Recommending a camera to newbies…

I’m posting excerpts I wrote from a photo forum regarding the kind of camera I would recommend to somebody looking to get into photography. It actually stirred up quite a bit of debate as to whether you should recommend a full frame camera or a crop frame camera…

The thing is, I would never recommend a full frame camera to a newbie who’s just starting out (and I’m assuming they are newbies if they are asking for advice on what camera to get; a hobbyist in my opinion would do their own research). I always say to start with an entry level camera and build up their skill set from there and gradually upgrade as they improve (assuming they do become passionate about it…). Saying this actually generated some heat from some more established photogs who held that if money wasn’t an object, then there was no valid reason not to recommend spending the (thousands of dollars of) money on a full frame camera. Well, yeah, but for most people money IS an object, so I still hold to what I said. I mean, if someone new knows enough of digital cameras to really “get” the distinction between a full frame and crop frame, then fine. But I can’t otherwise justify recommending someone spend thousands of dollars to start out on a hobby (that.they.might.not.pursue.and.so.their.money.goes.to.waste) when they can do just as well spending “just” a thousand or so to start out. And besides, they can always upgrade.

There does need to be a distinction made between “newbies” and true “hobbyists”; “newbies” meaning non-hobbyists who know nothing about cameras and who would only use it as a glorified point and shoot. You can kind of feel out the type of person you’re talking to when they approach you out in the field. A true hobbyist would be justified in getting a full frame if they could afford it. But I could never justify that to a newbie who may not use the camera as much as they expect (that’s an expensive piece of gear collecting dust on the shelf while they use their cell phone camera to take family pics…).

Note that I didn’t actually say “not” to get a full frame; I said I’d recommend starting off with a crop frame. Someone remarked you wouldn’t recommend a crappy hammer to a new carpenter starting out, but we’ve all seen great and bad pics from both formats, so one can’t really say recommending a crop frame is the same as a crappy hammer.

But ultimately, I also tend to look at this from my own experience: my first digital camera was a point and shoot Olympus C4000 (back when they still made them with manual shutter and aperture settings). Within a year I had upgraded to the original Canon Digital Rebel, the next year the Rebel XT, then the 30D, and eventually the 5D then 5DM2 (I eventually switched to Nikon two years ago). But with each step I felt I maxed out what I could do with it, or saw how upgrading would benefit me, and so upgraded.

(This topic doesn’t even begin to acknowledge that the lens you shoot with is ultimately more important than the camera you use…though the full frame photogs—and yes, I’m one of them—wouldn’t hesitate to shout about not having to deal with the cropped view on a crop frame/FX camera…)

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