This article is meant for photographers who have ever asked, or have been asked the question “what camera should I buy?”  If you are a professional photographer, then I’m sure you’ve been asked this question yourself! Feel free to refer this guide to friends to help them in determining exactly what kind of camera they should purchase.

Video: A Practical User Guide on Which Camera You Should Buy

Know That the Camera is Simply a Tool

So, let’s start from the top for all of you thirsting photo-bugs. My first question is, “Do you want a camera that will help you take pictures like the ones below?”



…if so, I’ve got good news: all you need to take the above photos is, in fact, a phone! All of the shots shown above were taken with an iPhone 3 and iPhone 4. Don’t believe me? Just check out the Original iPhone Fashion Shoot by the FStoppers, and our follow up Tribute iPhone Fashion Shoot by SLR Lounge.

Today, as you can imagine, those “ancient” iPhones 3 & 4 have been far surpassed by the latest camera phones, both iPhones and Android phones, and the results are, simply put, stunning.

You may be asking, that is good news indeed, but, what does it mean for me if I know that I want a “real” camera? Well, here’s the bad news, except it’s not so bad at all: just remember that good photography is not about the camera at all; it is about pure creativity, and understanding things such as light, posing, timing, etc.

Learning all about photography itself (and especially about light and lighting) are definitely beyond the scope of this article, but at least we can help you decide “what camera you should buy” right now. Just keep in mind that spending more money on camera gear will not necessarily help you in creating better photos.

So, the question goes beyond “what camera should I buy” or, “what is the best camera to buy”, as you need to know that you’re merely purchasing a tool with which to practice your craft. Having a nicer camera will offer some new flexibility, such as capturing more detail, or capturing sharp, well-exposed photos in challenging conditions such as low-light or fast action. It can also make your job as a photographer easier. However, it will not inherently make you a better photographer, nor a better artist.

Ok, so let’s move on in helping you decide which camera is right for you. But, first things first, let’s simplify things a bit and define each camera class for the purpose of this article.

Best Types Of Cameras | Overview

This may be an oversimplification of sorts, but it is necessary. We are going to break down digital cameras into 5 basic types that we can easily reference in this article:

Compact Point & Shoot (P&S) / Phone Camera

Point and Shoot (here on referred to as “P&S”) will refer to basic point and shoot cameras without advanced functionality. Mainly this means the lack of ability to change lenses, but it can also include the omission of features such as shooting RAW image files, or controlling advanced camera functions. Today, honestly, this market segment is almost completely dominated by phones, AKA camera phones, and they do an incredible job of “taking care of everything for you” so that photography is as simple as tapping the shutter button. A basic understanding of exposure, focus, and depth of field are still useful, but not necessary.

Today, there are virtually zero P&S cameras besides those found on phones and other mobile devices. Besides, virtually every phone camera from the last ~5 years is infinitely better than the P&S cameras of 10-20 years ago! The one caveat is our next category, however…

Advanced Compact Digital Cameras (Advanced P&S)

Advanced Point and Shoot or Advanced Compact Digital Cameras will refer to all advanced point and shoot cameras that offer fully professional features and impressive (raw) images, but are still highly compact and have a non-interchangeable lens. Keep in mind that most of these cameras do have zoom lenses, not “fixed” prime lenses, so  they still offer a great range of versatility. 

The Nikon Coolpix P950 is an incredible P&S (but not-so-compact) camera for avid wildlife photographers, whereas the Sony ZV-1 or RX100 series are examples of advanced compact digital cameras that are perfect for vlogging, travel/adventure photo & video, etc. Canon’s GX 7 is also a “classic” choice for professionals who are looking to ditch their heavy, expensive camera yet still have something fully capable to carry around.

Mirrorless Cameras (APSC / Entry-Level)

We categorize a  mirrorless camera is any digital camera that has both an electronic viewfinder and  interchangeable lenses. The design allows mirrorless cameras to be more compact and lightweight compared to their DSLR predecessors, while still providing professional quality images, and even more versatility in lens choice!

