How I Chose My First Camera

Choosing your first camera is a very difficult decision to make, or at least it was for me. I lost count of how many reviews I read and how many forums I visited hoping that someone had the answer as to what camera would be best for me. Ultimately, like most things in life, the answer always seemed to be “it depends”. It would depend on what you wanted to use it for, the kind of photographs you wanted to take, and the amount of money you are willing to spend. With so many different types of camera as well as many different camera brands, it was very hard to narrow it down.

In order to narrow down my choices, I asked myself the following questions:

  1. What do I want to use the camera for?
  2. How much am I prepared to spend on the whole camera including lenses?
  3. How long do I want to keep this camera for?
  4. Are there any brands that I do not want to consider?
  5. Where should I buy my camera?

What Did I Want to Use My Camera For?

I established early that video recording capabilites were not an important factor for me. When we get into the cameras I did consider you’ll see that had this been a need, my choice of camera would have been different. Knowing video wasn’t critical, I wanted a camera that would excel at photography and photography only. In terms of what I wanted to photograph, I hadn’t given this too much thought at the time. I was intrigued by astrophotography and landscapes, and to be honest, this is what I’ve generally been doing since I started. What you want to use your camera for will also heavily affect your choice in manufacturer as well, but we’ll get to that in the brand section. 

What Budget Did I Set?

Since I was just starting out in photography, from a budget perspective I had set aside £400-£500 for the entire camera including a lens. Based on my research, if I wanted to buy new I would be limited to an entry level body and a kit lens. I’ll be honest, I never really considered second hand because I wanted a “new” camera even though I could have probably gotten a better deal had I done so. That was my personal choice, but I would advise you to consider it as you can find some good deals on better bodies and lenses. There are a few reputable sellers in the UK such as if you don’t want to chance places like eBay for second hand gear.

Aside from not opting for second hand gear, I also decided to stick to my budget of 400-500 rather than “go all out” and buy something expensive. I figured that if I liked photography, learned more and got to the limitations of my gear, that would be the time to spend that kind of money.

How long did I want to keep the camera for?

Slightly touched on it in the part above. I really saw this as a camera that I could use for the next few years while I learned how to use it and take better photos. I figured only when I am being held back by my equipment will I upgrade to something better. One of the nice things about cameras with interchangeable lenses is that you can upgrade the lenses. Even if you keep the same body, you can completely alter the type of photography you want to do by purchasing a new lens. Over the time I have had my camera I have done this (and I’ll touch on why I did that in a later post) by renting a few lenses (Sigma 14mm F1.8, and a Tamron 150-600mm) and by replacing my kit lens with a Sigma 17-50mm F2.8. Apart from a few things such as integrated shot bracketing and an easier way to do remote release other than IR I haven’t found anything I’ve struggled to do yet. I am sure that will change over the coming years.

Are there any brands that I do not want to consider?

Lastly, brand. Not being a camera buff, I decided to stay with brands that were familiar to me which left me with Nikon, Canon, and Sony. All three of them make fantastic entry, intermediate and professional cameras. I would say in Sony’s case they definitely have a smaller collection of lenses when compared to Nikon and Canon. The lenses they do have are also generally more expensive.  There are a lot of other camera brands out there that also make great stuff such as Panasonic and Olympus. I’d encourage you, like I mentioned at the start of the post, to read as many reviews as you can. Read everything, participate in forums and on Reddit groups and try to get as much information as you can to make an informed decision.

Where to buy

I ended up getting my camera from John Lewis. They price matched a local camera shop, so I got a good price as well as their 2-year warranty. One piece of advice I would give you even if you decide not to purchase from an actual store is go and visit one and hold the cameras. See which ones feel comfortable in your hand. Maybe get them to give you a demo, talk the features and let you take a few practice shots.

If you are buying from an actual store you have lots of options ranging from local camera shops to your high street stores such as (at least in the UK) Jessops, John Lewis, and Curry’s/PC World. If you are buying online, you have a whole range of options. A word of caution if you are purchasing from Amazon. Not all cameras come directly from Amazon and can be provided by other “resellers”. The camera you get could be what’s called a “grey” import. These are cameras which might be new but won’t hold a warranty with your countries Nikon, Canon, Sony or whoever’s representatives should something go wrong. So double check where your camera is coming from it you go the Amazon route.

