As a keen photographer and specialist guide I am often asked advice on photography, cameras and lenses and get to see what visitors, from novice to professional photographers, arrive with on African safaris. Common questions often include “Should I buy Canon or Nikon?” and “What is the best camera these days?” These are challenging and very broad questions to answer and actually depend on a number of factors such as budget, what you intend photographing, any existing lenses you may have (if any) and how much gear you are prepared to lug around with you.
If we go back to basics and the beginning, the word photography means ‘writing’ with light. Even if we skip forward a few hundred years, modern photography is still in essence the process of capturing light using and balancing an intricate mix of shutter speed with apertures and ISOs (light sensitivity on the image sensor) on varied subjects freezing moments in time.
Forget the ‘brand snobs’ who think shooting with a specific brand gives you a certain edge. Canon and Nikon have battled for dominance over the photographic industry for years, peaking at different times – healthy competition that has ultimately been good for consumers. Other rivals such as Sony, Tamron and Sigma have also grown in leaps and bounds in product offering. No manufacturer is good at everything though so which brand you use ultimately depends on what you would like to achieve with your photography. Also, once you have committed to a brand it is best to just stick with it and focus more on the art of photography itself. Sometimes Nikon may be better, sometimes Canon will dominate. That’s life.
If I may digress for a bit quickly, I would just like to chat about an inspirational photographer I met recently, namely Micky Hoyle. Micky is one of the most successful photographers I have met and a real master of his trade in various genres, yet he is down to earth and without the arrogance and ego of so many other ‘togs’ at the top of their game. Over the years he has fussed less about which brand he uses and focussed more on the art of photography and getting the shots. His standard lens ‘arsenal’ was also far fewer in number than that of many professional photographers. I am convinced that people cross your path in life when you need them most and my meeting Micky came at a critical point in my own photographic journey.
Now, back to the crux of this article – namely what camera do I buy? You have to decide a few things before ordering that camera online or visiting your local camera store. Think about what genre of photography you are into and how often you would use the camera. For those candid holiday shots, there are a range of compact models that easily fit into your pocket. If you would like to try your hand at wildlife and bird photography and see if you like it before going any further try one of the larger “intermediate” type cameras that offers plenty zoom without interchangeable lenses. Perhaps a note also needs to be made here of the newer generation mirrorless technology cameras which are producing awesome results in an affordable, compact package.
If you are thinking of going with a digital SLR (camera with mirror and prism system) I should mention that it can be a frustrating (and expensive) ride but much more rewarding in the end. SLR cameras allow you to take full control over all aspects of photography with almost endless creative freedom. Their larger image sensors offer a broader dynamic range, colour tone, saturation, contrast, and exposure levels and much less ‘noise’ in dimly-lit situations. They offer one or other RAW capture mode (like CR2 or NEF files) which is perfectly suited to image editing with the likes of Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. SLR cameras offer you a wide range of lenses to choose from, each suited to a specific task.
An SLR is what you want if you are fanatical about photography. Learn and understand the technical parameters of your camera until they are second nature. Apply the technical to get the best out of what photography is all about – namely composition, expression and the art of ‘smoke and mirrors’. Study the work of photographers you admire and read as much about the subject as you can.
You are the artist capturing specific moments in time. The camera is simply the tool to achieve that. Identify your needs, and choose photographic equipment accordingly. Lenses allowing one to shoot at lower apertures obviously cost more, as do camera bodies capable of shooting at ‘cleaner’ higher ISOs.
Micky summed it up best for me in one crushing statement. “The best camera is the one in your hand.” Canon 1Dx or Nikon D4? Who cares! Just get out there and photograph…