How I Started Photography


I hate when people tell me that it’s admirable how I’m able to take things I’m interested in and actually learn them, get pretty good, and then make money with them… Because It’s usually followed by them saying how they wish they could do the same.

I’m not here to pat myself on the back, because while I have been able to turn my love of computers, music, and photography into revenue generators for myself, I think anyone could do the same.  I’m not incredibly disciplined (in fact that’s only now something I’m really starting to work on).  And I’m always just as clueless as anyone else, having no clue how I’m going to go from knowing pretty much nothing, to actually being skilled enough to make money.

I’m going to share with you guys how I started photography so that you can see that you can do it too! I’m also going to see if I can out out some lessons to make your creative journey.  Now that I’ve learned a few different mediums I realize that there are core principals that aren’t specific to what kind of art your making, and we’ll get into a few in this post.

lets get started!

Before I even got a camera…

I was always kind of interested in video so I would borrow my mom’s camera when I was in high school and i would make videos of myself playing guitar and I started messing around with taking some pictures since I had the camera a lot. I even tried some light painting one night when the power went out, but I wasn’t really perusing photography at all it was just a cursory interest.

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Lesson 1

Don’t be afraid to dabble and try things, if you think something might be interesting or fun, give it a shot!

You’ll never know what could have been if you never try.  It would be a shame if you had genius level talent at something, or if you could have found a hobby that would give you a lifetime of fun, enjoyment, and growth, but didn’t because you didn’t give yourself permission to dabble.  dabbling is a good way to get started, I dabble a lot and then I stick with the things that really resonate with me the most.  

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I started a now defunct YouTube channel called jplaysguitar and kept using my mom’s cameras for videos.  When I left for college I didn’t have access to my mom’s camera anymore so I kind of fell off of making videos until I decided to just get a camera of my own for making videos.  I wanted something that could help me make high quality videos so i did a little research and found out the best quality would come from interchangeable lens cameras.  At that point I want even intending to take photo’s and there was a lot of talk about Panasonic video so I got a Panasonic GF2 (which i still own) and hacked it to get higher video bit rates (quality), this was a common thing you could do with early Panasonic cameras.

I kept making videos and in an attempt to improve my video quality I started learning about lenses because I wanted a blurrier background.  Now I was a broke college students so I couldn’t afford much and ended up getting an old manual focus fd lens with an adapter for my gf2.  I was really shocked and how good the quality was for the price and then it occurred to me finally that “hey I could take pictures with this”.

You see at this time I had started taking a lot of pictures on my phone.  Instagram had come out and i would take pictures of just random stuff I would see around and throw on a filter and I thought it looked really cool.  There was one time in particular when I went to a beach in Toronto with my family, there weren’t many people there that day so it had a really interesting calm vibe and i just walked around taking a ton of pictures of things I though looked “aesthetic” those pictures are still on  my Instagram if you scroll down far enough. (or just look above)

That dabbling in cell phone photo’s and dabbling with interchangeable lens cameras for my YouTube videos is what led to me having the aha moment that I should try photography on an interchangeable lens camera.

When I started shooting…

I would take the same kind of pictures I would with my cellphone.  Shots of nature, you know street and still life kinds of stuff.  I was on tumblr a lot so i used to do things like take pictures of flowers and put some kind of moody or inspiring text over it (something I’ve gone back to doing recently but now with portraits).

I would just shoot around casually for fun and just look for things that had an interesting appearance, I learned to use a camera fully manually and would just snap whenever I felt like it. I wasn’t really thinking about turning my photography into anything i just did it because it was fun.

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Lesson 2

Always remember part of making art is having fun.  We never start our creative endeavors trying to make ourselves depressed we just do it for fun, remembering that above all else will get you far.

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I wasn’t even really that conscious of myself doing photography as a pursuit until i held my first prints.  I was just taking pictures thinking nothing of it, but I would have my cameras with me a lot so i guess other people could see i was kind of into it.  My church was having a youth art gallery and inviting local painters and other artists to participate. I guess since people knew i was taking photo’s they asked me if i wanted to display some prints of my stuff in the gallery.  The leader of the youth program was also a photographer so he made my prints and helped me mount them.  This experience made me feel a little more legit because I was displaying my work with some “real artists” that were actually good, and because of that I wanted to take photography more seriously. I still have those prints because no one bought them, at the time this was disappointing but I’m actually glad now that I still have them.

