Beach in Manistee

I get asked about equipment a lot when people see me out in the field shooting, so here are my ten top tips for those looking to buy a camera:

1. Equipment is overrated.  Usually, your money is better spent on a photography class than on equipment.  If you already have a basic digital SLR that allows you to change lenses and gives you the ability to manually control exposure, then chances are that your skills need more improvement than your equipment.  But, if you are certain that you want to spend money on a new camera, read on.

2. Pixels aren't everything.  You can now buy cameras with as many as 50 megapixels! The problem is that all these megapixels do you no good if your camera is not absolutely steady and your lens does not resolve the light sharply enough.  For example, consider a ten megapixel camera and a 50 megapixel camera -- the 50 megapixel camera needs to stay five times as steady in order to take full advantage of the camera's megapixel count.  In other words, even the most minute of vibrations will blur such tiny pixels.  Also, keep in mind that cameras with very high pixel counts sometimes sacrifice other things, like color quality, to pack so many pixels in.

3. The lens is more important than the camera body.  A low quality lens on a high quality camera body will produce about the same quality image as a low quality lens on a low quality camera body.  If your lens stinks, your pictures will stink.  Period.  Spend the money on lenses rather than camera bodies.

4. A good tripod is as important as a good camera.  This is especially true in landscape photography, since many images will be generated at exposures too long to hand hold a camera.  Get a sturdy tripod and your landscape images will thank you.  Without a tripod, you will have to crank up the ISO or widen the aperture, and you will lose quality and creative options.

5. Manual exposure is a must.  Your camera must have Manual Mode.  If you want to become a good photographer, you need to learn how to control shutter speed, aperture, and ISO to achieve your vision.  Cameras are not creative.  When in auto modes they just follow programmed algorithms.  They have no real mind or creative eye.

6. Canon vs. Nikon vs. Sony does not really matter.  This is just a matter of personal preference and comfort.  Find a camera that seems comfortable in your hands and has the options you want.  It does not matter if it is a Nikon, Canon, or Sony -- each brand's cameras can produce great images.

7. Sensor size matters.  Digital cameras rely on a digital sensor behind the lens to produce an image.  The bigger the sensor, the better the image (all else being equal).  Of course, the bigger the sensor, the more expensive the camera too.

8. Know what you want to shoot.  If you don't know what you want to shoot, it is hard to make the right decision on equipment.  For example, a camera with more focus points and faster shutter speeds combined with a long lens is better for wildlife.  These things don't matter as much, if at all, if you plan on shooting landscapes.

9. Don't buy a filter for protecting your lens.  Filters usually reduce image quality (especially cheap ones).  Use a lens cap between shots.  It will protect your lens just fine, and your images will be sharper.

10. Go to a camera shop, not Best Buy.  I love Best Buy for a lot of things, but if you want real expertise, go to a small camera shop.  Chances are, the salesperson will be a photographer, not a high school student working a part-time job who only knows what he or she learned in training last week.

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