I have always approached the issue of recommending cameras with great hesitation. But experience from handling this course over the years have made me realize just how necessary this is, not to mention unavoidable. A lot of students come into the course asking what they should use, or perhaps buy for the course. People will keep asking questions. If I ignore them, they look elsewhere for answers. Some people probably don’t even know what questions to ask. I’ve seen a lot of tips on blogs and on Youtube. Unfortunately, any of them can leave the uninitiated even more confused. They also do not provide the what I think is the necessary context. This is a manual for a course in a degree program at UP Open University. Students need to make a choice with this context in mind.
This is my take on the matter, without getting too much into technical details. I make no specific recommendations here. Mentioning specific brands and models isn’t useful because of my bias. The rate of obsolescence can also be fast, particularly with certain brands. Cameras, and to a much greater degree, mobile devices become obsolete at a faster and more consistent pace than I can revise course content. Therefore, it is best to talk about recommendations in the course site at UPOU’s learning management system.
We have to keep in mind that one of the most important points of getting better gear is almost paradoxical. They can give you the means to figure out how you can take better pictures. But it is not a given. Those features you see in the technical specifications sheet can just as likely get in your way to achieving your goal. The gear you choose should help you. They should stay out of the way of your creativity. The more your camera allows for that, the less conscious you become of technical issues and focus more on shooting.
With all of those said, let me give you a handful of pointers regarding this matter.
1. The first thing to keep in mind is NOT to use this course as your main reason to buy a camera. There is hardly any other reason that has a higher likelihood of leaving you disappointed in the end.
2. If you are concerned about this course, then concern yourself with other courses as well. You’re going to get into a fair amount of video recording as well. So include decent video capabilities in your criteria for choosing a camera, too. This can potentially save you a significant amount of money. As for MMS 173 itself, it would be ideal if your camera supports advanced shooting options, particularly control over ISO, shutter speed and aperture. If your camera doesn’t support these, it’s still possible to pass the course. But you will inevitably have to work through a lot of limitations and likely compromise your academic performance.
3. At this day and age, megapixel count does not mean nearly as much as actual image quality. Under broad daylight, it can be hard to distinguish between a DSLR and an iPhone. But in other scenarios, the difference becomes more noticeable.
4. As for the debate of Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras versus… well…. anything else, there really is no absolute better option. It still boils down to your own needs.
a. Yes, a DSLR can provide higher image quality over mobile phones and compact point and shoot cameras. It will also allow for a greater level of control over the settings, making it possible to shoot adequately over a wider variety of conditions. But remember, more options can equate to a steeper learning curve. Perhaps relative simplicity better suits you. On the other hand, my main frustration with many cameras is the latency between your pressing of the shutter button to the capturing of the image. It takes at least a fraction of a second. It’s not much on paper, but believe me, it can mean the making or breaking of a picture in the field.
b. An important thing which most beginners do not consider is ergonomics. How well does a particular camera feel in their hands? Are there any physical limitations that need to be considered? Tiny hands and fingers will have difficulty clutching on a typical DSLR. Fairly large hands might tend to fumble with a small point and shoot, making it nearly impossible to press the shutter button without the whole camera moving, causing blurry pictures.
c. Weight is also a huge consideration. I know people who were so excited they hurriedly bought DSLR’s, only to find themselves abandoning them because they found the cameras too heavy. Trust me, when you’re traveling for extended periods, those extra kilograms of gear matter a lot. A big camera might be awesome when you’re actually shooting. But it’s a huge pain in the ass whenever you’re not.
d. Scalability may also be important to you. You can build a full complement of gear upon a DSLR, with all the lenses and other accessories. While the body still has a typical rate of obsolescence, lenses can stick with you for a lifetime. You have no such benefit from a P&S or a mobile device (at least nowhere near the same level).
5. As mouth-watering as it may be, going for the latest models may not be the wisest thing to do. Contrary to what the advertisements and promotions say, upgrades are more often evolutionary rather than revolutionary. When I bought my current main camera, I promised myself I will only upgrade when I feel that I have outgrown the camera and it can no longer provide everything I need from a body. That was five years ago. I still can’t fully utilize its feature set.
Should you have follow up questions, do not hesitate to post them on the Gear Talk discussion forum. Aside from myself, a number of your classmates would be more than willing to help you out in making your choice.