Good Camera for a Beginner Photographer

Just enrolled in a photography course? Are you planning to? You have decided it is time to take your skills to the next level. You can already see your work published in the next edition of Popular Photography or Nat Geo. What constitutes a good camera for a beginner photographer? The cheap point and shoot you own would not be good enough to:

Rather than tell you about our choice of hardware, we asked eight famous photography teachers what gear they would recommend to get started. Read on, below is their take on a good camera to upgrade your photographic skills (in alphabetical order):

Raymond Gehman

Good Starter Camera Raymond Gehman

Raymond is a fine art photographer who regularly contracts with National Geographic. Apart from presenting worldwide workshops, he teaches photo lessons and classes in Florida, Pennsylvania, and throughout the U.S. Raymond has a newsletter at http://eepurl.com/btorbX.

What camera did you use to learn photography?

When I first started photography in 1971, there was no such thing as an automatic camera so I bought a Yashica 35mm film camera with a 50mm lens. I would imagine that ninety percent of people who began photography during this time chose a very similar camera. As I later learned, it was a good thing that I learned photography with an all manual camera.

What in your opinion is the best (affordable) camera today for a person wanting to acquire basic photography skills?

I have always used Nikon Cameras since I entered Journalism school in 1976 and I feel very confident in suggesting their entry level model as the best, affordable camera available for a beginner. This is Nikon’s D3300 with an 18-55mm zoom lens, and the price in the US runs between $450-500.

What features would this camera need to possess for the prospective student to acquire photographic skills?

The D3300 has all the features that a prospective student would need to get off to a great start in photography. It has 24 megapixels, a pop-up flash, the ability to shoot RAW and JPEG, automatic, semi-automatic and manual shooting modes, HD 1080p video capabilities, and the 18-55mm zoom lens features vibration reduction to help steady the new students first efforts at making new pictures.

Patrick Kelley

Good Starter Camera - Kauai

Patrick is an award winning photographer based in Kauai, where he is a photographic teacher and presenter of workshops. He is represented by the National Geographic International Image Collection and does assignments internationally on photography projects.

What camera did you use to learn photography?

I started with a Nikon D60 in 2004 and slowly upgraded cameras every couple of years. I now shoot with a Nikon D800.

What in your opinion is the best (affordable) camera today for a person wanting to acquire basic photography skills?

My number one recommendation nowadays are the mirrorless camera systems like the Sony A7 series. They are compact and lightweight, very high quality and considerably less expensive than a traditional SLR camera.

What features would this camera need to possess for the prospective student to acquire photographic skills?
I always say the best camera to have is the one you will use the most. For beginners having something that is smaller and easier to travel while maintaining quality is ideal. They also offer full manual control which is a key factor of many types of professional shooting from landscape to commercial photography.

Andy Long

Good Starter Camera Andy Long

Andy has been a professional photographer since 1982 and has been leading workshops since 1994. Andy has produced more than 30,000 stock images – his work has appeared in more than 40 publications including Nat Geo and Animal Planet television shows. He is also assistant editor and featured columnist in Nature Photographer magazine.

What in your opinion is the best (affordable) camera today for a person wanting to acquire basic photography skills?

As a Canon shooter myself I tend to push people in that direction as I have been very pleased with their products for close to 40 years. To start off, people shouldn’t always jump in and get the highest quality camera bodies and they could be too overwhelming to learn everything about them. The Canon Rebel series bodies are a good starting point as they have all the features needed to learning the basics of photography.

What features would this camera need to possess for the prospective student to acquire photographic skills?

For people to learn about taking images, systems that allow for using either Aperture or Shutter priority work best. Being able to change ISO is also important. Too many people want to use Automatic or Program modes. These will take good photos but the photographer will learn nothing about photography – how f/stops, shutter speed and ISO work together to create the images they want. Learning the basics of how cameras work will take people a long way instead of grabbing one and just taking a picture. Composition and lighting are things that also play an important part in what makes a great image, but knowing what f/stop (for depth of field) and shutter speed (freezing movement or allowing flow) to use in conjunction with each other are just as important.

 Jim Nilsen

Good Starter Camera Jim Nilsen

Jim obtained a degree in Commercial and Portrait photography in the early 80s and fell in love with travel photography. He organizes photographic tours and travel workshops in conjunction with his wife Magrit. 

What camera did you use to learn photography?

My first camera was a 35mm film camera. A Pentax Spotmatic 2 with a 50 mm Takumar lens.

What in your opinion is the best (affordable) camera today for a person wanting to acquire basic photography skills?

The entry level Canon or Nikon DSLR with a general purpose zoom range of 18-55 mm. Nikon D3300, Canon Rebel T6i. Although more expensive but small and lighter are the mirrorless system from Fuji and Olympus. Very tempting because of their small size and weight.

What features would this camera need to possess for the prospective student to acquire photographic skills?

All the cameras these days have way too many features. In fact, I recommend that the student use only manual exposure to begin with so that they understand the basics. Then, after that, you can use the more automated features that can sometimes be useful. Make sure that the camera is capable of shooting in the Raw format as this will be better in the long run for your photos once you learn more about post processing. You can do a lot more post processing to a Raw file versus a jpeg file with less degradation. Also, make sure that the camera has a histogram. This is a very useful to make sure that you are correctly exposing your photos in the field. I would encourage any new photo student to read about what a histogram is and how to use it….plenty of info on the internet about this.

Ion Paciu

Good_Starter_Camera_Ion_Paciu1

Ion’s photography school based in central London have trained over 3,500 students from amateur level to professional from around the world. Ion is skilled in almost any kind of photography, ranging from portrait, fashion to conceptual work. 