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Lesson 3

Once you get past starting don’t be afraid to put yourself out there!  Yeah we make art based on our own vision and a lot of time it’s like a form of therapy.  But if we’re keeping it real, we know that we still want other people to see our work and acknowledge it. A lot of times were don’t start or don’t put ourselves out there because we’re afraid of negative feedback.  But honestly, it’s never as bad as you think its going to be and it never kills you, it makes you a stronger and better artist.

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Portraits

I never really intended to get into portrait photography really. I’m pretty introverted and at the time thought I wouldn’t be very good at shooting people, but because I’m willing to dabble in anything to see if it sticks so i started taking pictures of my friends, and people on tumblr thought they were good so i kept doing portraits along with the other types of photo’s, and making my YouTube videos.

At this point I realized I needed a new camera because I had been using my gf2 so much i became aware of it’s limitations.  I decided to get a Canon 60d because it had a flip out screen which was good for youtube, and a lot of portrait shooters I saw around my campus also shot on Canon.  This was at this point one of the single biggest investments I made into my art, this camera was bigger and more expensive and professional than my gf2 but I was willing to make that investment because I knew that using the camera was something with would give me a lot of joy.  I was also familiar with the idea of investing in good gear to get the job done right from being a musician.  At this point I used to play more gigs than I do now and I would save up my gig money to buy better guitars and amps so i could get the sounds I wanted for my own music.  I didn’t know how exactly but i knew I could do something similar with my photography.

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Lesson 4

Never be afraid to invest in yourself.  The way I see it the best investment i could ever make is an investment in myself.  I am the one thing I have complete control over so if I invest in myself I can make sure I see returns on my investment, no other investment gives you that kind of guaranteed return. And I didn’t just invest in gear.  I invested time to practice and hone my skills and time to get info from the more experienced shooters i knew.  Nothing beats putting in the work and getting guidance from mentors.

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The Grind

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Lesson 5

Once you invest, it’s time to grind, that’s non-negotiable.  The only way to have any sort of guarantee your investment doesn’t go to waste is you put it to use as much as possible

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Once I decided I was legit into this whole camera and photography thing, I started shooting A LOT, like almost every day.  If there’s one secret i could give you guys to learn a new skill or improve your art, it’s to work daily.  You’ll inevitably miss a day here and there but I’ve found with guitar playing, writing code, and taking photos, that you get the biggest skill jumps when you start practicing daily.  Someone who practices almost every day for two years can easily surpass someone who has no consistency but has been doing something for 10 years.

It’s hard to stay consistent when your’e grinding by yourself. Something I learned when i was teaching myself guitar was that being terrible and working hard to get better isn’t as bad if you have other people trying to do the same as you.  So pretty much every weekday me and my friend Tayo would go shoot together, and if we didn’t have a model we would model for each other.  We did that for about 4 semesters straight.  We learned about using natural light, then reflectors and modifiers, flash, then off camera flash, posing, composition etc. And for the most part we were just shooting our friends, we were lucky that some of our friends also modeled so this made learning posing techniques much easier.

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Lesson 6

Making art is hard, and it can be lonely so if you want to be consistent you need to find or build a creative community. The people in your community don’t need to be doing the same thing as you they just need to be open minded creators.

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The Payoff

I shot a lot and got pretty decent after about two years on shooting constantly.  I understood the basics of lighting so i could shoot in a lot of different conditions.  I got an understanding of exposure and how to use my cameras and lenses properly.  I created some really cool creative stuff (for my standards at the time), but I wasn’t really making any money.  Every once in a while someone would ask me to shoot something and i would make $20 here $40 there but I wasn’t making enough to equal the value of the camera I had spent.  So I got to planning on a way that I could make a good amount of money…

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Lesson 7

You have to figure out monetizing for yourself.  There’s a lot of ways to make money from your art depending on what you make and what type of person you are.  This is something I’m still learning but over time you find what services or value you can provide while honoring yourself.  One thing i would advise everyone is before they start building a business around their art they need to deploy self awareness in the planning stages so that you still enjoy art making while making money.

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I was still going to college, so I made sure that a lot of people knew I took photo’s just by being outside taking photo’s, I would even take a shot or two of people for free and send it to them.  Then when Graduation time came I could cash in.  People knew how i shot and knew they could get a cool concept done instead of just the generic smiling photo in your cap and gown in front of a corny backdrop.  At that point i was only charging $60 for photo-shoots but I had a lot of free time so i could do a couple shoots in a day.  So during graduation season I could easily make more money than people with part time jobs that they hated.

