Mar 1, 2018

New to photography and looking for a camera

Hello all,
I am extremely new to photography only having owned a couple of decent digital cameras and I was looking to upgrade to either a DSLR or Mirrorless camera.
My goal would be to keep the initial cost of the system with the 800 dollar range. I have looked at the lower level versions of DSLRs like the Nikon 3400 but fear they may not be able to process the image quality I would like. I do like that the mirrorless is smaller but I am a big fan of the optical view finder offered by DSLRs.
The only reason I ask about image processing is that I would be doing some sports photography because I have access to some neat places with my old career in sports marketing. I would not need a pro level camera but a set up where I could capture some on the field action as a hobby.
I would love any suggestions of where to start my hunt for a camera (Make, Model, New/Used, places to purchase).
Best,
Rob
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Dude I have a 12 year old camera and a 12 year old lens and I'm doing awesome... just got my hands on a 50 mm f1.8 and a canon EF 75-300 mm f4-5.6 (i think?) and I got some damn crispy photos. I'd say D3400 is a massive upgrade for me already.

Spend more money on gear than the camera. A great body is nothing without a good lens, and a old camera (like mine) is awesome with some decent (not even that good) glass.

I've even shot some great birds with 3-4 fps on a 10 megapixel sensor with a 18-55 kit lens that's aso 12 years old. Though I did have to lay on my belly with a piece of bread in front of me for a solid 20 min so patience is key.
Thanks Tom!

This really does help a lot. I know once I start investing in lenses that the system will increase in price so I guess I was thinking body and kit lens for 800 dollars. I will start doing a little more investigation into focal lengths that would be good for capturing football and see what may work/feel best from there. I also wanted to thank you for pointing me to the DxO database because it I feel like it will give me some great direction as well.

This was a fantastic response and I wanted to thank you again for taking the time to detail out all of this information for me.

Best Regards!
No specific recommendations, but you already touched on something with the optical viewfinder. I'll get to that in a sec.

When shopping for a camera that has a removable lens, keep in mind that you're not shopping for a camera, but for a system. It's easier now than it used to be to get really excellent third-party lenses with the camera mount of your choice, but be sure to look at the full range of accessories offered by the manufacturer for the cameras you're interested in.

Different manufacturers have niches in which they might perform better than the competition (e.g. flash sync on the Nikons or video on the Canons) but for the most part the modern DSLR cameras are all excellent, and all have top notch glass available on them. Look at your list of requirements and see if there's anything where one manufacturer stands out over another, or where one style of camera might stand out over another (e.g. the viewfinder you mentioned.)

Next, go to your local camera store and try out cameras from each manufacturer that's still on your list. In the end a lot will come down to ergonomics. A camera you don't like to pick up is a camera that never gets used. Bring a chip so you can take sample photos home with you. Hold it up to your face and use the viewfinder. Cycle through shutter speeds in shutter priority mode and apertures in aperture priority mode. Set it on manual and run through both to make sure it's not awkward to do. (That one's a little awkward on my current camera, but I'm primarily a landscape photographer. Being a little slow on settings won't hurt me the way it would a sports photographer.) Strike any camera from your list that feels hard to use, regardless of what the specs say on paper.

Finally, figure out which range of focal lengths you're likely to want. I don't do sports photography, but my cousin has done it for years. Basketball is particularly hard to photograph because the players can move from one end of the court to the other in a matter of seconds. Like a lot of sports photographers, she keeps one body loaded with a wide or ultra-wide and another loaded with a longer lens. As the players move toward her she'll swap cameras to get the close/wide shots, then swap back for the long shots as they move to the opposite end of the court. When figuring out your focal lengths, be brutally honest with yourself. A bird photographer who stops at 70mm is going to be disappointed. A landscape photographer who stops at 24mm will likewise be disappointed.

This leads back to the camera. If you need a really wide field of view, a full frame detector will probably suit you better than a crop sensor. If you need to use long focal length lenses, a crop sensor can work out better because it samples a smaller area of the field of view of the lens, making it perform like a longer lens. If you need both, you'll have to find a way to compromise. (With an $800 budget, getting one of each is probably out of the question, but it's something to keep in the back of your mind for later.)

Regardless of which cameras you try and which focal lengths you settle on, chances are you'll have exceeded your $800 budget by several times. Don't worry. Choose a body and a lens that'll get you a good bit of what you want, and know that EVERY photographer lusts after some piece of glass or some piece of gear that they couldn't afford at the time. It's a fact of life.

I have a question about something else you said: "I have looked at the lower level versions of DSLRs like the Nikon 3400 but fear they may not be able to process the image quality I would like." This will probably sound nit-picky, but I don't mean it to come out that way: Processing is something you do to a photograph after the fact. It has more to do with the information in the file rather than the camera or the lens that created it. I'll get to that in a second.

Image quality is almost entirely a product of the lens rather than the camera. At its simplest, a camera body houses a (reasonably) flat, photosensitive detector onto which light can be focused. You can expose the detector using anything from a bare pinhole to extremely precise pieces of glass. If you're using a camera with interchangeable lenses and have issues with image quality, try changing lenses. The DxO lens database is an excellent tool for finding lenses that will give you the image quality you need: https://www.dxomark.com/best-lenses-under-13000-dollars

There are two ways in which a camera body will affect image quality: First is detector sensitivity and shutter speed. If you're planning to work handheld indoors, being able to work at higher shutter speeds without introducing too much noise into the image is a huge plus. The Sony Alphas are currently at the top of the pack in this regard, though I'm not a fan of their ergonomics. If the sporting venues you're working at are all outdoors, that becomes less of an issue.

The second way the camera body will affect image quality is if you're planning to make massive prints and need gobs of pixels to pull it off. But keep in mind that doubling the linear resolution of an image requires increasing the pixel count of the detector by a factor of four. To get twice the linear resolution of my ancient 18 megapixel camera, I'd need a 72 megapixel camera. That's well into the realm of medium format digital, which costs something like 40x what I paid for mine. Meanwhile, that 18 megapixel camera can make 32" wide prints without a problem. (This is a long way of saying be reasonable when looking at pixel counts on cameras.)

As far as processing goes, the A#1 best thing you can do to help you in that regard is to shoot RAW rather than JPG. This packs the most information your camera can manage into each file it produces, and gives your image processing software the most latitude for producing an image that looks like what you want. Good news is that all DSLR and mirrorless cameras shoot RAW these days. Some will have more bit depth than others, but I'd be surprised to find even low-end cameras producing fewer than 14 bits per color per pixel.

Sorry for going off on a long ramble like that. I hope this didn't bore you to tears. More than that, I hope there was something in there that was helpful.

Cheers!
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