What is the best camera for learning photography?

Since I’ve been asked, I thought I’d write about what I think is the best camera for learning photography.

The short answer? The camera you already own.

Whatever camera you have, that’s the one you should learn on. Whether you have an expensive DSLR, or just the one built into the hundred dollar smart phone in your pocket–whatever camera you’ve got, use it.

Megapixels don’t matter.

Ghosts of Summer Screen Shot
If you click on the thumbnail, you’ll see that this photo is 477 x 593 pixels, for a total of 282,861. That’s less than a third of a megapixel.

Despite what you’ve heard, megapixels aren’t that important. Thanks to Instagram, the most common number of megapixels used in photography today is less than one.

Seriously. The image on this post? It’s from my Instagram account, and it’s a little less than a third of a megapixel in size.

So, that six-megapixel camera in your cheap, prepaid phone is perfectly fine to learn on. And you’ll be able to share your photos on Instagram without them looking out of place or amateurish due to their “low” resolution.

Now, will you be able to create beautiful, 8×10 prints from your photos? Or blow up your image to see every last detail? No, but even then, the resolution of your photos won’t really matter because…

Your mistakes are what matters.

This is probably the biggest reason why I think the best camera for learning photography is the one you already have. When you first start out, you will make a ton of mistakes. Your subject will be out of focus, the light will be all wrong, you’ll have motion blur you didn’t intend–the list goes on.

And that’s okay.

You should be making mistakes, because that’s how you learn. But these mistakes will be way more detrimental to your photographs than resolution or the quality of your lens. No amount of expensive gear will fix a poor composition, blown highlight, or out-of-focus subject. You need to develop your fundamental skills as a photographer, and then better gear will start to make a difference.

And since you can only really develop those skills by taking lots and lots of photographs, that brings us to…

Convenience also matters.

I own a pretty nice DSLR camera, but I take nearly all of my photos these days with my phone. Why? Because it’s always with me, riding along in my pocket, ready to work at a moment’s notice. If all I had was a DSLR, I’d only take a fraction of the photos I do.

Convenience to carry and ease of use are huge factors to consider, especially if you’re just starting out in photography. A big, bulky DSLR might look cool, but how often are you really going to bag it up and carry it with you?

If a DSLR is what you’ve got, use it. Just don’t discount the six-megapixel wonder in your pocket.

Don’t learn on a film camera.

In most cases, I think the camera you already have is best camera for learning photography, but that advice goes right out the window if all you have is a film camera. Don’t try to learn on film, go buy a digital.

Look, film is not dead. There are a lot of really great photographers who still shoot film exclusively, and it’s worth exploring yourself at some point. But learning the fundamentals on a film camera? That’s just crazy talk.

The best and fastest way to learn photography is to take lots and lots of photos. We’re talking hundreds, if not thousands of photos, taken with various camera settings under various conditions. And when you consider a roll of film will cost about five bucks to purchase, another five bucks to develop, and you only get about twenty-four to thirty-six shots per roll…it can get expensive.

Then there’s the lag to consider. Take a photo with a digital camera? You can look at it immediately to see if your settings worked. Take a photo with a film camera? It could be days before you know how the photo came out. And are you even going to remember what settings you used?

Yeah, just buy a digital camera.

When should you upgrade?

At some point, you’ll outgrow the camera you’ve got. When that happens, you’ll know it. More importantly, you’ll have a pretty good idea of the sort of camera and lenses to buy, because you’ll have learned at least a little bit about what it is you like to shoot.

Unless you’re like me.

Just remember, while the quality of your gear can become more important once you’ve mastered the fundamentals, the best camera for learning photography is the one you have and will actually use to achieve that mastery.