Then I never looked back…


Thanks for reading! hope this helped you realize that there was nothing magical about me learning photography. You can learn whatever you want, you just need to be passionate and patient. So please never make an excuse for not watering whatever flower of creativity you have in you.

-Jamal Mortimer


Are You a Real Artist?

Identity is an interesting thing.

We derive Identity in a variety of ways, and many of us feel like we have several competing identities.

If you go to my Instagram profile and looks at my bio one of the first things you’ll see is Artist. People who Identify as artists often struggle with anxiety around Identity, so I’m going to share how I think about it in an effort to get you out of your own head, and get you doing what it takes to actually the the artist you claim to be.

Identity Issues

There’s a ton of things artists worry about concerning Identity, I’ll cover just a few:

  • I am so creative and do so many things, how can I outwardly Identify myself in a way that people will understand?
  • Why don’t people take me seriously as an artist?
  • Am I even a real artist or am I just faking it?

Those are some pretty common things that come up so we’ll talk about those. I think that will give you most of the perspective you need but if there’s something else you wanna talk about there’s comments below and other ways to reach me.

OK so I don’t want this to feel like school… however, we do need to start with a definition for Identity, here are several.

  • the distinguishing character* or personality of an individual 
  • the relation established by psychological identification
  • the condition of being the same with something described or asserted
  • sameness of essential or generic character in different instances
  • sameness in all that constitutes the objective reality of a thing

I then want to hone in on bullet #2 “the relation established by psychological identification” and look at another definition, this time for identification.

Identification - a largely unconscious process whereby an individual models thoughts, feelings, and actions after those attributed to an object that has been incorporated as a mental image.

Identity is a psychological construct that largely happens unconsciously, this is in my opinion where a lot of the issues for artists arise.

You see, because this process of identification so unconscious, for many of us we end up with these questions surrounding our identity that plague us.

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How can I outwardly Identify myself in a way that people will understand? 

The issue with this question is that it makes an incorrect assumption about identity.  Being worried about how to reconcile the fact that you do a lot of things is more of a branding issue, and in this age of social media people can often confuse their Identity with their brand.

What is brand?

a class of goods identified by name as the product of a single firm or manufacturer; a characteristic* or distinctive kind

I think the confusion comes because we confuse characteristics (brand) with character (identity).

You have character, you are not a characteristic, and you are certainly not a class of goods (although you may produce a class of goods).

Artists are by nature (and really by virtue of how much effort they put into it) very attached to their work.

But it is a mistake to Identify with your work!

A true artist cannot afford to identify with their art because that so often leads to a crippling downward spiral of depression that takes God knows how long to get out of and when you do finally break out you feel terrible that it stopped you from making art!

If you Identify to closely with you work then this happens:

  • people don’t like/respect my art - People don’t like/respect me
  • I don’t like my art - I don’t like myself
  • I’m not able to produce art - I don’t feel like I truly exist or that life is worth living

OK I got supper depressing on the last one, but you get the point. Identifying with your work is over romanticized. It sounds nice but in reality when you think about it it’s actually pretty unhealthy. I used hyperbole to illustrate the concept, but so many artists find themselves feeling like people don’t like or respect them, or not respecting themselves and their well being, and many times it is because we have unconsciously made mistakes with identification.

So when thinking about the outward, about the product, about the Brand remember you are not limited to just the outward things you are able to easily display to the masses, and that you don’t have to identify yourself with just those things. Remember that Identity is the sameness of essential or generic character in different instances. 

Your Identity is that same energy that runs through everything that you create, you don’t have to think about it much, you just have to get to know yourself and just be yourself and overtime that Identity will reveal itself to you.

That’s all great but…

I still have the issue of sometimes people not taking my art seriously or feeling like an impostor.

If that’s you I have good and bad news.

Good news -  the solution is simple.

Bad news - the solution is difficult.

The solution is to truly understand your power and use it consistently.

Yes Identification is a largely unconscious process but it doesn’t have to be.

You have the power to be the observer of yourself, and create an identity for yourself and embody that Identity.

For the majority of us, we cannot, or at least do not allow ourselves to do things, that are outside of our perceived identities. This means that you limit your creative potential by not ascribing the correct identity to yourself. 

