This post is targeted to all you new photographers out there just breaking in to the business side of our fine art. I want to dispel a great untruth that many of you believe. It's not your fault, in fact, it's all part of a fantastic marketing job.
The great lie you've been told is this:
"You need the absolute latest and best equipment to create quality images."
The correct answer is: no. Not by a longshot.
Especially when you're just starting out, money is a rare commodity. You're watching every dime, trying to build a portfolio, and trying to use your money wisely. You don't need to drop thousands of dollars on a brand new camera body, lens, or lighting system. With a little research and leg work, not only will you save yourself money and grief, but you will be a smarter shopper and open a wider circle of friends because of it.
Research what you actually need. Personally, I totally disregard all the 'silly settings' on a camera; the flower, face, speedy guy, moon and stars, etc. All I need is M, P, S, A. Get the heck off of 'auto' and start shooting manual. You will learn what your camera can do, and be able to intuitively judge things like white balance, lighting, shutter speed, etc. (we offer one-on-one and group classes in these and other topics at RyKie Photography).
Other questions to ask are: do I need speed (higher frames per second), or am I looking for the highest image resolution possible (higher MP rating)? Do I need a full-frame body or just want one? Will I be shooting portraits, landscape, wildlife, etc..?
Once you have a list of your needs, there are several camera systems to choose from. They are all good, and offer pretty much the same features. I've shot Nikon, Canon, Sony, Minolta, Olympus, and others. Know what? They are all just perfectly fine. It's all about preference, although I tend to see Nikon and Canon stuff more plentiful when looking for used items.
Which brings me to my next point - buy used! Yes, we've all seen the reviews where camera bodies are only rated to last 100,000 shots. That's nice. Doesn't mean the unit is dead after that magic number.
Once you've figured out what you need in a camera, do some research. Check out different models, if they match your criteria or not, and look for used equipment.
I've purchased equipment that's only a few years old for a fraction of the retail price. Still lots of life left in them, and I'll probably shoot with them until they're dead, then re-purpose them into some sort of trendy art project! Just because a camera is a couple years old and no longer shiny, doesn't mean it's not still good. I got my then four-year-old a Nikon D70 as her first camera. She's since upgraded to a D40x, both of which I obtained for exceptional deals. She's happily learning on them, and creating some quality images.
Look on sites like Kijiji for good deals, and check out online reviews before buying.
Another advantage to hitting Kijiji or joining an online forum on social media is that you will meet fellow photographers. This will open your social circle. Ask them lots of questions, more often than not, people are quite willing to share tips with newbie photographers.
If you are set on buying a shiny, new, just-released model, the best thing to do is......wait. Watch how prices drop on newer bodies. In a couple years, that most-coveted body will be several hundred dollars cheaper. The same great technology remains, but the price point has dropped considerably. One of my main bodies comes from a magical era called 2008. Yeah, she's been around the block, but performs perfectly for my needs. I've printed quite large scale images from what I've shot with this camera, and the results are fantastic. It's fast, heavy, and a real workhorse.
Here are a few things I highly recommend for a new photographer starting out:
Mid-range body with kit lens(s)
At least one prime lens like a nifty 50
Seems like a small list, but becoming a master at this list can take decades. Always experiment with your equipment - get to know it inside and out. once you've accomplished that, you will realize what a great lie buying the latest gadget can be. 'Just because it's new, it HAS to be good!' is just not the right attitude.