussions and just get out there and fill up your memory cards!
DSLR vs Mirrorless Camera Bodies
This is one of the major questions you have to ask yourself. DSLR is the original digital camera technology, however, this technology is getting left behind by mirrorless cameras. DSLRs are fantastic camera bodies, some of the best in the world. So, if this is what you find and want to use, there is nothing wrong with that. But at least know the drawbacks.
When you look through the viewfinder of a DSLR you are seeing the image as it looks to your eye. However, the settings on your camera are not affecting that image. So, all that talk about aperture, shutter speed and eventually ISO… those things effect how the final picture will turn out. With a DSLR, you will have to snap the picture and look on the back of your camera. Then you will know what needs to be adjusted. We call this “Ape’ing because you look like an ape constantly looking at the back of your screen.
It’s true that over time you learn the settings and anticipate the settings you need; that is no guarantee for a bird that flies by you. In those situations, you don’t get a second chance to change your settings and take another picture. Also, on average, DSLRs are much heavier. Some photographers actually really like this, it helps balance the camera in your hands when using large telephoto lenses. That is something that’s hard to do with a mirrorless.
Mirrorless and the Future
Mirrorless camera bodies are the wave of the future. Many companies are even moving to exclusively manufacturing these for their new lineups. With mirrorless camera bodies, when you look through the viewfinder you see a digital view of your image; your settings visibly effect the image before you shoot. Once you click your shutter button, the image will look just like what you see in your viewfinder; however, the digital view is only available while the camera is turned on.
So, no setting up your camera through the viewfinder without effecting your battery life. Mirrorless camera bodies perform extremely well in low light. They can often can push their ISO (discussed later) high as 40,000+! This is where all the new research and development is going. To stay ahead of the game, mirrorless is really the way to go. In my opinion. Hey, some folks still shoot with 35mm film cameras and produce amazing results! So, the final decision is up to you.
Full Frame vs APS-C Sensor Camera Bodies
Just to get you rolling and taking pictures, I will give you the simple version to get you started. If you can imagine the size of 35mm film, that is what a full frame camera is based on. APS-C was created to reduce cost but still provide high quality images. On average, a full frame is going to have larger pixels and wider pictures. It makes sense since the sensor is bigger. The APS-C is cropped, so you lose a little bit of pixel size.
I will tell you now, don’t let this question keep you up at night. If you plan to be a professional photographer and create poster size images, then yes, you need a full frame camera. If you are buying a camera to explore photography or release a creative passion, you are not going to just “get better pictures” from owning a full-frame camera. In fact, most photographers will tell you that they will carry one of each in their bag.
So which one is right for you?
Both have their positive and negative attributes but look at the cost first. If you really can’t afford a full frame camera, it is better to buy a crop sensor (APS-C) body and save your money for quality lenses. If you own a Canon, I advise to purchase a lens mount converter and try to only purchase “EF” lenses. Then if you ever upgrade to a full frame camera or purchase a second camera, you will not have a bunch of paper weights sitting around. Always, always, always, lean more toward purchasing quality lenses over quality camera bodies.
That doesn’t mean find the cheapest body possible if you can afford it, but if all you can afford is a Canon Rebel DSLR, that camera will do amazing things when paired with great optics compared to owning a Canon R5 with a kit lens. I have been there, so trust me!
A hot shoe is the part on the top of a camera that allows a flash to be attached and interact with the timing of the shutter. If you are looking at flash photography, I would definitely consider a hot shoe. I have had cameras that had built in flashes and used flashes that sync to the camera, just not the same as the accuracy of a hot shoe.
Most cameras are going to have a viewfinder (the little eye piece you can look through to line up your shot. I would highly recommend a viewfinder and here is why. I owned a Canon M100 due to its super small size and light weight; however, it did not have a viewfinder. It was great for taking indoor shots and when I could find a nice shady spot but when the sunlight would glare off the screen, I could barely make out what I was capturing, including my exposure settings.
Most viewfinders allow you to see your settings, the image, and even preview images in any condition. If a camera doesn’t have one, see if it has a hot shoe that would allow for a 3rd party one, but I would strongly recommend a viewfinder if at all possible. Just to note, mirrorless cameras have a sensor that knows when your eye is up to the viewfinder and will switch the image from your back screen to the viewfinder.
