When I was teaching Advanced Level photography classes in college many of my students would bring in cameras that were totally unsuitable for them. They had purchased their camera without knowing the right questions to ask the guy in the store or the right questions to ask themselves.
As a professional photographer one of the questions most frequently asked when you meet someone new and tell them what you do for a living is, “I’m looking to buy a new camera. Which one should I buy?”
I’ve written this guide to help you ask the right questions, to supplement the knowledge you already have and to help ensure that the next camera you buy is a better choice than your last.
Mistake #1: Being Blinkered by Bad Advice
I met someone recently who had bought, what was for her, a very expensive camera. When the package arrived her hurried excitement saw her rip open the individually wrapped items and view them with anticipation of the joy she would have photographing her children and showing to her family and friends the beautiful, dreamlike images she had in her mind’s eye.
She studied the instructions, attached the lens to the body and inserted the batteries. After a few hours she packed it all up and sent it back. (So, at least she’s ensured that the returns policy was good!)
I asked her why. She told me that the camera didn’t come close to meeting her needs. So I asked why she’d chosen it in the first place and she told me that a very experienced professional photographer friend of hers had recommended it.
Now I would suggest that the criteria that a professional photographer uses to choose a camera is very different from an amateur—even a very keen amateur.
Professionals typically have three, four or more high-end DSLR cameras. It’s not at all unusual for an established professional photographer to own in excess of $100,000 worth of equipment. Cameras to a pro are their work tools. These are tax deductible items that are necessary for them to earn their living.
Each of their tools (cameras, accessories, lighting units etc) will have been chosen to assist them with specific aspects of their job. They will have read journals written for professional photographers by professional photographers. Many of the decisions they make are made under the harsh light of commercial reality.
Pro photographers have spent many years refining their art day-in, day-out. So a lot of the automatic features found in cameras will be of little interest to them. Instead, reliability and rugged construction may factor more highly.
Also, it’s rare that a professional photographer has the time or interest to keep up with the types of consumer focused cameras available in a high street store.
So when the well-meaning, educated and knowledgeable professional photographer friend of hers made the recommendation, it was made from a very different viewpoint to her own.
What she wanted was something easy to carry as she walked with her kids but sufficiently advanced that she could continue to learn about f-stops, shutter speeds, bokeh, composition and framing with something better than a cheap, compact camera. What was recommended to her was a very different tool.
The point of my story is that advice, no matter who it’s given by, is subjective. As Mary Schmich wrote in her Chicago Tribune column (famously turned in to a top ten hit by Baz Luhrmann), “Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it”.
That Tech Guy
They tech guy at the camera club may know more about the specs of a camera than you but he doesn’t have your needs, your wants or your emotions. He doesn’t shoot in the same circumstances as you and he doesn’t desire the same results.
So listen to advice but always ask “Why?”. Why have they recommended that particular camera? What assumptions have they made about you, your needs, your experience, what you think is important, how & where you’ll use the camera, what features you’ll use and which you won’t.
Mistake #2: Being Duped by On-Line Reviews
Be VERY CAREFUL about on-line reviews. In my free report “Don’t Get Duped” I describe how a huge industry has developed across the Internet in making money from writing reviews.
Many review writers have a goal: to make you click a link and buy something. It’s in their interests to write reviews that will motivate you to click their cleverly linked ‘More Info Here’ button. Every time someone buys using that link, the author of the review gets paid a fee.
I’ve been stung by enough on-line reviews now to be pretty skeptical of them. Those reviews that aren’t money earners for the writer make me wonder who writes them. Is it almost exclusively the bored, unemployed or angry?
If you take away just one thing from this post, please NEVER buy something based solely on an on-line review found on a website that you don’t know or trust to be unbiased. I give a few tips on spotting the tell-tell signs here.
Mistake #3: Falling for Special Offers
I live in England. Every few months the local furniture showroom runs special offer ads on TV. They tell you how you can now get a bed at 75% off! Or some furniture at 1990s prices. Or some other apparently awesome deal.
When you get to the store, you find that the deal isn’t quite as good as you thought. Maybe they only had 5 of those beds and, now that they’ve sold out, all the others are at the normal price. Or maybe you have to buy the exact style, make and color to qualify for the discount—and that color is always hideous!
A sale has two jobs.
- To get rid of stock that they just can’t shift
- To get gullible buyers in to the store so the sales team can work their magic
Please don’t think that a sale is for your benefit.