Entry-level mirrorless cameras, usually APSC but sometimes including full-frame, can run from $500 to $1,500 or more. Oh, and that’s without a lens! You can expect to spend at least that much, or a lot more, on one or more lenses.

Mirrorless Cameras (Full-Frame / Flagship)

A professional full-frame mirrorless camera is essentially the most-capable form of camera on the market today. Offering superb image quality, high-performance speed and autofocus, and professional durability, these are the cameras-of-choice for many professionals today. However, you can expect to easily spend multiple thousands of dollars on a camera body alone, plus many hundreds or thousands more on lenses.

Digital Single-Lens Reflex (DSLR)

DSLR will refer to all SLR-type (Single Lens Reflex) cameras, the hallmarks of which are both an optical viewfinder and interchangeable lenses. There are some entry-level DSLRs still available, such as the Canon Rebel lineup and the Nikon D7500, which offer highly affordable access to the realm of traditional interchangeable lens photography.

Professional (full-frame and APSC) DSLR cameras, of course, are highly capable, flagship tools. For those who still prefer the various advantages of an optical viewfinder, such cameras offer relatively affordable access to professional results, both in terms of camera bodies and interchangeable lenses.

Digital Medium Format Cameras (DMF/MFD)

Medium Format Cameras refer to all cameras with a sensor or image area that is larger than a full-frame sensor. Previously only attainable by extremely high-end photography studios with tens of thousands of dollars to spend on equipment, the latest medium format digital cameras have become relatively affordable. In addition to being accessible to anyone with a substantial budget for a full-frame camera, digital medium format camera systems, namely the Fuji GFX system, has gained a significant level of lens support in recent years, giving the platform much more capability and versatility.

What Camera Should I Buy? | Four Basic Questions

Deciding which camera to purchase comes down to 4 simple questions. The first two will determine the class of camera you should buy, while the second two questions determine the make and model.

  1. What Is Your Budget?
  2. What Are Interests and Goals with Photography?
  3. What is Your Photographic Specialty?
  4. What System Do Your Friends Use?

Setting A Camera Purchasing Budget

How much you want to spend on your camera is the first part of this equation. However, the amount you can spend on lenses (and accessories) is also a huge part of that overall budget equation.

You don’t need to spend tons of money all at once, but you do need to understand the likelihood that you may be continually investing in new lenses and/or camera bodies.

This is what we refer to as an “Overall Budget” and it breaks down into two categories. The first is an “Initial Purchase Budget,” which is the amount that someone can afford to simply get started. The second factor of an overall budget is our “Ongoing Purchase Budget” which is the amount someone wishes to spend on lenses and accessories for their camera over, let’s say, a 3-5 year cycle.

What Are Your Interests and Goals with Photography?

The next question in determining the Camera Class is to ask: what are your goals and interests when it comes to photography? Are you truly interested in learning photography as a creative passion and a hobby? Or, do you want to become a paid professional photographer?

It doesn’t make sense to spend thousands of dollars on a high-end full-frame mirrorless or DSLR camera system, if you honestly would prefer to just let the camera take care of advanced settings etc. so that you can focus on pure creativity… Oppositely, it might not make sense to start out with something too basic and beginner-oriented, if you do have professional goals.

Which Camera Should You Buy If You’re Just Starting Out?

practical user guide to which camera you should buy smartphone

If you’re just starting out, chances are you don’t have a dedicated camera and the only pictures you take are probably on your phone. My answer for which camera you should buy at this point is this: Buy a better phone!

practical user guide to which camera you should buy iPhone collage

You probably didn’t expect me to start with that, but there’s a logical explanation. The phone (and the camera(s) in it) will always be your most accessible camera, one you will always have with you. If you invest in a high-quality phone with a good built-in camera or cameras, then you will have a decent, advanced point-and-shoot camera with you at all times. In fact, the images above were all captured with a smartphone for our Creative Photography 101 workshop, in which we show how to create professional images using only an iPhone.

Both iPhones and Android phones can deliver amazing results, by the way. One important thing to notice is what types of dedicated lenses are included on that phone. Instead of interchangeable (mirrorless etc) cameras, the best phone cameras have a wide-angle, standard, and telephoto lenses all built-in. (Three is plenty!