I only tell you this because on my mirrorless, I have often thought I was having an issue with the rear screen only to realize my thumb was in front of the sensor… Also, sometimes my face isn’t all the way up to the sensor when I am trying to look through the viewfinder… so I only see black until I move my face a little closer.
This is all about quality of your images, with a caveat. When you see a camera is an 8mp or 48mp, each mp (megapixel) is a million pixels or small squares that when combined, make up your image. More pixels the better right? Well not necessarily. Normally when you look at cameras above 30mp, you are talking about cameras that produce images that can be blown up or printed very, very large.
If you are taking images to print no larger than 8×10, don’t be so concerned with the number of megapixels. If you are going to be taking pictures for advertisements or heavily cropping everything you produce, maybe splurge for a higher megapixel camera. Mine is 26.2MP and I have done large prints for gallery work even after some cropping, if that helps any.
Frames per second
Honestly, there are reasons to want a higher frame rate (consecutive pictures that can be taken within a second) for still pictures; however, you are really getting into more video questions when you are looking at really high frame rates. For photography, most cameras are more than adequate to get the results you want and capable of taking more pictures per second than you will want. Normally, for photography, taking multiple frames per second is for fast action photography like sports and wildlife.
For portraits, it’s nice, but not necessary and depends on your shutter speed anyway. Taking multiple pictures per second in portraiture is more for ensuring you capture that crisp perfect image so you take multiple shots of the same shot so you can look through what you took and find the best one of the bunch. If you aren’t using a tripod, sometimes when you push the shutter button you actually move your camera slightly.
So, taking a short burst of say, three shots, can sometimes be the different of having one slightly blurry image or three images where one is perfect. Don’t be too concerned with your frame rate unless you are taking a lot of videos.
Why are some camera bodies $400 and some $4000?
Although this isn’t as complicated as you may think, it can vary wildly depending on the company and camera features. Many lower end cameras, you are really purchasing a quality sensor and then a protective box to cover it. They may not have the features, multiple programmable buttons, quick view screens, etc. that the nicer cameras will have; however, in the right hands are just as capable.
If you are looking to do photography that is going to go on a billboard, you are going to have to spend more to have a full-frame camera with really high MPs. If you are doing a lot of sports photography, you may need a better camera that offers a really high frame rate. But almost all your higher end cameras will have the following in common over the less expensive:
- Sturdier construction with better weather sealing, easier, customizable controls with dials (so you can literally adjust settings with your hands while looking through the viewfinder).
- Bigger/longer life batteries.
- Faster frame rate, more accurate autofocus with more focal points.
- Larger and brighter rear screen and/or viewfinder.
- Full Frame
My two cents on your first purchase
I started photography with a Canon M100. If you do not know about the M100, it is a small, mirrorless camera that does not have the option for a viewfinder. Looking back, I should have spent a little more for the M50 and would probably still have it today as a backup APS-C. I will say, that the M100 was an amazing camera that took pictures that were published in dozens of magazines and have appeared in multiple galleries around the world.
It took pictures with several lenses I still own of wildlife, street photography, portraits, sports, and fine art modeling. The camera itself was fully capable and extremely portable but it lacked a viewfinder which made it difficult to assess quality in bright sunlight. I probably would still use it as a touring camera due to its extremely low weight, but I finally decided that it just wasn’t producing what I needed and didn’t have the ability to add flash set-ups due to no hot shoe, couldn’t add extended battery packs, and it was a little fragile for hiking.
But with all that being said, no one knew from my photos that I was using an M100 because I learned to use the functions properly and developed my skills to create lifelike art.
Now I shoot with a Canon RP mirrorless full frame. I have loved this camera like a child. There are much nicer cameras on the market that my peers use, but the RP was exactly what I needed, and I wanted to spend more money on lenses. That extra $1000 I saved purchased a beautiful macro lens that I use often and have never regretted my choice. With that being said, if you are a beginner exploring photography and where you fit into this huge world, purchase a quality body for your needs but not above and beyond.
