A camera is JUST a tool
What happens if you give the best oven to someone who does not know how to cook and an ordinary, much inferior oven to a great cook? Who is going to create a better meal? The same rhetorical question is valid for photography – if you get a better camera, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will take better pictures.
You may be asking yourself “But wait, does the camera truly matter?” Yes and no (sorry for the non-answer). For the average hobbyist using a camera for family snapshots, the camera does not matter, but as you hone your craft, find your photography style and become a professional, it does. If someone handed an entry-level camera to a good photographer, they should be able to adapt and capture great pictures, but they also know that good tools can help tremendously in achieving the best results that differentiate them from everyone else in an over-saturated field.
What aspects of a camera are important?
Sensor size: Sensor size can affect everything from image exposure to noise (visual distortion, similar to the grainy look found in film photographs) in an image. There is a significant difference between a tiny sensor on a point and shoot camera and a DSLR full-frame sensor. This difference is smaller between full-frame and cropped-sensor cameras, but it can still be enough to impact the look of the image.
Lenses: The type of lens you use, its focal length and aperture play a huge part in the final image. For instance, it would be next to impossible to create an intentionally blurry background with a point and shoot camera compared to a 50mm f/1.4 lens (lovingly called a ‘Nifty 50’ by many photographers).
Your photographic eye: Always remember that a camera is just a tool in a photographer’s bag. Without the photographer’s skills, patience, vision, creativity, planning, timing, lighting and post-processing, even the best camera in the world will not be able to create a good picture.
Different Camera Systems
The current manufacturers of mainstream DSLR cameras are Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax and Sigma. With so many different brands and types of cameras to choose from, it is getting harder to choose a particular brand over another.
So, which brand should you invest in? If you are planning to be serious about your photography, you will be buying more gear over time. Whether it is new cameras, lenses, filters, flashes or memory cards, the type of the camera system you pick is important. If you decide on a brand that doesn’t fit your style, it will be very costly to sell all of your gear and replace it with a different brand. On top of that, you will have to spend some time to learn the new system interface and become accustomed to it. Nikon and Canon lead with the widest selection of cameras, lenses & accessories and have the largest market share. There are some other brands such as Olympus, Panasonic and Fuji that have also been doing well in the market (my Fujifilm Finepix S700 was a great little work horse that smoothed my transition to DSLR cameras).
You can also see if anyone you know already has an advanced camera and ask for their suggestions and advice. If the person you are asking is a professional/semi-pro photographer, it might be a good idea to buy the same brand camera so you can learn from that person and possibly borrow gear in the future before you buy your own.
The grass is greener on the other side
No matter what camera system you choose, you’ll probably always have one eye on other brands. But the old adage is true: the grass is always greener on the other side. The topic of Canon vs Nikon, for example, always comes up between photographers. Lens debates between these two brands are endless, but at the end of the day, the question you should be asking yourself is how much better would your pictures get if you picked one brand over another (or switched from one brand to another). In most instances, the change would be very insignificant; you may gain one thing and lose another.
Think of your camera as your tool for the job. Without good technical skills and creativity – no matter what camera system you use – you will never be able to capture anything good. Read, learn, experiment and shoot… a lot – that’s the only way to become a better photographer. Don’t become a gearhead and buy more and more useless stuff you do not need. Once you become a better photographer, you will know exactly what you need to get the best results.