OK, it's time, you've decided you want to be a photographer! Whats the first thing you do?
Buy a DSLR of course! Photographers have big cameras, that's how you know they're photographers. If they all have them that must mean that they're a necessity to be a photographer. They're bulky, expensive (not even counting the lenses) and heavy. So if they're carrying them there has to be a good reason.
well, you're right-ish... There are a few reasons that professional photographers use them, but it absolutely isn't the first step in becoming a photographer
Here is why:
Shot on iPhone 7+
1. You've already got a camera that has capabilities you haven't mastered yet.
"The best camera is the one you have with you" -Jay Maisel (or maybe Chase Jarvis this one gets confusing)
There I was in St. Louis on a weekend trip, laying next to my soon to be Girl Friend underneath the St. Louis Arch with my Nikon D850 and a new tokina 11-16mm lens, trying to get a wide shot that used the curve of the arch as a slim point in the photo, not surprisingly my new lens was broken (because why wouldn't it be, it was new and i have worse luck than napoleon's horse)
so I reached in my pocket and grabbed my trusty 3 generations old LG V20, switched to the secondary camera, an 8 megapixel 12mm f/2.4 wide lens, dropped it into manual mode and got the shot above. It's not a shot I would sell huge prints of, but I've printed an 8x10 for myself because of the memories attached to the photo and it looked great. The camera also has a normal 16 MP, 29 mm, f/1.8 lens that can very comfortably print any normal non poster sizes. Let me emphasize again that this phone is not a new phone, it was three generations old at the time, and it was all that i needed for a pretty specialized situation.
With the full manual modes available on the vast majority of smartphones today the first step you should take is to put your rear facing camera in manual mode and practice the exposure triangle, adjusting your shutter speed, and ISO with a constant aperture. (if your phone doesn't have a manual or "pro" mode i suggest downloading Adobe Lightroom mobile which allows this functionality as well as world class photo editing software)
Use your phone in manual mode until you are just as good as your automatic mode or better, watch videos, read articles and practice, practice, practice. Take all the bad pictures it takes for you to learn to take good ones on your phone because....
2. DSLR's don't live forever.
One of the most satisfying noises in the world (to me at least) is that "click" from a shutter actuation, that beautiful noise is the sound of your expensive tool slowly dying.
Just like every beat of the human heart is one beat closer to inevitable death, so it is for your camera. Like any actual mechanical item every time you flip up that mirror to reveal that sexy sexy sensor it wears on your camera. For example my Nikon D850 has a life expectancy of 200,000 shutter actuations or "clicks" it costs about $3500.00. Which means every time I click my camera's shutter button it costs me about 1.75 cents.
This doesn't seem like a whole bunch of money, until you realize how many bad photo's you need to take in order to stop taking bad photos. You should also really think about how large this purchase is, give yourself the time to really research and investigate which camera you want if and when you finally do decide to take the leap to a pro grade camera.
3. You need more than just the camera
So you read this and decided i'm wrong. After all, I don't know your personal situation. I don't know your finances. I don't know how good you really are, you're a natural of course! (we all think this at first it's ok)
So you throw caution to the wind and hop in your Lamborghini ( I assume) and mosey on down to the nearest camera store because you read here (as well as other places) that you should really put your hands on the camera and try it out before you buy it. The helpful (commission earning) gentleman at the counter brings out some camera bodies for you to put your very wealthy hands on. You touch it, you feel the weight and you fall in love with the camera, let's assume it's the same one I have the Nikon D850. It feels great but what's this Cheap crap attached to the front of it?
this my friend, is the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens that comes with most if not all Nikon (and a very similar variant for Canon) cameras. It's ... not the best lens. It doesn't take the best pictures, it's not the sharpest, or fastest lens. The auto focus isn't fast, and it's a bit noisy. The very helpful (commission earning) salesman points this out. you ask for suggestions for a better lens to go with it.
Oh does he have something for you. Behold The AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED It's the lens all the Professionals use, it's super sharp, fast and silent as a ninja fart. Sure you don't know what any of those numbers or letters mean, but it's clearly one of the best lenses out there and for the low, low price of $1700.00 he can put it in the bag with the camera, but that won't be quite enough, because the maximum focal length is only 70mm.
What if you want to take urban shots from far away? Wildlife? light stalking? (look i don't judge but you should talk to someone)
He's got something for you there too! the Nikkor AF-S 200mm f/2G ED VRII lens. Sleek, Silent, reduces your bodies pesky natural vibration, does your dishes (probably) and for the low low price of $6,000 (again on sale)
your blood pressure raises slightly as your pre tax subtotal comes to $11,200 but you've got the best of the best and now your a pro... how could you not be look at all this stuff!!! and you deeply believe this because...
4. Professional gear can trick you into thinking you're a professional.
You're walking around the nearest metropolitan center because you read somewhere that urban photography was important ( https://www.photonicpaints.com/blog/2019/2/why-street-photography-should-be-important-to-everyone )
You see an old friend and they see you walking around with a 2018 Mazda sedan's value of camera gear (not counting the flashes and tripods and monopods, spare batteries and storage)
"I never knew you were a photographer?!" your old friend says and since you don't want to look like an idiot for having the annual household income of a lower class family on your back you tell them that you are, you're a little honest and let them know you're not super super experienced but they aren't listening.
"my sister is getting married next month and their photographer backed out, do you wanna help out?"
You think about it, i mean... it's just a wedding how hard could it be, so you agree and tell them you'll do it for free just to add to your portfolio, and to get the "exposure" you continue about your day and snap about 3,000 pics ( i mean this monster shoots 9 frames per second, why not use it amirite?)
you drive your Lambo home feeling pretty accomplished, you shot on manual all day, you got your first gig, that's it! you've made it BIG TIME!
Until you get home, pop out your XQD card ($219 for 120gb) and slam it in your adapter (another 30 bucks) and load all those sweet sweet images into lightroom to batch edit (you don't know what that means but it's a pro sounding term, and you're a pro now)
you open lightroom and ... everything is complete trash Because no matter how nice the camera, the lens, the custom partitioned bag you still shot everything with either missed focus, under or over exposed for subject, or without compositional lines. You have a month to figure out years of training or you have to own up to it and cancel that wedding and all because you forgot the one cardinal rule of photography
5. "The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it" - Ansel Adams
One of the most used and overused quotes in the photography community, yet still probably the most valid.
No matter how quick, expensive, and shiny the camera is if you haven't put in the time you will suck.
That's ok though! you can only get better from here. Think of the best photographer you know and I'll tell you something about them. They used to suck too. They sucked BAD I guarantee it!
Now you suck too, so it's time to do what they did, learn how to suck less. You have something they probably didn't. The camera that's in your pocket right now, or maybe the one that you're reading this on right now. Is most likely 10x better than the first thing they shot on. You have access to world class photographers and advice on youtube, in articles, and all for free! (not talking about myself, I just suck less than I did years ago when i started!)
Get outside and continue to suck, suck until you suck less, and eventually don't suck at all!
Then feel free to join us in the moneyless pit that is photography.