But the beautiful thing is we have a level of control over ourselves, and if we are able to change how we see ourselves not only does that allow you to do your work without the doubt crippling you, but it also will free you from being concerned about the perception of others.

The True Identity of an Artist

An artist is one constantly changing, with every new piece you seek to destroy the artist you were before in favor of a new and better one, more able to express their truth.  This is an identity that is centered around the making of art, not the result, but the process a process that continues and benefits you for your whole life.

Through this lens you need not concern yourself if others take you seriously because your focus is not on the art produced or how others view the art. The focus is on getting better at making art, that’s it.

That also sounds nice but it’s a lifelong commitment that mean work that you have to continue to do UNTIL YOU DIE

That could seem like a daunting process, and something that is too intense to identify with, but you can do it… simply by working, then working more. The more you work you do the more you will reaffirm your identity to yourself.

And through that process you will begin to embody that identity, and it won’t seem so daunting.


But that’s just how I look at things based on my experiences you can feel free to flagrantly disagree with me in the comments or my dm’s.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

-Jamal


What Camera Should I Buy?

What’s the best camera? How can I get that professional look to my photos? What camera do you use? These are the type of questions I regularly see in my DM’s from budding photographers looking to find out where they should invest to take their photography to the next level. 

In this post I am going to break down the differences between the major camera systems and explain what might be best, for you, by helping you narrow down the options that are important for you, but I have to start with the truth.

The truth is, as I’m sure you’ve already heard, that what camera you use really isn’t that important

Look, I know that gear matters, I don’t live in some delusional world where I think everyone should be shooting feature films on cell phones… but you could… like seriously it’s actually been done pretty successfully! 

There are a lot of factors that go into imaging before light ever hits a lens or sensor, and mastering those things (as well as really knowing how to use the camera that you DO have to properly expose images) will make a bigger difference in the impact you have on your audience than what camera you buy. 

OK now I’ll start getting into the stuff that you really came here for, but seriously do not ignore the advice if you ever plan on going being a professional and charging people for your work you want to focus on perfecting your craft not the gear.

Where do I start?

First thing’s first, what are you using your camera for? AND what will you be using it for in the future? (this is important because later on I explain how you kind of get stuck with your choice) 

What you use your camera for and what kind of images you want to create should determine your decision for the most part, not just the name brand on the camera.  To get you started I have a bunch of questions you can ask yourself to gain clarity on what you want to use your camera for (this isn’t definitive as you gain experience you’ll have more of these questions just by knowing your work and your goals).

  • Am I shooting photo’s or videos or both? (people who shoot both call themselves hybrid shooters)
  • What Genre’s am I interested in? (portraits/ street/ landscape etc)
  • How much money do I have to invest into a camera system?
  • What kind of environments will I be shooting in? **1**
  • What do my friends/mentors shoot with?

Lets unpack that last question really quickly before we move on, this is really one of the few times where brand kind of matters. See, if you know a more experienced photographer who shoots a given system, they might let you borrow gear, or if you ever second shoot for them you may need to use some of their accessories and having the same camera system as them makes it so that a lot more things are compatible across your camera body and theirs. This isn’t a a huge factor for everyone which is why it’s the last on the list, but depending on your situation it is something to consider.

An important thing to understand is that when you get a camera you are not just buying a camera, you are buying in to a camera system.  Every camera body manufacturer has their own lens mounts (and accessories) that are completely incompatible with any other manufacturer (with some exceptions **2**). This pretty much locks you into their system because you can often loose money if you decide to switch to a new system.  Now before I move on to helping you make a decision based on your answers I have to tackle an issue that you may or may not be aware of depending on how new you are to photography.

DSLR vs Mirrorless

For that uninitiated, when it comes to “professional” cameras there are mainly two types, DSLR (digital single lens reflex) cameras which have a mirror in them, and mirrorless (i think that one is self explanatory).  The main differences are how the focusing systems and viewfinders work.  You can look into this more if you want, but I’m gonna give my recommendation… MIRRORLESS. I’ll explain. 

If you shoot video at all mirrorless is better because optical viewfinders(dslr) are pretty useless for video because they don’t give you a preview of your exposure and only offer basic metering. Mirrorless cameras give you a true preview of video in the viewfinder which is useful for pulling focus checking exposure and monitoring in bright sunlight when screens get harder to see.

