What camera should I buy?

I’m sometimes asked this, a complex and somewhat personal subject as everyones requirements for a good camera are different. Here are some of my thoughts:

Sadly, no one ever asks: “I want to shoot inspirational landscape/portrait/action/street/etc pictures with a budget of £xxxx”to start, however:

iPhone: With an iPhone or other smartphone, look no further for now. iPhones take great pictures but, at some point its limitations become apparent, then move on. There are also programs like Phone to Mac or iPhone explorer to transfer your images to your Mac or PC for post processing so youre not locked into iTunes. theres also some decent editing software like Perfectlyclear.

Compacts: I’m often asked: “Which compact camera should I buy?” it could be an incremental step between your iPhone and a DSLR assuming you’re committed to producing high quality images. Some are expensive because they’re really compact mirrorless DSLRs, ie: Fuji X-E3 or the not so compact Sony RX100 IV.

The Nikon 1 is a good compact system. Sadly it’s no longer produced but is a good S/H option. When you progress, it makes an excellent second camera.

Consider a compact if:

  • You’re going somewhere your expensive DSLR might attract attention, a compact is inconspicuous and less attractive to a thief.
  • You already have a DSLR but require a more versatile travelling camera than a smartphone.

Considerations:
Choose a mainstream system, I chose Nikon, but Canon, Fuji, Pentax, Olympus or Sony all take great pictures and provide good choice when you decide to add lenses and flash guns etc. The main brands also benefit from 3rd party manufacturers such as Tamron and Sigma providing excellent quality lenses. There are also good second hand bargains to be had.

Megapixels (Mp): Megapixels are a measure of quantity not necessarily quality and many smartphone sensors with tiny lenses can’t possibly resolve high Mp images. Megapixels are relevant to the image size you wish to print. For example: to print on A2 sized 23.6″ x 16.5″ at 300 dpi requires 7080 x  4950 pixels. A 24Mp sensor image around 6000 x 4000 would work, whilst a 36Mp sensor at 7360 x 4912 would be perfect. So for just a 10″ x 8″ print 3000 x 2400 or around 10Mp will do. But if you’re cropping hard then enlarging images or engage in any type of work where detail is critical, you’ll want for more Mp.

I’ve taken great shots with a 12Mp Nikon D300 like this one.

Fx or Dx: An Fx camera has a full sized sensor: 36 x 24mm the same size as 35mm film, as Fx cameras and lenses have a larger area to cover they cost more. In my opinion, Fx performs slightly better in low light and astro photography, when higher ISOs are used in low light Fx particually the D750 shines with quality images. If you browse this site, you’ll see Fx and Dx images and probably hard to find a noticeable difference between them without ‘pixel peeping’. Fx lenses covering the larger sensor can be used on Dx bodies, the Nikon 70-300mm zoom being just one example that works well. However, using a Dx lens on an Fx camera will result in strong vignette or dark areas in the corners as the Dx lens will not cover the Fx sensor although some cameras recognise the lens and work in Dx crop mode.

Dx camera sensors are smaller 24 x 16mm and cheaper making Dx or APS-C for Canon a good place to start controlling cost. Dx or APS lenses are generally cheaper too, the smaller sensor means the focal length is multiplied by 1.5 for the equivalent field of view with an Fx lens, so a 70-300 zoom provides 105-450mm. This also makes Dx or APS format a very good option for sports and wildlife where long lenses with lots of reach are essential.

Dx Nikons I’ve used include: D80, D300 & D7100 they all take great pictures.

Mirrorless? The Z6 and Z7 are great competing with the D750 and D850, but only three lenses in the new Z mount although an adaptor allows use with existing Nikon F lenses. With a high entry price from £2500, in my opinion it’s a technology that needs to mature. You have to really need the advantages of full frame autofocus, silent operation and high frame rates to justify their cost.

Complicated? No, for your first shots set to A for automatic, adjust aperture, compose and shoot. The camera does everything else. As you progress and become familiar, you can take more control of your photographs and set the camera accordingly. There are also lots of on-line ‘how to’s’ and tutorials with advice on Utube.

Perhaps consider the following options:

Nikon D300 (Dx 12Mp 2007) A Dx version of the legendary D3 and now a very reasonable second hand bargain, replaced by D7x00 series
Nikon D700 (Fx 12Mp 2008) A classic Nikon, still much loved and sought after, replaced in 2014 by the D750
Nikon D7500 (Dx 20Mp 2017) A budget D500, but frame rate and autofocus not as fast, very good camera for a serious start with Dx
Nikon D500 (Dx 20Mp 2016) Amazing super fast D5 autofocus and high 10 fps frame rate, makes D500 the perfect professional choice for sports and birding
Nikon D750 (Fx 24Mp 2014) Successor to D700, does everything well, very good dynamic range and low light capabilities, although several years old it still represents an excellent ‘all round’ Fx camera
Nikon D810 (Fx 36Mp 2014) 36 Mp makes D810 a very good landscape camera recently replaced by D850 but again, plenty of good S/H examples
Nikon D850 (Fx 46Mp 2017) Excellent camera often described as a combination of the D500 and D810 with high frame rates, rapid D5 autofocus and huge Mp sensor providing extremely detailed images, the D850 excells at everything including a somewhat lighter bank balance.

There are also plenty of second hand bargains to be had from retailers such as London Camera Exchange (no connection with them) when people upgrade so a browse of the secondhand section may save a lot.

Lenses: Get the best quality you can afford, some ‘kit’ lenses can be limiting, so perhaps consider a decent lens from the start. There are several Fx lenses which work equally well on a Dx body like the 24-120 and some of Nikons older offerings compete with the newer ones – do some research! The 50mm f1.2 for example. However, a high Mp DSLR really does benefit and must have ‘good glass’ to get the best from it.

Camera backs may be updated, but good lenses will last a lifetime if you look after them, consider:

  • Astrophotography – use wide angle and wide aperture: 15mm f1.8 if possible or even a manual focus lens. You need to let in lots of light and grab as much sky as possible – a good tripod is also essential
  • Landscape – 20, 24, 28 or 35mm primes or shorter zooms
  • Portrait/studio – 50mm, 85mm or 105mm primes
  • Sports and wildlife – 200-500mm or 150-600mm zooms. Long primes are very expensive, but worth it.
  • Indoor photography without flash – f2.8 prime or zooms to suit range
  • Some lenses offer VR or VC to reduce vibrations which are worth considering as lower speeds can be used in lower light. For example I took this shot in low light hand held with a D750 and Tamron 24-70 @ 60mm f4.5 1/30th ISO1600, the DOF is quite flat but a fairly good image considering shot at 1/30th.

Finally essential for astro photography and often used in landscapes/studio or any time you need to support your camera, consider a decent tripod & ball-head. Don’t be tempted to economise with tripods and ball heads!

Discover more:
The Internet holds a wealth of information in the form of YouTube videos, How to’s and many resource sites such as Nikons Digitutor where you’ll find excellent tutorials to learn more about your new Nikon.

Go further with your Nikon, join Nikonians and learn, improve and master your skills, learn and contribute.

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