If you want your images to be printed larger than 8x10s then you need something around 12MP or higher. And if you are going to go hiking in the rain, you are going to want to look at specialty covers or spend a little extra to purchase a weather sealed body. If you are a travel photographer and need something light weight to hang around your neck while walking all day, then mirrorless is your friend and remember that the nicer the camera the more likely it is to be stolen in some countries.
A few recommendations?
But the most important thing is to get something that feels good to you, offers the options you know you want, and doesn’t break the bank. Because if this is your first camera, you are going to learn things you want and eventually upgrade. So below I put my recommendations of cameras I can personally say are great for each level. These are only my recommendation so keep that in mind when deciding.
I’ll even throw some Nikon in there since I have had a little experience with them and they are fantastic cameras, but I will always recommend Canon because of their warm color quality. Nikons I would recommend for their extremely smooth action, but both are very competitive with each other and have fantastic aftermarket support.
For the Beginner
- Canon EOS M50 mirrorless– has a hot shoe, 24.1 MP, APS-C and viewfinder. This is a lightweight, very capable camera and your lenses will typically be a little cheaper if you go with the EF-Ms. I recommend investing in a lens converter and purchasing EF lenses, but if you love the camera enough, there is no reason you can’t be shooting with this camera for years to come using EF or EF-Ms. (used: $499.00 or so, New: $550-700 depending on Kit lens)
- Nikon Z50 – has a hot shoe, 20.9 MP, APS-C and viewfinder. A little pricier than it’s Canon counterpart, but this is an extremely capable and lightweight camera. Has multiple programmable buttons/dials, quick auto-focus and even a pop-up flash (which I would never use). This camera will last you a long time, or at least until you find features that you just have to have, but this camera packs a punch. (Used: $799.00, new around $850).
More for the Advanced who spend more on lenses or the beginner Professional
- Canon RP mirrorless– hot shoe, 26.2MP, full frame with HD viewfinder. Again, very light weight but a step up in durability from the M50. The RP could be the last camera you will ever buy with its very reasonable price and higher end features. It fits RF lenses but with a simple adapter will take any EF lens with lightning accuracy. It can shoot 4K video and you can wirelessly send images from your camera to your phone, tablet or laptop. Can also use the wireless feature to trigger the shutter and view images without even touching the body. Very fine camera all around and my personal go to for every field of photography. Can find it on sale for $999.00 for body only and don’t have to trade in the garbage kit lens.)
- Nikon Z5 mirrorless– hot shoe, 24.3MP, full frame with HD viewfinder. Mirrorless are going to be lightweight and this one is no exception. This camera is a beast and keeps in line with the RP and it’s features as well. It also holds two memory cards which is a lesson Canon could learn from, but the screen style is a little funky for me how it swivels, but that is a personal choice. This is a serious competitor and I had to really weigh my options when I purchased my RP. It came down to already owning EF mount lenses and I had to go with the RP since I was so familiar with Canon. If you really want that Nikon name, this is a forever camera. ($1300.00 or so new for body only)
For Advanced Professionals only
- I am not going to go in depth on this one, it’s more to start arguments. There are only two cameras I would recommend above my RP or the Z5 and those are the Canon R6 ($2500 new) and the Nikon Z 6II ($2600 new). Anything above these cameras is going to break the bank at around $3500-$4000. If you are spending that kind of money on a body, then you need to be writing your own blog because you are that good, or you need to see a licensed counselor because you may have a spending problem. These cameras come with a laundry list of features and are going to give you some of the highest quality and fastest autofocusing on the market. I would probably lean toward the R6 but honestly, you should be shooting for over a decade before even looking in this range. By then, you will know exactly what you want and be ready for whatever step you need to take next.
Okay! If you have any questions or want any recommendations on your personal situation and needs, drop me a comment, send me an email, hit me up on Instagram or Facebook… Whatever! I am here to help and will try my best to not steer you wrong. It takes a long time to know the features you will need and the equipment to buy without throwing your money down the tube. So don’t be afraid to ask, photography doesn’t have to be a competition between us all… It’s a community and I am here to help and to enjoy what you produce from it!