If you shoot photos in natural light with a mirrorless camera, you can see your pictures before you take them by pressing the shutter button. You can also get an approximation of what the image might look like with flash all before you press the shutter button! And what you see in the viewfinder is exactly the same as whats on the rear screen.  With DSLR’s focus is generally much worse once you stop using the viewfinder (except for canon Dual Pixel AF cameras), you are also not seeing a preview of the image you are just seeing light reflected which some people like but it doesn’t realistically offer many benefits over modern mirrorless cameras where electronic viewfinder lag is no longer an issue. 

Mirrorless technology and more recent that DSLR tech, and it’s the future, so for pretty much everyone I suggest just going mirrorless except…

  • If you’re on a super tight budget so you’re buying used and want access to years of old legacy lenses and bodies at low prices. 
  • If you are some kind of hipster that want to learn to expose the old way where you cant see the picture before you take it but you also don’t want to go as hardcore as shooting film, where you have to wait for a chemical process that you probably wont be doing yourself and will have to wait forever and pay for. (If this one is your reason just shoot film anyway it’s awesome!)

I’m not hating on DSLR or film, I actually still shoot film for some of my personal work because I’m one of those hipsters. And you can shoot great stuff on dslr’s or film it’s just that for the far majority of people a mirrorless camera will give them the most freedom to create.

Micro Four Thirds vs APS-C vs Full-Frame vs Medium Format

Now I’m going to do is pretty uncommon, I’m gonna straight up tell you what I think is the best sensor size for beginners generally, people like to dance around this issue but I’m gonna be straight up and say aps-c. While aps-c isn’t the right choice for everyone I think it’s a good starting point for a few reasons. But first let me explain a bit about what all those words in the subheading.  

These are the main camera sensor sizes in order from smallest to largest.  Sensor size does play a role in the final image but there are pro’s and con’s to all of them. I’ll keep it short and general but feel free to leave any question in the comments. 

Generally the smaller the sensor, the smaller the camera you can make, and the smaller the lenses you can make.  Also Smaller sensor ecosystems also tend to be less expensive in general.  

However, the larger the camera sensor the better it performs in low light situations, and you also have an easier time of getting shallow depth of field (the blurry background thing) especially at wider angles of view.

If you’re the target audience for this post then medium format probably isn’t for you, it’s big (except for the new Fuji), expensive, and you probably don’t need it.  A medium format camera is one of those things where if you’re going medium format you’re probably already experienced enough to know exactly why you need to go medium format.

Full frame is a great option if you have the money, but if you’re just starting out you may not be sure that you want to spend several thousand dollars for a full frame camera and the full frame lenses to go with it.

Micro four thirds is a good option, but if you ever decide you want a larger sensor you will probably have to spend a lot because the micro four thirds mount isn’t compatible with anything with a larger sensor.

Overall aps-c is best because there are a lot of low cost aps-c bodies, and depending on the manufacturer you may be able to put on full frame lenses which you won’t have to sell if you ever decide to upgrade to a camera with a larger sensor as long as you stay withing their ecosystem.  Canon and Nikon are really good for this if your’e going the dslr route, while Sony and Fuji make great aps-c mirrorless cameras. 

If you have a Sony (Canon or Nikon as well) aps-c camera you could only buy their full frame lenses, then if you ever decided that you needed the benefits of full-frame all you would have to change is the camera body and nothing else. At the time I’m writing this Fujifilm doesn’t do full frame so there’s no upgrade path there, but as I’ll discuss in the next section you don’t really need to think for getting a bigger sensor as an “upgrade” necessarily and may not ever need to go full frame or medium format.  And Canon and Nikon are kind of just getting into mirrorless and their offerings are not to compelling so i cant recommend them unless you want to go the dslr route.

Lets dive deeper

So right now I’m shooting on a panasonic g9 as I’m working on a review of it, I’ve been using it for all of my paid work for months now.  I shoot a lot of portraits and like using shallow depth of field sometimes.  It would be easiest and cheapest to get this effect on a full frame camera, but i can still pull it off on my g9 by understanding what effects depth of field.  And the G9 offers price to performance that for what I do, is the best on the market right now.

It’s also generally easier to get wide angles of view for landscape photography on full-frame cameras but a lot of landscape pro’s shoot micro four thirds because they have to walk around a lot, and a micro four thirds system can be way smaller and lighter than a full frame system in many situations, and when shooting landscapes the deeper depth of field that you generally see on micro four thirds can actually be an advantage.