What Did I Narrow it Down to?

Having gone through all the above I was able to narrow my choice down to three cameras. I am not going to review them and go into a huge amount of detail on their pros and cons. What I am going to do is talk about what made choose one of these cameras over the other two.

The three cameras I ended up deciding between were:

  1. Canon 1300D
  2. Sony A6000
  3. Nikon D3400
Canon 1300D

The Canon 1300D was the first of the three cameras I considered. It was also the cheapest coming in at around £295 with a kit lens. It has an 18mp APS-C sensor (crop sensor), 9 auto focus (AF) points, ISO range of 100-6400, and can record video up to 30fps at 1080p. It also features Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity to transfer images off the camera to a computer or a smartphone.

What put me off this camera when compared to the others was mainly the pixel count as both other cameras had 20mp+ as well as more AF points. Wi-Fi and NFC didn’t bother me as I would typically be using a USB cable or my iPad’s SD to Lightning adapter to transfer photos. So, despite the fact it was cheaper than the others I considered, the lack of pixel count, narrow ISO range, and fewer AF points made this one a no go for me.

A good review which I read when I was deciding on this camera was over at Techrader, which I would encourage you to read.

Sony A6000

The Sony A6000 is the oldest of the three cameras and was released in February 2014. It sits as Sony’s entry level mirrorless camera and has since been replaced by both the Sony 6300 and Sony 6500. This however has caused the price of the A6000 to fall significantly meaning that you can pick it up in the UK for around £399. This camera is great for video and has the best auto focus system out of the three with 179 focus points for phase detection, and 25 for contrast detection. Had video been a key consideration for me, I think I may have leaned in the direction of the Sony. Outside of this it has a 24.3mp APS-C sensor which is comparable to the Nikon and more than the Canon. However, as this is a mirrorless camera, battery life is shocking when compared to both the Nikon and Canon. It is rated for only 310 shots compared to the Nikon’s 1200 shots per charge. Ultimately it was the bad battery life, lack of need for video capabilities and smaller number of available lenses which caused me to choose…

Nikon D3400

The Nikon D3400 is Nikon’s entry level DSLR camera and is part of its DX range (crop sensor). It replaces the D3300 that was before it. One of the things that did puzzle me about this camera is that several reviews suggested opting for the older D3300. On closer inspection several features such as a wired remote and headphone port had been removed, flash was less powerful, and sensor cleaning was also missing. What the D3400 had gained however was Bluetooth connectivity, longer battery life, and the latest 24.2mp APS-C sensor from Nikon. The Bluetooth connectivity hasn’t been something I’ve overly used and is limited to transferring photos (very slowly) to your smartphone. But I have missed the wired remote feature of the that was on the D3300. I am currently using an Amazon Basics IR remote and it does the job. It does however make it more complicated to do things such as star trails. Despite missing features, I still opted for the D3400 because it was widely available at the time and I didn’t feel I would lose too much opting for the newer model.

The Nikon D3400 has 11AF points with 1 cross type, so a slightly better auto focus system when compared to the Canon, but behind the Sony. However, for photos, unless you are photographing fast moving objects, you typically only use 1 focus point. As I only ever intended this to be for photography and wasn’t planning to photograph sports, this was enough for me to begin with.

Where I bought it

This camera cost me £359 from John Lewis (price matched a local camera shop) and came with the 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 AF-P kit lens. Overall, I have been very happy with the camera. I’ve been able to improve on the kit lens with my Sigma 17-50mm as well as experiment with others and try all types of photography. I’ve had it now 9 months and still don’t feel a desperate urge to change it. If I was to stick with Nikon and their DX format my options would be the D5600, D7200, or D7500. The D3400 has the same sensor and image processor as both the D5600 and D7200 so I won’t be gaining anything in image quality. The D7500 has a newer 20.9 MP sensor and a newer imaging engine but then we are getting into the beginnings of Full Frame camera money. 

That brings me to the end of this post on how I chose my first camera. If you found this useful, as with any of my posts, please share on social media and sign up to my mailing list so I can let you know when I publish something new.

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