I can’t explain the sheer volume of people that ask me what kind of camera they should buy if they want to start getting into photography. So I thought I’d make this blog post to share my experiences and knowledge from the last….. well….. 15 years as a professional photographer.

Here’s the thing: I’m old school. I learned on film. I went to college for it, and spent a solid 4 years inside of a dark room (take me back). So genuinely, my first recommendation if you really want to LEARN how to use a camera and not just rely on the “auto” function – is FILM! Straight up 35mm wind it yourself film. Develop that shit yourself in a dark room and it’ll teach you how to use Photoshop, too. No joke. “Dodge” and “Burn” started in a darkroom, not a computer. It is hands down the ONLY way to not rely on the camera to tell you what to do, and you are forced to genuinely learn the functions of a camera. Also nothing is as beautiful as film. And it’s a blast. The only negative is how expensive it is to buy film and develop it. In college, I was able to develop it all myself by hand. But these days: there’s tons of online companies (like The Darkroom) that you can ship off your film, let them develop it, and send it back to you with prints, as well as digital copies! Ahhhh technology. Wish I had that in college.

For those of you who aren’t interested in film (shame on you) – then a DSLR or mirrorless camera is the way to go! What’s the difference? DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex, which works by the light hitting a mirror inside the camera, which is angled at 45 degrees. That light goes straight up into an optical viewfinder which allows you to see precisely what the lens is looking at. This is a true optical path, with no digital processing in the middle. DSLRs use the same technology as their film counterparts, which have been around for decades. Also one HUGE PERK of DSLR is that the battery will last SO MUCH LONGER than mirrorless.

Now, mirrorless cameras – I know this sounds crazy but stay with me – don’t have a mirror. With these cameras, the light passes through the lens and straight onto the sensor to be processed. It’s then displayed either on the monitor on the back of the camera, or in the electronic viewfinder, which you can see in real-time as you look through your viewfinder. I was personally very stubborn about switching over to mirrorless, purely for the fact that I felt like mirrorless was “cheating” – you don’t have to know your settings, because you can physically see them as you change them, so as someone who loves the technical side of photography and KNOWING my settings, I felt like the camera was doing too much of my own work for me, even though I’m the one still doing the settings. But one epic perk of mirrorless? It has so much new technology that it shoots even better in low-light without flash. Which is why I switched over.

Now, what do I shoot with? I use two Canon R6‘s and I love them dearly. However – if you are just starting, or only looking to be a hobbyist and not get paid for your photos, you do not need to drop $2500-$5000 on your beginning camera. Let me say that again. IF YOU AREN’T GETTING PAID FOR YOUR PHOTOS, YOU DON’T NEED TO SPEND $4000 ON A CAMERA! So what do I suggest?

Honestly? These bad boys were made right, and made to last. All of my favorite film photos have come off of a camera I received as a hand-me-down from grandparents, uncles, and family friends. Come to think of it, have I ever actually purchased a film camera???? Old people love to hold onto these cameras forever. Ask the ones in your life if they have any lying around. I can’t say there’s one brand I even recommend over others, because I have used SO MANY and loved them all. The Canon AE-1 is a CLASSIC. And can be found on Amazon with a 50mm lens for $250! One of my personal favorites that I still use today is my Minolta X-700 (Amazon price under $200).

The Canon Rebel line is an incredible line of cameras, that will still produce better quality images than you iPhone will, but won’t break the bank. With a price range between $450-$1000, this is the best bang for your buck. You can even get a bundle with a camera body and lens combo, like this one. And then in the future, you can always upgrade and get a better lens! The glass that you put on the body makes a huge difference in image quality. You can even get some CHEAP lenses to play with that will probably only encourage you to take more photos and get more into it. Like this Canon 50mm 1.8. Also, the perk of purchasing a big name brand like Canon is that you’ll be able to use the Canon lenses interchangeably, which is HUGE. I will always recommend Canon. I’ve been using them for my whole life. I’ve edited it directly next to the other brands and I still prefer it over the others. Basically, I would suggest you pick a brand and stick with it. That way you can slowly collect lenses that you can always use.

With a smaller budget, but still an epic camera line, I have recently purchased and fallen in love with Fuji specifically for when I’m traveling and want something smaller in size, something a lot more lightweight than my work cameras, and something I don’t have to be so afraid of damaging while I’m galavanting around Europe. But I still wanted something that produced SOLID quality images, and files large enough for me to print when I got home. I got the Fujifilm X100F. While it isn’t exactly the cheapest on the market ($1400 new, I got mine for closer to $1200 used), it is honestly SO GREAT at what it does, and I *could* use this camera for work, it’s good enough quality, but I like having more control over my focal points like my bigger cameras have. If that one is well out of your budget, try another brand! I have friends who have started out with Sony mirrorless cameras and loved them. I personally haven’t used Sony aside from shooting a little real estate on them, but I really didn’t mess with my settings much so I didn’t experiment too much, so I don’t have many opinions on those. You could also try out one from the Canon line! The newer, fancier models start at $2200 and go up from there, but other beginner cameras can start as low as $450.

Hope this is helpful to everyone! Best of luck on the journey. It’s an addiction that is absolutely worth pursuing more of. Whether you want to pursue it for work or just for fun, it’s endlessly rewarding!