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One of the most common questions I hear these days is what camera to buy. Back in the day people would buy a Polaroid or point and shoot camera for taking photos of the family, vacation memories and the like. Some would get interested in photography and buy a big boy DSLR.

Today the same thing is happening only it is at rapid congestion. Everyone is a photographer. The smartphone camera and sundry apps have made it possible for everyone to take photos. Some are even really good as evidenced from the clutter showing up on Instagram.

The smartphone camera is now the launch pad for deciding what camera to buy next. These series of questions might help you decide which direction your purchase will take you.

Is the camera phone good enough?

Your camera phone likely takes well pleasing photos. If you have one that is only a couple years old it will do just about everything you want in photography. If you have an older model then the money is likely better spent upgrading your phone than worrying about what camera to buy. One could argue that the high end Samsung and Apple camera phones are every bit as good as any point and shoot available. And just think, you can make phone calls with the thing. Amazing!

Need more control over your photography or videography? Then you are likely ready for a stand-alone light capturing device.

What do you want to photograph?

If travel photography is your jam then you might not want to lug around a DSLR boat anchor. I certainly don’t. A mirrorless camera or high-end point and shoot is perfect for lightweight carrying. Want to try your hand at street photography? Try not to be noticed with a DSLR. Ha! A mirrorless camera with a small prime lens is about as incognito as one can get. People just aren’t used to seeing mirrorless units like they are a DSLR.

Interior photography will likely be best served with a full-frame DSLR or mirrorless. Crop sensor and micro 4/3 are adequate but if shooting interiors will be your passion they just won’t measure up like a full-frame.

Portrait and landscape photography seem to tilt toward full-frame cameras. However I know many landscape photographers are sick of lugging heavy camera bodies and lenses out to distant locales. The move to micro 4/3 camera systems for landscape photography is real. A camera like the Panasonic G9 is perfectly capable of shooting great landscape shots.

Are you mostly in it for social photography?

Again, your camera phone is likely good enough. However, maybe you want more control over your settings and better camera tech. If so, any decent crop sensor DSLR or micro 4/3 camera is likely good enough. They are far cheaper than high-end mirrorless and full-frame models. All those extra pixels you are paying for won’t necessarily show up on Instagram.

Will camera size matter?

Micro four thirds cameras and most mirrorless cameras are relatively smaller than the DSLR models. The lenses, especially for the micro 4/3 cameras, are smaller as well. You have to ask yourself if dragging around a DSLR plus those huge lenses will be worth it. A DSLR static in a studio is one thing. Dragging the thing around a park or in a town or to the ball field is quite another.

Will ergonomic design matter?

I love the feel of the traditional DSLR camera. I like the grip and the balance. Cameras in the rangefinder design are awful to me. There is nothing to grip. It is just a point and shoot box. I don’t like it and will never purchase one. I may not care for DSLR cameras any longer but that does not mean that I don’t appreciate the design carried over to my micro 4/3 camera.

How much can you spend?

How many stacks of cash are you willing to part with when choosing what camera to buy?

That is why you have to ask if you camera phone is enough. You likely already own that or at least paying the phone company for the privilege. Once you decide to buy a camera then the budget necessarily guides your way. Perhaps answering all the above questions leads you to consider a less expensive camera. Maybe you now think a more expensive model is worth it.

If you are determined to collect publishable low light photos from Gothic church interiors then your budget will likely need to take into account full-frame models. Maybe you simply want to collect photos from your travels. A less expensive point and shoot could very well be enough.

If you don’t have a budget you will still need to consider what you want to do with the camera. For me there will always be a mirrorless camera that can do anything a DSLR can do.

Are there special features important to you?

When I upgraded from a Canon Rebel Digital to the Rebel t4i I knew that from that day forward I would never own a camera without a vari-angle display screen. I knew that when it was time to upgrade from the beginner Rebel series that the subsequent camera would also have one. As far as I could tell that was either upgrading through the Canon line or move over to Panasonic. So I happily chose the Panasonic Lumix G series.

Each brand of camera will have technology or features that the others might not. You will have to decide what is important to you. Many Sony cameras have a flip up screen. Folks love that for selfies. I don’t care about selfies.

Some cameras have 4K video capabilities. Many DSLR cameras do not. 4K video was actually a reason I went from a Canon t4i to a Lumix G7 and not upward to the Canon 70D or 80D.

What camera to buy for me was simple. I wanted to get rid of the DSLR and go smaller, lighter with more camera IQ. The Panasonic Lumix G series was it for me.

Deciding what camera to buy will likely take some diligent research and self-study. Choosing how you will use a new camera will guide you in making the right purchase. Taking the time to think about the uses of the various camera systems will provide you with a camera you can be satisfied for a long time.