Instead of spending thousands of dollars jumping into a dedicated camera system, you can spend the same amount (or probably less) on a phone that will prove useful in every aspect of life, not just photography.

Which Camera You Should Buy When You’re Ready for a Dedicated Camera

practical user guide to buy a new camera Collage upgrade

You’ll be ready for this step when you’re already taking solid images with your phone (see above), however, you’re starting to realize that the phone’s lack of control in terms of shutter speed, aperture, and ISO (among others) are actually hindering your creative control. Either that, or, you may wish to have more advanced lens selection such as ultra-wide, super-telephoto, or fast-aperture lenses.

practical user guide to buy a new camera medium upgrade

I would also suggest jumping into a dedicated camera system if you have aspirations for “going pro”, of course. Getting a pro camera as soon as possible will allow you to become familiar with every aspect of advanced photography much more rapidly.

Many of us jumped from a phone to a low to mid-level camera system. The downside here is that the image quality doesn’t necessarily make up for the inconveniences of carrying around bigger, more expensive gear. You will also end up with larger files that need to be processed. It likely won’t be long before you start leaving the mid-level camera and go back to your phone.

Your dedicated camera should have substantially better image quality and do things that your smartphone just can’t do. Luckily, with all of the new camera updates (Canon EOS R5, Sony a7R IV, Sony a7S III, etc.), you also have a better chance at scoring some quality used gear so that you can jump to a dedicated camera without breaking the bank.

If what you’re looking for is a relatively affordable way to obtain a fully professional, current-generation camera, here are our top recommendations:

These cameras all range in price around the $1,500-2,500 mark, which is incredible for a camera that you could one day use to literally pay your bills. (Comparatively speaking, the top flagship cameras can cost $5,000-6,000 or more!)

As an added bonus, these cameras use the latest mirrorless lens mounts, which means that, when you’re ready, you’ll have access to a wide variety of specialized lenses, which depend on your specific photography genre. (We’ll get to that soon!)

Which Camera Should You Buy If You’re Already a Serious Photographer?

For those who are enthusiasts or pro and wondering when it’s best to jump into a new camera, I’ll give you two scenarios to help answer the question:

Which Camera Should I Buy (Based on Logic)

Similar to what I said earlier, you should upgrade to a new camera when you’ve exceeded the technical limits of your existing camera. Some limitations may include a weak or slow autofocus system that doesn’t keep up with your shooting style (resulting in an excess of blurry images), or perhaps the resolution is too low and the dynamic range is very limited. The thing is, most of us will run into self-imposed limitations before running into the limitations of the gear we use. This is because our own skill set and knowledge doesn’t actually outperform the camera. We often point a finger to the gear when, in reality, the limitations are our own.

Which Camera Should I Buy (Because, Treat Yo’ Self)

This has nothing to do with logic and has everything to do with emotion: money is for spending; buy it because you want to!

Many photographers may guilt you into thinking there’s something wrong with buying nice gear that may or may not be “more camera” than you’re capable of using, at least for now. If you can afford the gear, then there’s nothing wrong with purchasing whichever system you want. A lot of us like to have nice things. It’s the reason some people might go out and buy a sports car even if they’re not professional race car drivers. It’s why I like to buy professional chef-quality cooking equipment for my kitchen, even though I’m only an amateur cook at best. There’s nothing wrong with buying nice things and using them out of appreciation.

My only suggestion and concern here is this: avoid “wasting” money on gear that just sits in your closet, and, of course, never use credit cards to live beyond your means!

Which Camera Make/Model is Best For You?

We have discussed our Overall Budget and Goals/Interests with photography which goes into helping us choose a Camera Class. Now we have to determine which specific make and model is right for us. This is going to come down to two additional questions which we discuss below:

What is Your Desired Photographic Specialty?

What is your desired photographic specialty, what are you truly passionate about? Do you primarily shoot sports, or are your interests more in portrait photography? Landscape photography? Wildlife? Travel?

