What camera should I buy?
People regularly ask me about which camera they should buy and there is absolutely no right or wrong answer to that question. I will give you some basic information about cameras (in Lehman's terms) before offering my opinion.
Crop Sensor vs Full Frame
Firstly, it is important to know the difference between a 'Crop Sensor DSLR' and a 'Full Frame DSLR' which is explained simply and painlessly in this video by SLR Lounge.
Basically, with a full frame camera you will get more fine detail and a higher dynamic range (detail in dark and bright areas of the image) due to the larger surface area of the sensor. However, this comes at a price with entry level full frame cameras starting at roughly £1200-£1500.
Crop sensor cameras will capture less fine detail, but will cost a fraction of the price, usually starting at around £400-£500.
To decide whether you need a crop sensor or full frame camera, you need to ask yourself what you will be using the images for. Will you be posting on Instagram and Facebook? Will you be selling large prints? Will your pictures be displayed in exhibitions?
Both crop sensor and full frame cameras have full manual control and the ability to shoot RAW files (uncompressed / full detail images) with full artistic control over how the final image will look through post-processing in Lightroom or Photoshop.
A cheap, crop sensor DSLR will be more than enough when posting images to Facebook and Instagram because they heavily compress the files that you upload anyway. I recently uploaded a 6-shot panorama to Facebook which was 12MB in size. Facebook compressed the image to 255KB which completely ruins the desired quality of the image that you are uploading. There is no point spending thousands on a top of the range camera if you can't see the extra detail.
If you plan to sell images and want your images to have as much fine detail as possible then you are probably best investing in s full frame camera.
What are megapixels?
So what are megapixels and why do people always want a bigger number? It is a common misconception that a higher megapixel count will yield a more detailed image. Megapixels refer to the size of the image and does not necessarily mean a higher quality image. For example, both of the cameras pictured below have 24 megapixels, yet one is a crop sensor camera worth £600 (Nikon D5200) and the other is a full frame camera worth £2000 (Nikon D750). Both cameras are capable of producing huge prints due to the large image sizes. However the D750 has more fine detail and a higher dynamic range due to the larger sensor.
What is a RAW file?
Usually when you take a picture with a phone or point-and-shoot camera, it will produce a JPEG file which has been quickly edited in the camera by adding some sharpness/colour and some contrast. All DSLR cameras have the functionality to shoot RAW files which means that the camera will not edit the file in camera and compress to a JPEG file. Instead, you are able to use the much larger RAW file for editing in order to produce a higher quality image.
A JPEG file may only be 2MB in size because it has been compressed within the camera. A RAW file can be anywhere between 10MB and 15MB.
The RAW file that you get out of the camera will look terrible with barely any contrast/colour and sharpness which is why it is essential the post-process RAW files.
What if I want to shoot the night sky/stars?
This is where full frame cameras excel - the larger, more sensitive sensors can pick up small points of light, such as stars, far more easily and with less 'noise' as a result. 'Noise' is the unpleasant grainy appearance that photos usually have when shot in low light conditions with a poor camera. Although it is possible, you probably won't get great images of stars if you are using a crop sensor camera. However, this can be helped by using a good lens with a wide aperture which will let more light pass through to the sensor.
There are many great articles/videos online which will explain how lenses work and which lens will be best suited to your style of photography.
Nikon D5200 - my first DSLR (crop sensor)
Nikon D750 - current camera (full frame)
Having used both crop sensor and full frame cameras extensively for landscape photography, I believe that any DSLR camera will be good enough and that the most important elements of a good image will always be light, composition and subject and I cannot stress this enough! Some of my best images (and in actual fact - my best selling image) were taken using a crop sensor camera - the Nikon D5200.
With digital photography now eclipsing film photography and camera manufacturers constantly releasing high spec cameras, it's easy to get distracted by how much detail you can cram into a photograph when instead we should be out capturing photographs!
Most people will not notice the fine details in the shadows of a photograph. Their eye will usually be drawn to the compelling parts of the image such as the subject.
Below is a selection of images for you to compare.Some people will prefer the full frame images, some people will prefer the crop sensor. The fact is, people will choose the image they prefer based on the light, composition and subject and fine detail will have very little to do with the choice, if any at all.
I have also added a selection of images without titles. I will let you try to work out which is a crop sensor image and which is a full frame image - I bet you can't.