I just had to dive into this so that you really understand although I am gonna make some general recommendations, it really is true that you have to find what works for you there’s no unbreakable rules when it comes to making art. So no matter what camera you buy what matters most is your knowledge of photography.

That’s all great but what should I actually buy Jamal?

What you can afford.

Ok I’ll get more specific.

In my opinion you should invest in Sony or Fujifilm.

Sony if you plan to go full frame one day, and Fuji if you like the design of their cameras (they have a great system of real tactile controls that makes shooting fun, they feel kind of like old film cameras). Whatever system you choose get whatever camera you can afford with a kit lens. We’ll talk about lenses in another post, but kit lenses are a great learning tool even though they generally aren’t the best lenses you can get for any given system.

So if you wanted to go Sony and had $500 i would get an a6xxx series camera.

If i had $2000 and wanted to go fuji I would get an xt series camera.

Now as you decide your budget remember that you will end up wanting more lenses and accessories in the future so you don’t necessarily want to put everything into the camera body because lenses actually play a huge role and in the long run you end up keeping those for longer periods and switching out camera bodies every few years.

All that being said going with a Panasonic or Olympus camera isn’t a bad choice either. If you’re a travel/landscape/adventure photographer things like their smaller cheaper weather sealed bodies might be worth it for you if you don’t really need anything you get from a larger sensor.  For Panasonic and Olympus I would say the same thing just get what you can afford and upgrade from their there, shooting micro four thirds locks you into brand a bit less because you can use Panasonic and Olympus lenses interchangeably although they do perform slightly better on their native systems or so I’ve heard. I use mostly Olympus lenses on my Panasonic bodies and never had any issues.

Panasonic is coming out with a full frame camera which looks promising but i haven’t used it yet and you still won’t be able to use lenses from their micro four thirds system.

But what about Canon and Nikon?

Honestly Canon and Nikon are fine and you can make great pictures and videos with those systems. But lately neither company has been giving their customers what they ask for.  It seems to me like both of them are resting on the fact that their the big names in the industry which is not a good sign in the longs run… because capitalism.  That’s why I can’t whole heatedly recommend them.  Trust me I loved canon, getting a Canon 60d changed my life it was my first “youtube camera”, and Nikon putting two card slots in the d7100 made it so that i could do pro gig’s on a budget with confidence that I was never going to have to tell someone i didn’t have their photo’s because something happened to one of my sd cards.  But Nikon and Canon just announced their full frame mirrorless offerings recently and they have one card slot… 

I really don’t want to hate on Nikon and Canon so I won’t, but I’m definitely not going to recommend them too highly… at least not right now (unless you want to buy a used camera that’s mainly for photos). Hopefully they can get their acts together but right now and in the foreseeable future it looks like Sony, Fuji and Panasonic are the way to go.

Again Canon and Nikon just aren’t giving consumers what they want except for Canon with the articulating screens, that’s why I have reservation recommending you go into their system. You may end up needing more than what they choose to offer down the line as they transition into mirrorless. And if you decide you want a Canon or Nikon mirrorless then you’ll have to get an adapter for all your lenses when you could have just gone with a mirrorless system to begin with where you wouldn’t need adapters.

In the long run I think Nikon in Canon will have competitive mirrorless bodies but if you aren’t already a Nikon or Canon shooter there’s really no compelling reason to wait around for that. And right now their about a generation behind other mirrorless manufacturers.

Specific Recommendations for Beginners

$400 -  Used Panasonic G7 (good for people mainly interested in film making) - This camera has the best video of all the cameras on this list(4k) except for the other panasonic, it has a fully articulating touch screen, easy to use menu’s and good ergonomics.  The downside is that it has a smaller sensor so it isn’t great in now light and the autofocus in video is not very good. Serious video shooters manual focus mostly, however with the fully articulating screen it’s good for YouTubers and those folks might want to use autofocus, it’s workable but not the best.  It’s performance is comparable to the gx85 later down but it has a bigger body (which might be a plus depending on what you want) and no In Body Image Stabilization (IBIS)

$450 - Used Nikon d7100 (good for people mainly interested in still photography) - Dual card slots (so you always have a backup of your pictures), great ergonomics and the widest selection of lenses.  The cool thing about Nikon is that they kept the same mount longer than anyone else so you have access to lenses going back to the manual focus only days.  The downside is that eventually if you want to go mirrorless you will have to buy an adapter for your lenses, and Nikon has never really done great video, the quality is usually fine but the live view autofocus and mic pre-amps leave a lot to be desired. 

