Which Camera Is Best for You? Big and Expensive or Cheap and Fun?

Photo: Jesus Shrine in the Ananda Community of Mountain View. Photo taken during heavy high-altitude smoke from California wildfires in 2020. Canon EOS M50 with Canon EF 24-105 F/4 L IS lens.

I’ve been wanting to write this for a while.

I’ve owned lots of cameras in 54 years of taking pictures. Some of them were like shoes that pinched my toes, gave me blisters, and made me twist my ankle more often than I would have liked.

Other cameras fit like the Asics Gel Moro shoes of the late 1990s — they were so comfortable and accommodating that they disappeared.

And the odd thing is, the degree of fit-like-a-glove-ness had no correlation with price.

Nor did it have a great deal to do with the quality of the pictures I was able to take. It’s been said endlessly that the camera is maybe 5 percent of the equation for taking good pictures and inspiration is the rest.

One thing I’ve noticed very consistently is that each camera has a definite, distinguishing “vibe.” And the vibe is closely correlated with the pictures that come out of the camera.

Consider the Canon EOS 6D. It was Canon’s cheapest full-frame body at the time it was released, in 2012. And the thing is, it still has an ocean of users today.

Not because it has thousands of buttons and settings and menu choices. In fact, it is a wee bit crippled in that regard. But it has an absolutely wonderful sensor.

Go visit the main Canon EOS 6D Photo Pool on Flickr.

Then go look at the Flickr photo pool for the much more expensive and technically advanced Canon EOS 5D Mark III.

The 5D Mark III was considered the 6D’s older and smarter big brother. Yet, to my eyes, the selection of 6D photos, which were mostly taken by average, non-professional users, look better. They are more creative and have a more approachable, natural, and likeable look.

My private view of the matter is that certain cameras — expensive or cheap — either bring out the ego in photographers, or they attract people who are overly proud to own that particular make and model. It’s as if they whisper to us, “I’m a big, important camera. You must use me to take big, important pictures.” And that’s a pretty severe impediment to taking good pictures.

As I hinted earlier, the value of a camera has almost nothing to do with price. The very expensive in its time (late 1990s) professional Nikon F4 film camera was a joy to use. It simply got out of the way. It felt wonderful in the hand and did the basics magnificently well — focus, expose, render. It didn’t hurt that the lenses were great.

At the other end of the price spectrum, another camera that has a cult following is the little, relatively cheap Canon M50. People love it, not because it makes them proud but because it’s just so nice. It has a friendly vibe, and it doesn’t hurt that it takes kindly pictures of people that tend to soften their flaws and hint at their higher potential.

I’m skirting the boundaries of yippy-zippy art blather, but I think it’s true. You don’t have to spend a pile to get a great camera. Though it sometimes can help.

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