Pentax K5-IIsWhen you’re someone who has moderate success behind a camera, or just has a decent camera, inevitably your friends or family will ask you the dreaded question “what camera should I buy”.

When people ask me this the main thing that I tell them is this

Go the camera store and look for a model that is a) in your budget and b) feels good in your hands and then buy it.

A bit more:

  • It doesn’t matter. As Scott Bourne is known to say, 99% of the cameras are better than 99% of the photographers out there. The cheapest DSLR body and crappiest lens will produce images (in the right hands) that you can blow up to put on your wall at home, and will more than be adequate to take pictures to put in a tiny box on your Facebook wall.
  • Buy what your friends have. If your friends all shoot Nikon, buy Nikon. If they shoot Canon, buy a Canon, or Pentax, or whatever. This makes things like sharing lenses, getting help for settings, and getting access to hand-me-downs when someone upgrades much easier.
  • Go to the camera store (an actual camera store, not your local best buy) and talk to the people there about your needs, and if they’re not scumbag salesguy, they’ll give you a good idea about what you actually need, not what they can sell you. Then go to a different store and do the same thing, and get a second (or 3rd or 4th) opinion. Having a good relationship with your local camera store (Hi Duncan and Charmaine from Lens and Shutter!) makes a word of difference in getting inside information, good advice and yes, the occasional good deal.
  • In the camera store get your hands on as many cameras as possible. A great camera with controls that feel odd or that doesn’t feel right in your hands isn’t going to get used nearly as much as a “lesser” camera that feels oh-so right. This is why I bought the Pentax *ist-D vs the original Canon Rebel back in 2004… a smaller body and simply felt more at home in my hands.
  • Think more about lenses than bodies, but not at first. The lenses available (and for that matter, flash system) will affect you more as you get more into photography, and you’ll realize that even though the body is the thing with the buttons dials and features, it’s really just a box you stick on the back of your lenses. The more pictures you take the more you’ll see that a good lens will go far longer than a good body. While the body might be out of date in six months, and you may upgrade every 5 years, your lenses can easily last you a (literal) lifetime.

Last but not least (again):

  • It doesn’t matter. No, it doesn’t matter. The hardware these days is so good that unless you’re at a very high level (and therefor are getting paid in truckloads of cash and can afford to just buy whatever your clients insist is needed for the shoot), or pixel peeping with a microscope (“measurbation” I hear it called) it will have zero effect on you or I.

That all said, you didn’t say what you are using the camera for? Portrait work? Action? Sports? Wildlife? Or just “I want a DSLR”? If the latter my advice above holds. If you’re looking at specifically one of the other uses there are different directions that others can point you. Other real humans that you can talk to face to face, not the faceless hordes screaming at you in the forums from the safety of their basements. I know that while Canon and Nikon tend to leapfrog each other in features and performance, some specific types of photography can (can) be more easy with one manufacturer or another, at least once you’ve been in it for a decade and are able to tell.

Finally an entry level DSLR from any manufacturer, combined with the kit lens will give you a great camera, great lens and almost all of the things you’re looking for. The next step is to go out and take pictures all day, everyday, and have fun!

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