Of course, there are not a lot of us that can afford to have a specific camera for everything we shoot. We will all end up doing some portraits, sports, landscape and everything in between from time to time with the same camera.

But, it is important to decide what type of photography most interests you. Knowing your primary photographic specialty will help determine specific features you will want in your camera. This is why, in our camera and lens reviews, we always dedicate an entire section to “What type of photography is it good for?”

Bigger is Not Always Better

The reason for this is simple. Let’s all dream for a moment and imagine we have $100,000 to spend on a camera body. Well, if we have $100,000 we should buy a Hasselblad Medium Format Camera, or a RED cinema camera, right? NOT NECESSARILY!

Buy the right camera for the work you do. If you primarily shoot action and sports, then you really need lenses with versatile, telephoto focal ranges. You need camera bodies with high frame rates, excellent autofocus, and good low light sensitivity. Honestly? Such cameras and lenses have become relatively affordable, and you can acquire a complete kit for just a couple/few thousand dollars.

Similarly, what if you want to be a portrait or wedding photographer? You may not necessarily need all the blazing-fast speed of an action sports camera, however, you sure do need good autofocus with excellent face/eye detection, especially in low light! Once again, you guessed it: such cameras and lenses are relatively affordable today.

While there are tons of other specialties in photography, here are a few of the most basic categories:

Important Features for Different Specialties

Action/Sports & Wildlife

Fast-paced action, such as almost any sport or race, and of course many types of wildlife, all benefit from speed in a camera body and “reach” in a lens. In other words, photographers need to get as close as possible to the action, as well as need to react quickly to the action. For this reason, frame rate, (FPS) crop factor (and/or megapixels) as well as autofocus are the three primary features you will want to look into.

You will want cameras that have higher frame rates, (10+ frames per second) but also, make sure it has a substantial buffer to handle extended bursts.

In this category, cameras like the Sony A6700, and Canon R7 are great entry-level action and sports cameras that can deliver professional results. At the top of the list, the Canon EOS R3, Nikon Z9 / Z9, and Sony A1 / A9 III are the flagship cameras sports and action photography.


Editorial and fashion photographers need the highest image quality possible, including both resolution and color reproduction. Full-frame and medium-format sensors offer this, with resolutions in the 50-100 megapixel range, and excellent image quality overall.

The Sony A7R V and Fuji GFX 100S top the list, with 60 and 100 megapixels, respectively.


Landscape, cityscape, and almost all types of outdoor/nature photography can be a little less demanding in terms of advanced features, but they all demand excellent image quality. Things like sensor dynamic range are very important, as well as resolution and color. Furthermore, outdoor photographers of all types will demand rugged, durable cameras that are also portable.

Nikon’s Z7 II is an excellent example, with robust build quality and one of the most impressive sensors on the market, with a base (native) ISO of 64.

Portraits (Couples, Family, Newborn, Maternity, Senior)

Portrait photography of all types can be done with most any camera, because the primary focus in this type of photography is the lighting, the pose, and the lens, not the camera body.

Generally, these photographers are shooting in controlled situations, hence virtually anything from a beginner mirrorless to a high-end flagship will deliver relatively similar results, in fact virtually identical results when using the same lens!

For this reason, honestly, almost any semi-professional camera body will do, and we will instead recommend investing in a professional portrait lens such as a 50mm, 35mm, or 85mm prime.


Everything from wedding photography to news journalism are extremely demanding areas of photography in terms of camera features. Physical durability, reliability, features such as dual card slots, etc, are all must-haves. Additionally, a good wedding camera should have strong performance in low-light scenes, both in terms of image quality and autofocus. 

If you are a professional (or aspiring professional) then I wouldn’t recommend using anything less than a a relatively professional  camera with all of the above features. Thankfully, the “big three”, Sony, Nikon, and Canon, all offer multiple cameras which meet all of these demanding criteria.

What System Do Your Friends Use?

I know this seems kind of ridiculous, but hear me out. Your final consideration for “What Camera Should I Buy” should have something to do with what those around you are using. This isn’t to say that this factor should be above features and budget, it should just be a a consideration. Let me explain.

