Teacher and photographer John Greengo has spent decades helping people find and buy the right camera for their needs – which means he’s also seen a lot of people who wound up with the wrong camera and needed help. Because, although a camera is a just a tool (and the best camera is the one you have with you), the machinery itself does matter to some degree. When buying your first camera (or any camera), it’s important to keep your eye on the prize and not be distracted.
Here are the top 10 mistakes John says he sees people making when purchasing cameras:
10.) Taking bad advice: While asking around before making a large purchase can be a good way to hear the experiences of others, remember that your cousin, your friend at work, or your other casual acquaintances who are not professional photographers may not always have the best advice. Do your research, but also be sure to ask actual experts for their advice, too.
9.) Underestimating what their money would buy: “Photography in general is a fairly expensive hobby for a lot of people,” John admits. In the years he’s spent selling cameras to people, he’s seen sticker-shock over and over. “The fact of the matter is, very high-end photographers do use very high-end gear. It’s appropriate for their skill level.” Consider what you hope to get out of your camera and what uses you’ll be putting it to, and try to set your expectations (and savings goal) appropriately.
8.) Not having clear goals: Buying a camera that’s great for travel won’t be of much use if you never end up traveling. Rather than picking the camera for the kind of work you hope you’ll be doing, says John, “you do need to buy a camera that fits your lifestyle and where it’s going.”
7.) Being distracted by deals and promotions: Just because something is on special right now doesn’t mean it’s the right camera for you. Keep an eye out for times when the camera you want might be on sale if you’re looking to save some money, but know that if you just end up returning the thing, it won’t matter how much of a bargain it was.
6.) Overthinking the little things: Geeking out over photography is easy to do, but “there’s a lot of ways to compare cameras,” says John. And if you’re not really sure what the features all do, there may be some that seem important but actually mean very little for your uses.
5.) Spending too much because they can: If money isn’t an issue, it’s easy to over-purchase. John presses potential camera buyers with one simple question: “Is the most expensive camera going to be the camera that’s most appropriate to your skill level?”
Most likely, the answer is “no.”
4.) Not budgeting for extras: Straps. Lenses. SD cards. Bags. Software. Whatever you’re budgeting for, make sure you factor in the little things.
3.) Being overly-concerned about online reviews: Much like consumers tend to take bad advice from their friends and family, they also can get bogged down in the constant online dialogues about the relative merits of various cameras. But the truth of the matter is, John says, “there are haters for everything.”
“Every camera that you can find, you’re going to find an entire group of people…that spend their entire lives online, writing reviews.” There’s no such thing as a perfect review, says John, so it’s a smarter plan to look at the overall themes, as well as look to the gear that certain photographers recommend.
2.) Not doing do the research: Reading online reviews might not be the perfect way to get information, but going in blind is much, much worse.
1.) Believing that a great camera takes great photos: An expensive camera is not going to make you a great photographer. That’s just not how the medium works.
“It’s not the camera that’s going to determine the artwork you’re going to make,” says John. “This is just the tool you happen to be using at the time.” Watch his popular beginner photography course for a better understanding of this.
The bottom line when buying a camera is this: There’s a lot of information out there, and it can be hard to know which sources are the most authoritative. Do some reading and look for a device that’s going to meet both your skill level and your expectations. Find one that you’ll actually use regularly, and one that makes sense to you. And, when in doubt, try to get to a real, brick-and-mortar store and ask the expert behind the counter.