Photography 101: What Camera System Is Best

Stephen F. Dennstedt

I’ve written on this topic many, many times in this blog. Simple answer: There is no best. Camera decisions should always be purpose driven and not emotional need driven. In other words pragmatism over emotionalism. But—

Always that ever-present but (but not butt). New gear is exciting, fun and emotionally charged—you’re preaching to the choir. I am not completely immune to this emotional driver of gear acquisition (and the manufacturers count on it).

It’s important to understand that new kit doesn’t make you a better photographer—cameras and lenses have reached the point of almost technical perfection (even entry-level kit). They all have enough megapixels, dynamic range and high ISO performance. Today buying a new camera body is more about buying features than incremental technical improvement. Features can make your photography easier but not better—good photography is more about aesthetic (artistic) improvement than technical performance. Invest in education and practice first and not new kit. So when should you upgrade your photography kit?

Galapagos Sea Lion Pup – Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

That’s an appropriate question. It’s time to look into upgrading your current system when it’s broken or it’s causing you to miss shots (you’re missing opportunities). When upgrading should you choose a: full-frame (FX), APS-C crop-sensor (DX) or mirrorless system? It depends. What is your purpose when taking photos—are you a recreational shooter (capturing images while on holiday or at family gatherings), are you a serious amateur photographer, semi-professional or professional photographer? It matters. Sometimes an iPhone or point & shoot camera is just fine for the recreational photographer.

Roseate Spoonbill – Celestun, Yucatan, Mexico

If you’re more serious about your photography you will want to invest in more flexible kit. If you’re a semi-professional or professional shooter you need to start thinking about robust (sturdy) gear that can survive a bump or two and kit that is weather-sealed against the elements. And it’s good to keep in mind the old axiom: glass (lenses) before cameras (bodies). Photography is a visual medium after all so it makes sense to focus on the eyes (lenses) before the brains (bodies). Will your photography only be used digitally or will you be printing your images—and if you’re going to print how large will your prints be?

Northern-crested Caracara – Yucatan, Mexico

What kind of photography do you prefer: weddings & events, sports, wildlife, nature (landscapes & seascapes), portraits, travel or maybe street photography? You should buy kit that serves your purpose. Photography is about compromise—there are always tradeoffs. My buying decisions won’t necessarily be your buying decisions nor should they be. Photography is a great creative outlet, hobby and even profession and I love it. And there are many different kinds of photographers, from the true artists to the gear-heads and tech-weenies. My interest lies squarely in the artistic realm and not in the technical arena.

Male Cinereous Harrier – El Calafate (Southern Patagonia) Argentina

I’m a professional photographer who travels full-time (365-days a year) and I carry a lot of gear—it’s heavy and cumbersome but it’s the price I pay to get the shot. For those on holiday or those who only share their photos on social media you can get by with a lot less stuff. I know professional travel photographers who get by with small mirrorless or micro 4/3 cameras and just one or two lenses. And others, like me, who carry heavy professional camera bodies and lenses—like I said earlier: photography is about compromise and tradeoffs.

Basking Harbour Seal – La Jolla (San Diego) CA

Brands aren’t overly important: professionals tend to stick with Canon, Nikon and Sony but Fuji, Panasonic and Olympus make great stuff too. New gear is fun and exciting and can re-energize your photography and creative efforts but it’s not always necessary—ask yourself the question: do I need it or do I just want it. The answer isn’t always easy. After a 5½-year absence from the USA I returned for a short visit to see family & friends and to refresh my travel and photography kit. Click HERE to see what’s in my bag. I am now in the Netherlands and heading to Germany tomorrow. Happy shooting.

My Office – Pelican 1510 Photography Hard Case

My Office – Pelican 1510 Photography Hard Case

8 responses to “Photography 101: What Camera System Is Best

  1. Buying my Fuji X-T2 made me fall in love with photography all over again! I think it’s the manual dials and amazing colours that I love so much! Oh and how light it is when paired with a prime lens. Only issue I have had during ten months of travel is sensor dust – mirrorless hey!

    • Jamie, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about travelling with lighter gear because as I get older (I turned 71 this past May) the task of carrying stuff around the world gets harder and harder. But my love is wildlife photography and that requires big glass. If I was strictly a travel photographer I think I would opt for a different system but I shoot a lot of different scenarios in a lot of different locations, from commercial to recreational, and I need REALLY robust (heavily weather-sealed) gear in the jungles, rainforests, mountains and deserts. Thanks for taking a moment to comment. Best of luck in your travels and shooting. Steve

      • Oh wow! Yeah I fully agree when shooting wildlife! I’m interested to see the Fuji 200mm f/2 with teleconverter but it’s far too expensive for me! No worries great article! Thanks

  2. I liked your advice. Maybe others have said it too but it finally resonated with me when I started to read your entries. I also considered getting smaller cameras like the Fuji. But decided to stick with the DSLR. I do like the 24 to 105mm F4 lens that you suggested. So far my 6D MII is meeting my needs.

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