You’ve taken the leap and decided to upgrade to a DSLR or Mirrorless Camera. This is a HUGE step. No more blurry, flat iPhone photos. You are moving towards creating really beautiful, crisp images that capture feeling and moments in a way that a phone just can’t. We are throwing confetti in your honor. You are a rockstar. So how in the world do you decide what camera to buy for your family vacation? Where can you find the best deals? Is an upgraded lens a good option? Do you want fries with that shake? SO MANY QUESTIONS!
First answer: Yes. You always want fries with your shake. The salty just makes the sweet sweeter, ya know?
Which BRAND should you choose? Much like the Jets and the Sharks in West Side Story, there has been a longtime rivalry between Canon users and Nikon users. For ages, Canon cameras took the lead in their color and their video capabilities, while Nikon boasted better low-light features and sharper, more accurate focus. For years, if you wanted a nice digital camera, buying a Canon or Nikon DSLR was the way to go.
More recently, though, brands like Fuji and Sony have made huge strides and are producing mirrorless cameras that can give both Nikons and Canons a serious run for their money. Bottom line, don’t choose a camera based on the brand (unless your Aunt Belinda has worked at Nikon for 20 years… then maybe choose a Nikon to make her smile). Instead, choose a camera based on the features that will help the camera do what you’re wanting it to do.
DSLR vs Mirrorless? What’s the difference?
Digital Single Lens Reflex Cameras (or DSLR’s for short) came on the scene in the early 2000’s, taking the popular design of film Single Lens Reflex cameras and dropping in a digital sensor. It was the beginning of the digital boom in photography, and as the technology got better and the prices came down, DSLR’s became the go-to camera style for people who were looking to up their photography game. DSLR’s have a series of mirrors that allow the photographer to see through the lens of the camera while they compose a photo. When they push the shutter release button, a mirror swings out of the way of the shutter, the shutter opens, and the image is captured on the digital sensor, all in a matter of seconds.
Around the same time DSLR’s were beginning to make a splash, companies like Olympus and Leica were experimenting with taking the mirror out of the camera. By taking the reflex mirror out of the camera, companies could create cameras that were smaller than DSLR’s, and because these cameras had Electronic Viewfinders (EVF’s) photographers were able to monitor their exposure in realtime, rather than relying on a meter and/or the screen on the back of the camera. These cameras had some pretty big downfalls, however, and didn’t really catch on in the professional world until the mid twenty-teens when companies like Fujifilm and Sony started pushing the technology to a place where they were competitive with DSLR’s.
What FEATURES matter most? Megapixels, frames per second, video features, wireless control, LCD screens, sensor size. A girl can easily get overwhelmed by all of the bells and whistles being offered by camera companies. Well, we are here to tell you which ones to focus on, and which ones would be the equivalent to having square cup holders – maybe they look cool… but in reality, we don’t need them.
Megapixels – This is a number that, for over a decade, camera companies have been touting to sell more cameras. It refers to the resolution, or “size”, of the photo that the camera takes. These days, though, unless you plan on printing your photos on billboards or cropping your photos to 1/10th of what they were before, the megapixel competition is relatively unimportant. Almost every DSLR or Mirrorless camera that is coming out has more than adequate resolution to print huge prints without any pixelation, so don’t get caught up in this marketing ploy.
Frames Per Second – This is another number often used in marketing new cameras. It refers to how quickly the camera can take photos on its highest continuous setting. This is an important number to pay attention to if you are photographing things that move quickly; sports or birds, for example. But again, most cameras are going to have a more than adequate FPS for capturing those fast moving toddlers 🙂
Low Light Performance – This is one that we really want to pay attention to. Sometimes marketed as “High ISO Performance”, this will determine the quality of our images when we are shooting in low light environments. This is helpful because it allows us to use higher shutter speeds when we are in a dark environment without adding noise or artifacts to our photos.
Sensor Size – “Full Frame” and “Micro 4/3rds” and “APSC” all sound like mumbo jumbo created by nerds in a lab (and probably are), but they also refer to the size of the sensor in the camera. The sensor is the part of the camera that captures light and turns it into a digital image. The size of the sensor is important to pay attention to for a few reasons. First, it will determine what, if any, focal distance conversion you will have on your lenses. For example, a 50mm lens on an APSC sensor camera is actually about a 85mm lens. Also, the bigger the sensor, the shorter the depth of field you can achieve, meaning you can take a photo where just a small part is in focus, and the rest of the photo falls off into soft, unfocussed area.
Other Bells and Whistles – You will see a lot of other features touted on the front of camera boxes. Things like video features, articulated pop out lcd screens, film simulation modes, and built in wifi all sound like great features, but in reality you won’t use them all that often. Everyone has different needs and wants when it comes to a camera, so it’s important to ask yourself how you’re going to be using the camera and let that guide which features you’re most interested in.
Where can you find the best PRICES? One of the most important things to consider when buying a camera is your budget. You can easily spend $4,500 on a camera if you want, but that might mean that your family has to eat ramen for the next 12 months. By zeroing in on a realistic budget, you can start to figure out which cameras best fit your needs from a feature perspective and a money perspective. We’ve found that an all-in budget of $500-$1,000 tends to be a pretty realistic investment for entry-level DSLRs. You’ll want to consider the cost of things like batteries, lenses, warranties (if you’re into that kind of thing) and memory cards when looking at your budget. Amazon, Adorama, and B&H have fantastic deals on DSLRs. The beginning of the year (after the holiday rush) is a great time to buy a camera as the deals are typically some of the best.
Should you buy a lens? Your DSLR will likely come with one lens (which is called a kit lens in photographer speak). A huge advantage of upgrading to a DSLR or Mirrorless camera is the ability to change lenses. If you have money left in the budget, the first thing we recommend is buying a 35mm or 50mm fixed focal length lens to go with it. These lenses are great for shooting in low light, and have a great focal distance that encourages you to get creative with your framing.
Our DSLR recommendations:
Canon Rebel T6i: This camera is likely the most popular beginner camera of all time. People love it, and it offers some great features like a tilting touchscreen and wi-fi. It also has 5 frames per second (fps) speed when you’re shooting on continuous, so it’s a great option for sports photographers. The pricepoint for this camera is around $580.
Nikon D3500: This camera is being hailed for its quick and responsive autofocus (something that we think is super important – especially when you’re chasing down toddler for that quick photo-worthy moment). It’s got a fixed rear screen, a quick 5fps continuous speed, and built in bluetooth (no wifi on this camera). This camera is the least expensive on the list, coming in at around $400.
Our Mirrorless recommendations:
Fuji X-T100: Mirrorless cameras are all the rage right now, and for good reason. They are lightweight, portable, and just look really cool. We love Fujis for their vintage style and high functionality. The X-T100 comes with a really cool film simulation feature, 6 fps continuous shooting, as well as wifi and bluetooth capabilities. The downside to going with this lower profile mirrorless system is that the auto-focus and shooting are a bit slower than the Canon Rebel T6i and and Nikon D3500. But, hey, the fact that it can fit in your purse might just make it our favorite camera on this list. It rings up at around $600.
There are some really great options out there for your first DSLR or Mirrorless Camera, and the good news is that, if you do your research, you really can’t go wrong. Upgrading from an iPhone to DSLR or Mirrorless Camera for your family photos is a life-changing decision. You’ll find that your moments are captured more beautifully and that you’re creating a legacy that will allow you to remember the feeling of your most precious times together as a family for decades to come. Your kiddos won’t stay in this phase of life forever – remember it well.