$450 - Sony a6000 (Best Overall price to performance) - Really compact travel friendly camera with good autofocus and video quality, fully compatible with any sony e-mount lens, decent video and stills, just a great all around camera. But the battery life isn’t the best, the menus suck, and the screen doesn’t fully articulate and isn’t touch sensitive. 

$550 - Canon SL2 (good for vloggers)  - I put this on here because it has a fully articulating touch screen and it’s cheap.  You have access to the full line of canon legacy lenses and because of dual pixel AF you can use it like a mirrorless camera.  Canon makes a similar mirrorless camera called the M50 but that has a limited lens selection without adapters and it’s more expensive than $600 which is what I decided to cap this at.  This may be on ok choice because canon will support your lenses if you ever switch to their mirrorless system but then you have to factor in the cost of an adapter when you switch which is a downside shared with the Nikon. This is the only camera on this list with a fully articulating screen, which is great for recording video of yourself especially combined with canons excellent dual pixel AF in video.

$550 - Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III (2nd Place better video) - This cameras has IBIS which is great for stills and video, records 4k, and has a titling touchscreen.  However it has to tie with the next one because It’s although the XT-100 is more expensive it does have slightly better image quality. Both cameras have cool design and decent usability, although the Fuji may be a bit better in the usability department.

$600 - Fujifilm XT-100 (2nd place better photo) - Great lens selection, classic design with fun to use dials and tilting touch screen.  Probably the most fun to use camera but with fuji you will never have the option to go full frame (not a big deal IMO).  Fuji is know for their design as well as their colors and this camera doesn’t disappoint I usually don’t shoot jpeg but i could shoot fuji jpeg and not mind at all because they do great film simulations based on their classic film stocks.  I think this is the best overall camera because it’s gonna be the most fun to use, its small so it wont be a pain to take with you, and the fuji image processing will give you cool looking images with minimal effort in post.  All those things are great for beginners but it is the most expensive on this list and does loose pretty significantly to the E-M10 Mark III in terms of video.

$500 - Ebay Panasonic GX85 with kit lens (Best all around Usability, Performance, and Price average) - so unfortunately this camera is discontinued but you can still find grey market and open box type of stuff on ebay.  It’s very comparable to the Olympus on this list but you can find it for cheaper. I think $500 with the kit lens is a real suite spot, all the other camera prices were body only.  I reviews this camera on my youtube channel actually and didn’t keep it because the video autofocus isn’t great in video. However that was the only thing I didn’t really like about the camera, it has everything any of these other cameras have except for a fully articulating screen.  IBIS, 4k video, good photo autofocus, tilting touch screen, good menu system and usability, and this camera wasn’t really overhyped so you can easily find them for cheap with a kit lens which means you don’t have to spend any extra money right away on a lens so that you can get shooting.  The kit lens is decent and has a useful focal range and it keeps the system really small which is good for travel.  Overall a great camera at an even better price point, the only downsides are that you are using the smaller sensor micro four thirds system and it looses to the Canon and Sony pretty badly in terms of autofocus in video.

Here’s the thing…

This is just a general guide with some basic recommendations, but you should shoot on whatever you think works for you. I’m just here to give you information so you can make the most informed investments.

A camera is a tool, and your only limit is your creativity! What you really need to do is shoot as much as possible, and the best camera for doing that is whatever camera you have with you, even if it’s just your phone.


If you have questions or what to get more particular in my recommendations or if you want to ask what I think of a particular camera asked me in the comments below. And if you’re looking for some educational material to help improve your photography check out my store!

Thanks for reading!

-Jamal Mortimer

P.S. There are some cool developments I didn’t talk about like Panasonic having a full frame option now, I just felt like since the cameras aren’t out and I haven’t used them I can’t fairly asses the system (similar story with the new Canon and Nikon Mirrorless) however the Panasonic does actually look promising in terms of features at least.

**1** If you shoot in harsh environments you may want to look into weather sealing and things like that most cameras are good about that but Sony has had some issues in the past.

**2** Panasonic and Olympus lenses are interchangeable on micro four thirds.  Panasonic, Leica, and Sigma lenses are compatible on full frame. And generally you can get a lot of third party accessories that are cross compatible but you have to do your research.

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