Which camera should I buy to level up from an iPhone?
As a professional photographer I often get asked what a great beginner’s camera is to get started in photography. I thought about it because I too didn’t get a top level camera when I started out many years ago. Back then a pro-photographer friend took me to B&H in Manhattan and helped me buy my first Canon (it was a T70!)
Nowadays there are so many choices out there and it can seem quite daunting making the right pick when you get to the entry level territory. If you asked me what pro camera to buy, I can tell you right away which camera to get as I have a lot of practice.
But, if you’re just starting out, whether you’re an enthusiast/beginner or amateur, you’ll need a camera that gives you certain features while not breaking the bank. You see, the latest iPhones do quite a good job with capturing your snaps, so you no longer need a compact camera. This means your next level camera needs to do things the iPhone doesn’t, which gets us to skip the compact (point and shoot) camera territory right away. (There are exceptions in that category though as there are professional level point and shoot cameras, such as the Leica Q2.)
The next category of cameras are compact cameras that have an APS-C sensor. As a pro, I would always avoid sensors that are less than full-frame as this particular category gets you stuck with buying lenses that are made for that category. Instead, let’s immediately go to full frame, like this you won’t have to ditch the “beginner” system.
This gets us to the DSLR and mirrorless camera category. The latter category is the newest and as of this writing has reached a level of maturity that it’s become my preferred choice. Mirrorless cameras are truly professional level now and have a similar structure and architecture as DSLR’s except the viewfinder is electronic and there is no mirror that physically needs to move up. This has a lot of advantages, but primarily faster and more reliable autofocus.
I’m also skipping film here, unless you want to truly learn that process. It’s a bit retro and still beautiful, but that’s a whole other category in itself. Here we’ll focus on the best camera that gets you not only going, but allows you to learn and be creative.
But let’s go back to what are the top criteria for a new camera:
1) The ability to shoot manual & ease of use
2) Access to an array of lenses, from affordable to top quality
3) A full-frame sensor. Let’s not bother with APS-C
4) Be future proof. This means buying into a camera system that you can expand on.
5) A well-thought out menu system that is not distracting
The Canon EOS R - System:
I’m going there right away, because it’s what I use. I own the Canon R5, which came out in mid-2020. It’s a fantastic camera and it has the lenses to match. If you’re just beginning I do not recommend that camera just yet, however be aware of it and buy into a lower cost camera that is part of the same system and gives you similar features. Like this you get used to that particular system and at a later stage when you move up you’ll have lenses that you can continue to use.
The Canon RP
You can well start out with the Canon RP or Canon R, or Canon R6 however your budget allows and you’ll be able to grow with that system. The big advantage here is the sophisticated Canon ecosystem and buying a camera that is future proof.
You’ll need a lens or two to get started too. Every photographer should have a 50mm lens in his/her kit bag as you’ll be able to do the most creative work with it. Here Canon has quite a range: If you’re beginning I’d go with the 50mm f/1.8mm lens and also get the 25-105mm lens. There are 2 versions, one is dramatically cheaper and entry level, so if budget allow go with the f/4 version, you’ll have it for a long time. However, there’s nothing wrong with starting out with the f/4-7.1
Now, you’re wondering about all the other brands: Nikon, Leica, Fuji, Contax, etc. They all have great cameras and they too have wonderful entry level models. I own several Leicas and they are great for street photography and other specialized uses, so if you’re fascinated by that brand, by all means explore the Leica M series or the new SL2., but that’s another post and I wouldn’t call those entry level cameras.