In recent days I have done much camera research; specs, prices, reviews, etc. I have had discussions with friends about their camera choices and my own. Google is sure to be weary of my searches for the gear of my favorite pros. I think that for the most part, everyone wants the best camera system that they can acquire. That may be based on their budget, shooting preference, photography goals or a combination of all of these. However, finding 'the best' can be a grueling and unending search.
There are people who swear by their gear on every forum and review website, as well as in personal conversations. I can't tell you how many times that I have started reading a review or forum thread that shortly turned into mere mud slinging about brands and preferred gear. Let's face it, photography is extremely subjective, and so are we as photographers.
In all my searching, something revelational has come to my attention; something that I haven't been able to put my finger on until lately. There is a major factor missing from every single review. This factor is such a key variable that it renders most reviews a moot point. That factor is you.
A camera cannot see a horizon or know the difference between a sunrise or sunset. It doesn't know upon which person to focus in a crowd of people, nor can it decide to change to a greater depth of field to capture the whole crowd. It can't distinguish that exact moment in a portrait session when someone lets their guard down and capture that person's personality. The camera is merely a tool in your hand. Your eye, imagination and ability to master the controls of a particular camera is what makes it or breaks it. You are the factor that can make a Nikon D4 shoot like crap or create a masterpiece from a point and shoot.
So, my encouragement in this is to challenge you with a few ideas in order to help you find ’the best’ camera system.
Go to a place where you can touch, feel and experience the camera. Read reviews and forums, yes. But before you believe your friend or your favorite pro who says their brand is the best, go take it for a test drive. This point was never so clear to me as when I had made up my mind on a certain camera based on specs and the advice of a famous photographer. I went to a local camera dealer with the intentions of confirming this decision and possibly buying. As soon as I picked the camera up I just knew.... this will never work. I actually lol’d. I thought, ‘man, this is just too small’. I felt like my fingers were going to cramp as I was trying invert them in order to reach the controls. Haha, it looked a little bigger online.
Another great option in the camera search is to rent gear. There are several camera and lens rental websites. It’s not a free way to search, but may actually save money in the long run if it helps to guide you to a camera system that is better suited for your style and needs.
In addition to touching, feeling and renting... peruse around on a site like Flikcr. Type in a camera and/or lens and see what images come up. The promo videos and images for most cameras were not shot by someone that was just starting out; trying to make the decision that you are trying to make in your first major camera purchase. There are professional photographers mixed with beginners on photo stream sites. Therefore, you can get a better feel of what that gear can output in varying hands. (Just please know the difference between heavily edited images and tastefully touched up camera images.) Also, don't just look at the popular brands that you've always heard of, but open up to all the possibilities. There are literally warehouses full of photographic tools out there. It may be that you end up with a Canon, but end up with that Canon knowing that it’s the best fit for you.
In my humble conclusion, 'the best camera' is the one with which you can produce your best images. You are the photographer.