Let’s say you have narrowed your search to just two highly popular cameras from the “big three”. (Canon, Nikon, Sony) …However, what if your best friend who got you into photography uses something else, maybe a Fujifilm, Panasonic, or Olympus (OM) camera? If you buy into that same system, you’ll have a companion who knows your camera system just as good as you do, and this is invaluable.

You don’t need to lend each other lenses if you’re not comfortable doing so, of course, but it could still make a huge difference in your overall photography experience.

My Thoughts on Exciting New Gear

For those looking at top level cameras, I’d like to share my thoughts on various systems and let you know what I’m most excited about in the latest (and upcoming) gear.


Practical buyers guide which camera should I buy Canon RF Lenses R5 R6

From the Canon lineup, in terms of cameras, I’m mainly excited about the new RF Lenses; they’re simply phenomenal. Canon was always known for their excellent lenses, and the transition from the EF DSLR mount to the RF mirrorless mount has allowed a whole new world of incredible, gorgeous imagery.

Simply put, they’re some of the best lenses I’ve ever worked with, and the way they resolve detail is just nuts. Besides resolving power, of course, Canon has the most “je ne sais quoi” about its imagers, in my humble opinion.

One of my other favorite features of Canon cameras is ergonomics. This is impossible to quantify, but I’ll put it this way: straight out of the box, these cameras are designed to be picked up and used intuitively and comfortably. The menus, functionality, and button layouts are almost effortless to get the hang of, and this is valuable to both beginners and demanding professions.

Last but not least, the colors coming straight out of the camera lend themselves well for a vibrant style and look, which you can tweak in the settings of other cameras to match.


which camera should I buy sony a7r iv a7s iii

If you’re a “hybrid’ photographer who does a lot of both photo and video, or if you’re any type of “do it all” photographer, then Sony is hard to beat. Their diversity of options, both cameras and lenses, is the biggest.

Honestly, after using the Sony a7R IV for a while, I don’t know of a camera that is more versatile and capable. (Except, of course, it’s successor the Sony a7R V!)

Yes, the advanced controls and deep, deep menus make you feel like you have jumped into a fighter jet, and the learning curve of Sony is by far the steepest compared to Canon, Nikon, and others. However, if you actually like mastering advanced, highly technical feature sets, Sony is a great choice.

Both the ergonomics and menus have indeed been something that many users complained about in the past, but the latest cameras have overcome both issues quite well. Sony is also often accused of having less “je ne sais quoi” in the images themselves, however, to be totally blunt, we don’t really see a difference, especially when working with the DVLOP raw profile system in Adobe Lightroom.


Nikon will always and forever get our biggest nod for making cameras that are rugged, nearly indestructible, and very adept at capturing any sort of landscape or outdoor subject. From the DSLR era to their full-frame mirrorless cameras, Nikon has always made excellent cameras and just the right types of lenses to go with them.

We also give Nikon a top recommendation in terms of value, for any type of photography from landscapes to weddings and portraits. If you’re on a budget yet want some of the most robust, reliable ear, Nikon’s Z7-series and Z6-series, let alone the Nikon Z8 or Z9, just offer some of the best performance value on the market today…


which camera should I buy fujifilm xt 4

I’ve used the Fujifilm X-T4 quite a bit, and love this “compact” APSC mirrorless camera. It is not only a capable system, but a unique design that is half retro, half modern, and it delivers by far the best image quality of any APSC sensor.

In fact, as a Fuji camera, like all Fujifilm products, the XT series has beautiful film emulation profiles built-in. Whether you photograph portraits or lansdcapes, you’ll love the  gorgeous colors that come out of these cameras!

This makes the Fujifilm system completely different from every other camera out there. It offers a different lifestyle experience, and the X-T4 (and today the X-T5) offer one of the best overall experiences that I’ve had.


Hopefully this article has been of help to you in understanding what type of camera you should purchase. After you have answered the simple questions posed in this article, then all it comes down to is selecting the camera that best fits your desired features and budget.

Soon, we will be posting a camera buying guide with our favorite cameras in each price range for each type of photography, so be sure to check back!