How To Not Drop a Camera

What Camera Should I Buy?

Page last updated February 2023. I last researched available cameras in summer 2022, so consider more recent options.

I get asked this question, by beginners, more than any other.

The one sentence version of my advice is "Buy a professional-level camera thats 4-7 years old, used".

The real answer is, obviously, it depends. But knowing a few things can help you choose.

Cameras Have Been Good for a While

Cameras are good! The differences between 2020 cameras and 2015 cameras are, notably: battery life, low-light (high ISO) performance, speed of operations/processing, ease of wireless connectivity. These qualities wern't that bad 5 years ago either! Modern, prosumer level and above cameras are good devices, and theyre good at what they do.

What do you lose going back a few years? Video performance/features in general. Video is the big set of features that most manufacturers are expected to "nail" on any camera above a certain price point, and thats a recent change in consumer interests.

I don't recommend buying entry level cameras (like the canon rebel series). For the same price, you can get a better performing more fully featured camera that is a few years old. Cameras have been good for a while!

I still do paid client work on a Canon 5Dmkiii. This is a professional camera that was released in 2012. In 2012, it was introduced at $3500. Today you can grab it between $800-$1300, or so. (Don't start with this camera)

Buy Used

You probably want to get a used camera from a reputable used seller. That means cheaper than new, but more expensive than craigslist - but you know you can trust that what you buy works. I like KEH, UsedPhotoPro, and walking into any camera store.

Crop Sensors are Fine

Don't be lured by the amazing images that full-frame cameras can shoot. Crop Sensors are pretty good, and a lot of photographers do all their professional work on crop sensor cameras. (Like me, who switched to fujifilm x-series cameras).

Micro 4/3 cameras, an even smaller image sensor than "crop" are also pretty good cameras, although not as many are being made these days.

Get an Interchangeable Lens System

Lenses are the best point of upgrade for your camera. A quality lens will last a lifetime, and stay with you through generations of camera body upgrades.

An amazing lens on a cheap camera body is an amazing camera. A bad lens on an amazing camera body is a bad camera.

Over time, you would upgrade and build the perfect The Kit

Don't worry about weather-sealing

Weather sealing, rain resistance, and dust-resistance are something every photographer wants. Including me! My fujifilm camera is titanium, and my entire lens kit is weather-resistant. I walk around in the rain!

But, as a beginner, don't be lured by the promise of protection. Just get a good camera bag and respect your gear, save the money for now.

Start with One Good Prime Lens

When you are just starting off, you may fear not having the right lens to get the perfect shot. Throw that fear out, and just dont worry about it. Unless you are specifically looking for bird photography, or (more commonly) nephew-playing-soccer photography, or insect photography.

Learn about Prime VS Zoom.

Many cameras come with a decent all-around zoom lens. That's great! Use it! In this case, the one good prime is about the next lens you buy.

On full-frame, it's the plastic fantastic: The 50mm f/1.8.

On crop-sensor cameras, its the wide workhorse: The 23mm f/2.

Different brands and manufacturers make versions of these very common lenses.

Canon has a 50 f.8, which is an amazing little lens; but for almost as-cheap it has a 40mm pancake lens, which is insanely sharp and insanely small - it's only 3 pieces of glass.

Post Processing Workflow

You have photos on your camera. Now what? Do you want to learn the ins and outs of editing? If so, your options for camera are even more open, and if not, then you should get a camera that makes it easier to adjust color, white balance, choose black/white shooting modes, apply film emulation, and so on.

Fujifilm is widely regarded for creating great images in-camera with excellent film emulation modes. I recommend fujifilm cameras for a variety of reasons, one of which is how good the jpegs are straight out of the camera.

You may want to leave room in your budget for photo management software like lightroom, luminar, CaptureOne, PhotoMechanic, or so on.


Cheaper cameras have less knobs, dials, and buttons on them. They use a touchscreen or on-screen interface to allow the user to make adjustments. This requires the photograher to look down at the camera to operate it. Cameras with more dials and knobs don't just look fancy, but they allow the photographer to use them without looking away from the subject.

Touchscreen interfaces is my biggest gripe with cell-phone cameras. Cell phones can be great cameras but they can never be great camera designs.

I recommend fujifilm cameras because they look more intimidating, but really they put core features at your fingertips. They are easy to learn on because the camera invites experimentation.

Borrowing Equipment

So, canon vs nikon vs sony vs fujifilm vs olympus vs....

What camera system do your photographer friends use? Do they have Canon? Nikon? Did your uncle buy a bunch of gear once on a whim and it just sits in a drawer? Can you uh "borrow" that?

Borrowing and sharing equipment is as good a reason to pick one brand over another as any. For example, my family all have fujifilm cameras! My dad's camera and mine use the same batteries even. I started on Canon, and indefinetely-borrowed tons of Canon equipment from my grandfather and uncle, who both had Canon lenses lying around.

So What Camera Should I Buy?

I can't answer that, check the used prices... and your budget... if you want video features, that changes things (enter: panasonic)....

Okay, you should buy a Fujifilm X-T20. Fine.

I picked a camera for you that you will love and won't have to replace anytime soon, that isn't crazy expensive, but will still hold some used/resale value. It supports advanced features like connecting to flashes and tethering. Should flash photography start to interest you, you wont have to purchase a new camera. It has nice-to-haves like HDMI out and wireless tethering, and so on. The jpeg's out of the cameras are sharable instantly, without getting into editing, but these features are optional, you shoot RAW and edit away if you want.


I need a more budget friendly pick.

Uh, at this point, prices will vary wildly depending on whats available on used markets. Keep a lookout for the Fujifilm x-m1, the Sony NEX and aXXXX series, and Canon and Nikon's numerous DSLR offerings.

See also: Fuji X-T200 (which is new) an older fuji x100series camera, Nikon D3500 (the ever-present entry-level DSLR), Sony a6000 (does nothing bad, great ISO performance), The Instax Mini (An odd pick, but I promise you will fall in love with it), Olympus Pen F (find it used, its loved by all who have touched it), Canon 80D (often in kits, bundles, and sales).