What camera did you use to learn photography?

I started with Canon cameras and lenses from the beginning and I am still capturing my images using the same brand.

What in your opinion is the best (affordable) camera today for a person wanting to acquire basic photography skills?

It al depends on what kind of photography, skills level and portability but Canon DSLRs entry level bodies and lenses are extremely cheap and can (in the right hands) produce very good quality images.

What features would this camera need to possess for the prospective student to acquire photographic skills?

All the DSLR bodies (and all cameras) offer more than one needs for general photography, from entry level to semi pro and PRO camera bodies. Most of the cameras are the same. The most important features are the core concepts in photography: Aperture, ISO, focusing system and these features can vary depending on the body of the camera and the lenses. At the beginning of the learning journey any camera will do as they all have these features, but we always advise our students to purchase DSLRs versus other types of cameras, as the lenses and accessories choice is much wider.

 Lou Smith

good camera beginner photographer Lou Smith

Lou Smith is a Fine Art Photographer who has exhibited her work nationally and internationally.  Lou has taught photography to thousands of people from around the world and delivers practical hands-on photography courses in London.

What camera did you use to learn photography?

I learned photography on a Pentax MX. I enjoyed using this SLR as it was smaller and lighter than many of the other brands around during the late 70’s and early 80’s. This is a film camera. It has TTL metering which was a new and innovative feature. Today the Pentax MX has a retro look which many camera manufacturers emulate in their design. I still have my Pentax although I no longer use it.

What in your opinion is the best (affordable) camera today for a person wanting to acquire basic photography skills?

I recommend starting with an entry level DSLR. This lets an individual learn photography without being bamboozled by too many dials and buttons or complex menu systems. Canon 1200D is a good starting point for individuals on a budget. If you can spend a bit more Canon’s 750D entry level has more features and is touch screen too.

What features would this camera need to possess for the prospective student to acquire photographic skills?

An essential part of learning photography is to use a camera which has manual controls. It is this which enables individuals to change how their photographs look. Menu systems do not need to be complicated and Canon menu systems on entry level are relatively intuitive and easy to work with. When you work and improve your photography skills you eventually outgrow an entry level camera. By then you are ready to upgrade and know what specifications you would like your next camera to have. Therefore it’s best for beginners to start with an entry level camera, learn it and learn it well – then move on to another when you feel the need.

Zack Smith

Good Starter Camera Zack Smith

Zack Smith is a fine art and commercial portrait photographer, musician, artist, and storyteller. Smith specializes in environmental portraiture, performance, and street documentary photography. His workshops are exciting, informational, and always hands-on.

What camera did you use to learn photography?

In the early days of understanding the ropes of photography, I learned on a 35mm film Canon AE-1 camera. It didn’t matter that I had no idea what I was doing, the AE-1 had so very few features built in that it allowed me to learn and understand the basic functions without all of the automatic bells and whistles of a Program camera.

What in your opinion is the best (affordable) camera today for a person wanting to acquire basic photography skills?

I think the most important basic photography skills that any beginner should sharpen are their compositional and story telling techniques. The technical side of photography can be learned by anyone who puts the time in to learn it, and it is the aesthetic and emotional drivers that one will work on from day 1 until the last photo is shot. I feel one should budget what they can for a camera and not concern themselves if it is a DSLR, point and shoot, or mirrorless. Your smart phone will work just fine to hone these skills until you are ready to upgrade.

What features would this camera need to possess for the prospective student to acquire photographic skills?

I feel this camera should have basic abilities to zoom and record its image to a device that is downloadable (SD card, CF card). Other factors that are good are the ability to shoot RAW and set manual exposures. But as I said earlier, honing one’s compositional skills is paramount for the beginner. The technical can come later…

 William Yu

good camera beginner photographer William Yu

William is a world famous photographer whose photos have been published in publications across America, Europe and China. His clients include Amazon.com, Ubisoft, Accenture, Google, Ogilvy One Worldwide and Microsoft. Willam is also a course instructor at the Bryan Peterson school of Photography. 

What camera did you use to learn photography?
I learned photography in 1990s with a Chinese-made Seagull twin-lens reflex film camera. My first digital camera is a 2MP Fujifilm camera in early 2000.

What in your opinion is the best (affordable) camera today for a person wanting to acquire basic photography skills?
In my opinion, a beginner photographer today can pick up any entry level camera from proven brands like Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus, Pentax, Panasonic, Fujifilm, etc, regardless whether it’s DSLR or mirrorless. All these cameras are more than capable for the photographer to acquire basic photography skills. More often than not, a photographer’s creativity and artistic talent are more important factors than technical aspects in photography.

What features would this camera need to possess for the prospective student to acquire photographic skills?
Modern digital cameras have lots of fancy gimmicks built into them. The most important feature is the manual mode, which allows the photographer to gain full manual control of shutter speed, aperture and ISO (so called exposure triangle). This is the most fundamental skill every beginner photographer must master.

Conclusion

To conclude – what is a good camera for a beginner photographer? From the opinions above it seems that entry level DSLRs with manual controls are the way to go for a good foundation. The Nikon D3300 received a couple of mentions, as well as the Canon 1200D due to its logical menu layout. Our own recommendation is the Rebel T3i (600D) which is not available as a new model any longer, but will make a great buy second-hand.

As a parting thought, consider the following quote:

A lot of photographers think that if they buy a better camera, they’ll be able to take better photographs. A better camera won’t do a thing for you if you don’t have anything in your head or in your heart” -Arnold Newman

Izak van Heerden
Izak loves photography - of any kind: Street, Fine Art, Portraiture, Nature, Underwater and Macro.

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