There’s a certain amount of stress that comes with buying a new camera. There are so, so many models available and what’s more, there are systems with various perks (or disadvantages, depending on how you look at them). For instance, should you buy into the micro 4/3s cameras or go with a full frame model? New or used? What about that long list of features you’ve made? And that’s not even mentioning the reviews. For every camera you think you might love, you’ll find dozens of reviews on YouTube or elsewhere, picking apart all its flaws.
So let’s dig into this idea of a stress-free camera buying experience! I’ll show you a few of my thoughts on how you might make the process easier.
The Trouble with Reviews
Whether you watch YouTube reviews or peruse blogs and magazine articles, you’ll find a lot of helpful information about various camera systems. This, I think, is particularly true with video reviews because you’ll get the chance to see the camera in hand, watching someone actually use it.
But on the other hand, these reviews can be problematic. Most will go into exhaustive detail over things like color rendition or noise at various ISO settings. At times, it can all feel a bit hysterical, especially when a YouTuber proclaims something like,
“Look at all this terrible noise at ISO 204,800!”
Of course, I’m exaggerating that — I don’t think anyone is going to complain about noise at such extreme high ISO levels! But, the point remains: You’ll often find a very critical analysis of ISO noise at more standard settings. Reviews generally push the boundaries well past normal use case scenarios and all that negativity can put you off of buying a camera even though you may not normally need such high ISO settings (or whatever other feature is being picked apart).
So what should you do when you encounter overly critical reviews? I’d say, go ahead and give those reviews a look. In fact, read and watch as many reviews as you can for all the camera models that you are interested in. But, you should also take what you see with a grain of salt, too. Just because a reviewer has blown up an image to 500% to show off how terrible the noise looks, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the camera is not the camera for you.
Adjusting Your Expectations
All of that leads me to the next thought, which deals with your own expectations for the camera. I generally look at things like image comparisons of extreme high ISO settings and wonder if it really even matters all that much. Be honest with yourself when buying a new camera. Realistically, how often are you going to go into low-light situations without a tripod or off-camera lighting where a high ISO might be necessary, and then turn around and make poster-sized prints large enough that the noise will be evident? For me, that isn’t a very common situation, so a camera that produces more noise at the farther end of the spectrum would not be a major issue. For you, maybe it’s a situation you’ll find yourself in all the time or maybe you’ll never use ISOs past 6400.
What’s more, I recommend that you do this for each of a camera’s faults — or at least those faults that are listed in the reviews. Sometimes cameras are looked down on for not offering in-camera image stabilization or some other feature. This is the time that you’ll need to analyze your own photographic habits and be honest. Adjust your expectations to meet your needs. Will you rely on these features often? If so, then perhaps the reviews are right and it isn’t the camera for you. If not, then perhaps the list of cons aren’t really cons, at least from your perspective.
Don't Expect Your Camera to Do it All
Speaking of adjusting expectations, you can greatly reduce the stress of choosing between a myriad of (very expensive) options by adjusting your expectations of the camera itself. A camera doesn’t necessarily need to produce precisely perfect images with every press of the shutter.
Think about how much post processing you are willing to do. For instance, many people don’t like the micro 4/3s systems because they do produce a noisier picture than full frame cameras. However, if you are willing to do noise removal when needed, then perhaps those noisier images aren’t so bad, after all. If you don’t expect your camera to do it all, then you’ll be able to make some concessions as to the features you need, which could make saving money and choosing a new camera that much easier.
Before Reading, Look at Image Comparisons First
Another way to make sure that your opinions of various camera models are as unbiased as possible is to look at the reviewer’s image comparisons first, before you do any reading. Sometimes, the reviewer’s own opinions about a model, the negativity or the positivity in the written or spoken portions of the review, will color your perceptions of the camera. No matter how much you try to stay unbiased, there is a chance that you’ll find yourself nodding along in agreement rather than forming your own opinions.
To combat this, at the outset, you could try scrolling through the review until you reach the image comparisons. Most reviewers will post at least a few images taken with each particular camera model so that you can compare ISOs or other settings. Look at the image quality for what it is and form opinions before you start reading the opinions of others. If you’re interested based on looking at images alone, then go back and read the review to learn more about features and all the rest.
Try Before You Buy
Finally, you should be aware that there are ways to try out cameras before you buy them. If you can, visit camera shops to get your hands on models that you may be interested in. For those of us in rural areas where there just isn’t a camera shop anywhere nearby, you may consider renting one or two models before you make your buying decision.
Check out online rental services like BorrowLenses or LensRentals. These services will ship the camera to you and provide you with a shipping label to send it back when the rental period is over. The advantage to this is that you can spend a week using a $3,000 camera for only $150 — no risks, apart from the rental fee. Even if you do have access to camera shops that allow you to handle demo models, you may consider renting a particular camera before you buy because this way, you’ll get to fill up a memory card with images that you can tinker with later on as you ponder whether or not to make the purchase.
Choosing a new camera is not the easiest thing to do! The costs and the many, many options available tend to make you second-guess your decision. Use these tips to help you make your choice with confidence.