There are two different ways to throw yourself into a new hobby: cautiously, and expensively. Sometimes those two approaches overlap, despite your best efforts. And that's okay.
Photography is one of those hobbies that is going to be expensive no matter what you do, unless you dedicate yourself to Polaroid cameras or something. And even then, that film is pricey.
So, instead of moving from phone photography to a point-and-shoot compact to a “cheap” DSLR and onward, might I suggest that you skip those intermediate steps and leap straight from phone photography to investing in pro equipment. (Only if you have the money, of course, because these babies start around the $3500 mark.)
If your journey in photography is likely to take you to a point where you’re going to want a pro camera anyway (say, you recently acquired grandchildren, or moved somewhere beautiful, or unexpectedly became an influencer), you may as well cut out the $2000+ you were going to end up spending on the intermediate cameras, and put that towards lenses in the future.
It’s also up to you to work out if you’re the kind of artist who would thrive with a paint box of the entire spectrum of colours, or if you would find that overwhelming and prefer to gradually work your way up to it.
The old adage goes that the best camera for the shot is the one you have with you. That is 100 per cent true, but it’s also true that the best camera is the best camera, and if you’re committed to becoming the best photographer you can be, having access to all the fiddly buttons and settings as you become more proficient will help you along the way.
I recently spent a couple of days in Tasmania with the Panasonic S1 series, which is a pro-grade mirrorless camera, and using it made me a better photographer.
I started the trip with everything on auto, and by the time the event finished I had become very particular about settings I'd never considered using with any of the other cameras I’ve tried over the years, and that progression is obvious in the photos.
As you go up the line of fancy cameras, you’re faced with two choices: DSLR and mirrorless. DSLRs are the popular choice, but mirrorless is arguably the better one.
For a DSLR to take a photo, a little mirror has to move out of the way of the lens, which moves the camera ever so slightly, but enough to make getting crystal clear shots slightly more difficult. Mirrorless cameras don’t have such problems, but they do require digital viewfinders, and the cheaper mirrorless options just don’t have the screen quality to match up with the clarity of the mirror in the DSLR, unless you go for the expensive professional ones.
Expensive cameras come with a kitchen sink of features, including things like autofocus with individual eye tracking and the ability to track a range of animals. Plus, the sensors for the other auto options are also usually of a higher quality, so you can let it drive itself while you work out what the numbers mean and why they matter.
Cameras like the S1 also have more stability sensors and indicators — and stabilisers — so pros can take long exposure shots without a tripod, and dynamic videos without making the audience sick. These indicators also help before you’ve developed the steady hand that comes with practice, and they show you how you move while taking a shot, allowing you to adjust and change your habits before they’re too entrenched.
Of course, more settings to fine tune also mean more buttons to accidentally press with your nose, and when you’re a novice you might not automatically know how to fix what you inadvertently ruined.
However, if you do ruin something, the higher image quality you get from a professional camera thanks to the better sensors means it’s easier to fix your mistakes in post, and even on the camera itself (depending on the model).
Photography isn’t something that’s going away. We’re always going to want to record our lives and try to show others what the world looks like to us. A good camera is something worth investing both time and money in, and the most important thing is finding the one that’s right for you.