It seems that 2018 may go down as one of the most important years in photography. With the birth of Canon’s and Nikon’s full-frame mirrorless systems (and the subjective perfecting of Sony’s offerings), the industry is experiencing a revolution not seen since the transition from film to digital. It’s an exciting time to be a photographer! However, if you’re new to this art form, 2018 might seem to be one of the scariest times to jump in. After all, besides the aforementioned mirrorless cameras shaking up the industry, there are other offerings from companies like Fuji, Leica, Olympus, and Panasonic. Further confusing is the fact that Canon and Nikon are continuing to support and market existing and new DSLR cameras as well. So where does one start, if they’re just getting their feet wet? Well, the truth is, it doesn’t really matter all that much. Photography isn’t about the gear, but rather, the image and the person taking it- and now, more than ever is a FANTASTIC time to start learning this wonderful and rewarding art form.
But you might be wondering how photography isn’t about the gear, if we need cameras to take photos? That’s a fair point, but if we’re being real, cameras are just tools, and they only make up one part of the photographic process. Moreover, photography equipment is cheaper and more accessible than ever, which severely diminishes the role that it plays. It’s not uncommon to find new entry-level kits for under $500. Or if you want to go even cheaper, you can typically find used cameras on eBay for $100-$300 (I have an entire article on the merits of used gear if that’s something you’re interested in, by the way). Additionally, there is a large range of point-and-shoot and fixed camera models as well. And if that wasn’t enough choice, the cameras in our smartphones are getting better and better all the time, making them a viable option too. The sheer variety of low-cost options (or no-cost in the case of smartphones, since we all have them anyway) means that we can focus on subject, learning and creativity. These are the things that are at the heart of photography and if you are a beginner, they are the only things worth worrying about.
It’s not about the tools, but how you use them.
I get it though. I remember first taking an interest in photography and getting swept up in the vast sea of articles, YouTube videos, and advertisements pimping out the latest shiny object. But consider for a moment, some of the greatest photos and images that you can remember. How long ago were they made? Were they made months ago? Years ago, maybe? And what cameras do you think they were shot with? The answers to these questions will be different for everyone, but for me, those images were all shot on film and graced the pages of National Geographic and Time magazines. Digital cameras have long surpassed the capabilities of film, but somehow, I’ve yet to shoot anything as moving and powerful as those classic shots. The point I’m trying to make is that great images have been around for a long time- well before digital cameras and “Gear Acquisition Syndrome.” They pre-date photography, in fact, if you include paintings (which are a relevant inclusion, considering that some photo genres started with paintings). It’s a little sobering if you like gear, but the truth is that good images come from good photographers, not cameras. So instead of worrying about the tech, start studying light, shadow, and the exposure triangle.
The right tool for the job.
“Okay,” you might be thinking, “I’m convinced. But I still need a camera, so now what?” Well, as I said before, you have a lot of options, but the best choice mostly depends on your needs and your budget. If you’re just curious about photography or are just interested in it as a hobby, then there’s not much you need to worry about. I recommend getting a new or used camera kit from any of the major brands that fits your budget. Good options are the Nikon 3000 series or Canon T series of cameras, but honestly, it doesn’t matter too much. Each brand has its pros and cons, but almost any interchangeable lens camera will have the features you need to get into photography. The only limit to your progress is your imagination!
There is one exception to this approach, however. If your intention is not just to learn, but also to make this a career one day, then things get a bit more complicated. After all, photography can get REALLY expensive, especially, when you start adding specialized lenses to your arsenal, or when it comes time to upgrade cameras for additional features. Like any profession, tools are an important consideration, even if they aren’t the focus of what you do. So with that in mind, I recommend starting with the Sony a6000 series of mirrorless cameras. These are considerably more expensive, but at the moment, Sony is the only brand to offer a consistent path from entry-level to professional full-frame mirrorless. This is pretty important if you’re starting from nothing, and literally just getting into the field. Sony is the only brand with both entry-level and professional full-frame mirrorless cameras that share the same lens mount- a considerable trait since lenses are very expensive and something that you’ll not want to buy more than you have to. That being said though, if Sony is outside your immediate budget, that’s okay. You can still technically move from the Canon’s and Nikon’s DSLRs to their mirrorless lines. It just requires inelegant, expensive adapters, which might be more of a hassle than they’re worth, depending on what kind of photography you’re doing.
While cameras and lenses make up the bulk of a photographer’s toolkit, there are still some other important resources to consider. Thankfully, the state of things here is bright as well. In regards to software, there are many great editing options for both amateur and professional photographers alike. Sure, there are the old standbys of Lightroom and Photoshop, but there are also lots of great, fully-featured and free alternatives out there, like GIMP, Fotor, and Darktable. Learning resources are also plentiful, with a myriad of options ranging from professional services like Lynda.com and CreativeLive, to the thousands of free tutorials on YouTube and photo blogs. Once you have your camera, there really isn’t anything else that should hold you back from diving straight into photography.
The bottom line.
So to sum it all up, now is a GREAT time to get into photography. The barrier to entry is smaller than ever before, with a plentiful selection of cheap and powerful tools, accessible to almost anyone. Yes, the arrival of the mirrorless revolution might make things more intimidating, if you’re buying your first camera. But like I said earlier, cameras are just tools, and they’re all pretty good at what they do. It’s how you use them is what really matters. After all, great photography has always been around, and most of it made with worse gear than you might be considering. So at the end of the day, don’t worry too much about which you pick and just go have fun!