How To Choose The Right Camera For You

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Guest Christine Thomas naps on the trail after riding for three hours. - CATHRYN CAYTON
  • Cathryn Cayton
  • Guest Christine Thomas naps on the trail after riding for three hours.
In my last post, I suggested that learning to see is a better choice than buying a new camera. Now, I want to talk about cameras and how to go about deciding what camera to buy.

At the beginning of the summer my sister Cathryn called and asked me to recommend a camera for her to buy. She's worked as a ranch hand for the Double Rafter Cattle Ranch in Sheridan, Wyoming for the past couple summers. This summer, she wanted to buy a camera to take pictures of the cattle drives and sell them to the visitors of the ranch.

At first, Cathryn had narrowed her choices down to either a new Canon or Nikon DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera. A DSLR is akin to the old 35mm film cameras and comes with interchangeable lenses. These are great cameras, but they’re bulky and they require a suite of lenses to use with them. After talking things over we both realized that horseback riding with a large camera was not going to be easy. She'd also be riding in inclement weather and shooting between her work hours — carrying a large camera like that on horseback in the rain is an accident waiting to happen.

So I came up with a recommendation for a light, walk-around camera that she could use from horseback. The Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX1. It’s a small, compact camera that offers a full frame and a fast 35mm fixed lens. It is the perfect camera for a horseback ride. And the pictures she made over the summer make me think we got it exactly right.

Which leads me to the next point about shopping for a camera: Thinking about your specific needs before pulling the trigger can make purchasing a new camera a lot easier. Today there are too many choices. Now, more than ever, your specific needs should inform your buying decision.

There are three major classes of cameras on the market today: phone cameras, compact point-and-shoot cameras and modern DSLR cameras. Each of these classes serves a specific purpose.

The phone camera is an excellent choice for the photographer who wants something that's quick and easily shareable. It’s kind of the modern version of live TV, which most of the time is far from perfect. But the lack of quality in a phone camera can also be an aesthetic choice in the same way that Super 8 movies today seem hip and groovy. (Did I just date myself?)

The next class of camera is the compact or point-and-shoot camera. This type of camera is an excellent choice for the photographer who wants a little more quality and is willing to spend more time making a photograph. Point-and-shoots are great for someone looking to take photography seriously while still using itas an everyday, walk-around camera. There's quite a range of options in the compact class, and more and more of these cameras rival both the professional DSLR in quality as well as the phone camera in functionality — i.e. instantaneous sharing via wifi.

Finally, there is the DSLR. This type of camera is for someone who would like to make more professional pictures. It might be the hobbyist who loves landscapes, the new Mother who wants to artfully document her children growing up or, yes, the wedding photographer who needs more creative choices.

These cameras come in only a handful of brands — Nikon and Canon being the main ones — and are sold as a system where the photographer must purchase additional lenses that are often two or three times more expensive than the original camera.

When considering a camera purchase, I highly recommend DP Review, a web site that offers comprehensive reviews and best in class recommendations.

To illustrate this post, I’ve included some wonderful photographs made by Cathryn over the summer using one camera and one lens. These images are good enough for a gallery show:


All cowboys take turns waking up early to find and bring in the horses for the days work. On this morning, ranch manager Taylor Kerns is running in the horses, making their way to 100 year-old corrals to be caught. Running horses is an exciting and spectacular experience. I just wanted to capture their freedom, energy and beauty. Every morning I'd wait at the top of the hill for the herd and the whistle of the cowboys, and then run down on foot behind them with my camera. - CATHRYN CAYTON
  • Cathryn Cayton
  • All cowboys take turns waking up early to find and bring in the horses for the days work. On this morning, ranch manager Taylor Kerns is running in the horses, making their way to 100 year-old corrals to be caught. Running horses is an exciting and spectacular experience. I just wanted to capture their freedom, energy and beauty. Every morning I'd wait at the top of the hill for the herd and the whistle of the cowboys, and then run down on foot behind them with my camera.

King learns to sit. - CATHRYN CAYTON
  • Cathryn Cayton
  • King learns to sit.

Jake Buckles, a ranch hand at Double Rafter Cattle Drives, catches horses before dawn. We had a long day ahead, pushing 600 head of cattle up the Little Horn canyon and into the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. - CATHRYN CAYTON
  • Cathryn Cayton
  • Jake Buckles, a ranch hand at Double Rafter Cattle Drives, catches horses before dawn. We had a long day ahead, pushing 600 head of cattle up the Little Horn canyon and into the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming.

King stares at his owner Clayton as they pack up the tent. - CATHRYN CAYTON
  • Cathryn Cayton
  • King stares at his owner Clayton as they pack up the tent.

Ranch hands from the Double Rafter Cattle Ranch. - CATHRYN CAYTON
  • Cathryn Cayton
  • Ranch hands from the Double Rafter Cattle Ranch.

Sunrise in the Big Horn. - CATHRYN CAYTON
  • Cathryn Cayton
  • Sunrise in the Big Horn.


Happy shopping and happy shooting!

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