A COWGIRLS GUIDE TO GETTING GREAT PICTURES: Part 6 – Which camera is right for you?


When it comes to taking photos I have always maintained that the camera is just a tool. In the same way that buying a canvas, some paints and brushes doesn’t make you the next Picasso, owning a top of the range camera without applying comprehension of composition, light and subject choice won’t make you a good photographer.

Nevertheless “Which camera would you recommend?” is still one of the questions I most get asked at Black Mountain Ranch, so I’m going to try and address that thorny issue now.

First of all, and apologies to those of you who wanted a one line answer, there is no such thing as the perfect camera. If there was, quite frankly there wouldn’t be so many choices on the market and most photographers wouldn’t have more than one camera.

What you can figure out though, is what type camera best fits your needs right now.

So you might want to ask yourself these kinds of questions:

  1. What type of photography will you be doing? (portraits, landscapes, family snaps, sports)
  2. What do you want to do with your photos? (post on social media sites, make albums/books, print large posters)
  3. What experience do you have with operating cameras and how much do you want to play with settings?
  4. How important is size and portability to you?
  5. What is your budget?

With some answers in your head you can now peruse through the options and see which ‘fits’ best. We’ll do it by size:

1. Smartphones 

The ever-increasing quality of the camera facility in smartphones makes them a real contender these days and there are those who have forsaken their compact camera in favour of them. It’s safe to say that at the top of the smartphone range as long as you don’t want to take low light images these guys will serve you pretty well and their portability is a no-brainer.

The biggest detractions are their small sensor size (due to their slimness), the non-variable aperture and no optical zoom. You also have to consider that taking photos can store up a lot of hard drive space (less room for apps/music) and suck up valuable battery power. Finally it can be fiddly holding the phone and tapping the screen for the camera capture button.

In Summary: Great if you want to take a few pictures in normal conditions to share amongst friends and only want one thing in your pocket. Mega-convenient.

2. Compact cameras (point and shoot)

Despite falling sales as their market share is attacked by smartphones there are still plenty of compelling reasons to have yourself a dedicated compact camera. Still small enough to put in your pocket (or purse, handbag, saddlebag, murse whatever)  they pack some features that the smartphones don’t plus you have no need to worry about missing that important call or email by running out of juice. Photographically the biggest pro is the bigger sensor size and optical zoom (most have 3 x before they go to digital zoom) and they are a bit sturdier than your expensive smartphone with it’s glass face. Also many compacts have good presets to make your portraits/landscapes/macro(close up) or action shots work a little better and are physically easier to focus and shoot than the smartphone.

If you’re debating between this and a big boy Digital SLR for a bit more dosh you can get some pretty good compact cameras with manual overrides that’ll give you some options to play around with Apertures, Shutter speed and ISO without having to go all the way.

Prices and models of compact cameras vary greatly so you’ll be likely to find something that suits in this category and all will be cheaper than a smartphone or DSLR.

In Summary: Great if you enjoy taking photos and want to do a bit more with them than post them on Facebook. Excellent portability and affordable price still a big bonus.

3. MILC Mirrorless Interchangeable lens camera

The brand new kids on the photo block here to give you even more choice in your quest for the right camera. Their initial purpose was to provide interchangeable lenses and DSLR-like quality imaging (via large sensors) in a small body. To do this they exchanged the mirror (which allows you to view the object exactly as it will be photographed through the viewfinder in the DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera with an electronic one. A great innovation. The downside is that being s new format it requires new lenses or an adapter to fit just some of the existing DSLR lenses. However, I reckon this ‘3rd Generation’ of cameras will be the way forward even for the pros.

In Summary: The first really viable option to the DSLR’s in a small size. Wonderful balance between portability and advanced functionality. Well worth checking if you want something more than your point and shoot and you are yet to go the DSLR route.

3. Digital Single Lens Reflex Cameras (DSLR’S)

The only real reason you want to buy a DSLR is if you are really into serious photography. Back in the day compact cameras were so inferior almost everyone who wanted to take a half decent photo had an SLR, then when digital came in, a DSLR. But now small cameras really can deliver great shots for the average user and the MILC’s as they develop will really make people wonder why they have a camera based on 1959 mirror reflex technology. Canon and Nikon make the best. Once you are committed to one brand you’ll find you’ll stay as the investment you’ll need in lenses (which don’t work in rival brand models) will deter you from changing.

Naturally the biggest plus is that they still give you the biggest sensor and the ability to change lenses. The downside is they are big and expensive.

In Summary: Still the best option (currently) for fabulous photos in all conditions.

So do your research, the internet is a great tool for this and remember to continually ask yourself the questions posed at the beginning of this blog about what your needs are. If you can, borrow peoples cameras and try them out. Oh, and don’t get hung up about megapixel size. It’s a myth that more is better. In the early days of digital it did matter, but most cameras, even your smartphone have at least 5 megapixels and that’s ample unless you are planning to blow your pictures up to a massive poster size. So scratch that stress off your list. I’d rather have a camera with a bigger sensor than more megapixels.


These days once you’ve taken your photo there’s plenty that you can do with it to crop, straighten horizons, add effects, frames and the like. Most people still assume you have to splash some more cash on programs like Photoshop, but there are loads of free online and downloadable programs you can use that are almost as good and way easier to use.

Here’s some of the ones I like: Instagram, Snapseed, iPhoto (already loaded on any Mac), GIMP, Picasa and PAINT.net. Generally I don’t like to ‘monkey’ around with my shots too much but here’s a few I did in about 5 minutes with Snapseed.

Woman and Horse
Woman and Horse


woman and horse
With grunge filter and frame


Dude Ranch Donkey
Hugo, Our Donkey
With centre focus, brighten and frame




Rodeo black and white
With black and white, contrast and frame


With tiltshift
Cattle Drive
Cattle Drive
With tiltshift


Finally if you must know this is what’s in my camera bag…

DSLR bodies- Canon 5D Mark III & Canon 7D

Lenses- Canon EF f1.4 50mm prime, Tokina f2.8 11-16mm wide angle, Canon f2.8 17-40mm L, Canon f4.0 17-105mm L, Canon f2.8 70-200mm L

Compact- Canon G12, Olympus Tough (for underwater and adventure stuff)

Software I most use: Aperture (for storage and library system), Snapseed (for quick fun effects), Photoshop (on rare occasions for full digital manipulation)


Happy shopping!




Next Blog: How to take photos of people

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