How To Pick a Camera for Church Photography

Picking a new camera though exciting can be overwhelming especially if you’re new to the world of digital cameras. As intimidating as it looks, breaking down your buying process into simple steps will ensure you make the right decision.

To pick a camera for church photography you first need to decide your budget, and how much you’re willing to spend. Next, decide if you want a new or used camera. Then, decide if you want a DSLR, mirrorless, or film camera. Finally, you should compare the specifications of potential candidates.

These steps are good in theory, but there are tons of small things to consider when buying a new camera. After reading this article, I’ll have you fully prepped to pick out a new camera. I know camera specs and features can be intimidating, so check out my list of important ones to look out for at the end of this article.

Picking a specific camera is vital, but picking a camera brand is just as important. Check out my article outlining the best camera brands for church photography.

Determine Your Budget

The first step to picking a camera for church photography is to determine how much you are willing to spend on a camera. Whether you’re utilizing your church’s tech budget or personal funds, the amount of money you invest will have a large impact on the camera you buy. The quality of the camera, when it was released, and buying new versus used are all largely dependent on the price of the camera.

My advice with budgeting is this; if you have room in your budget for a camera, use it. If you have $800 set aside for a camera body, look for cameras in that price range. On the flip side, if your budget is tight, don’t push it. Don’t overspend or go over budget, especially if you’re using church funds. More money does not mean more utility.

Utility is the usefulness of an item or service; spending extra money for camera features you won’t use is a waste. Let’s say, for example, you decide to spend an extra $400 to upgrade your camera because the new one can shoot 6K video as opposed to 4K. You need to ask yourself, are you even going to be shooting video? Why do you need 6K over 4K? If you’re solely a church photographer, then this feature has no utility to you because you won’t use the video capabilities of the camera.

It’s important that you do your research when picking a camera and that you realize that you don’t have to spend a ton of money on an expensive camera to get results. In reality, you may be able to get by using just your phone. If this idea piques your interest, check out my article breaking down why phone photography might be for you.

There are two key things to keep in mind when budgeting for a new camera; the used market and lenses. First, keep in mind that you likely need to leave room in your budget for lenses. That is, of course, if you don’t already own any or have access to any. If you’re tight on budget, a camera body and kit lens bundle is a great starter option. Second, you may be able to afford a higher-spec camera if you purchase from the used market, but more on that in the next section.

Choosing Between New And Used Cameras

When photographers upgrade their gear, they don’t often throw away working cameras. They either collect dust on shelves or are used as backups. The other option for an old camera is to be sold on the used market. Selling used cameras allows photographers to add to their budget when upgrading.

One of the key benefits of buying a new camera is that they are more future-proof; newer cameras will have newer technology (autofocus, facial recognition, etc.). Buying a new camera often means better features and specs when compared to an older model.

The main drawback to buying a new camera is that it will cost more than an older model. Another drawback to a new camera is that, depending on how new it is, it may not have much field testing. We have seen this before with some Canon models overheating after being released.

The main benefit to buying used is that you will get a solid camera for a good price. Often, professional photographers will upgrade to the latest in their selected camera system’s lineup, which means they will often sell their old models. Another benefit to buying used is that the camera will be field-tested; if another photographer has used the camera without issue, it’s easier to assume the camera is without defect.

When it comes to drawbacks to used cameras, the key thing to look out for is degradation. Cameras degrade over time; like any other electronic or mechanical product, cameras have a lifespan. Used cameras will be further along their lifespan than new cameras, meaning they will have less time left. A camera’s shutter count, for example, is a great indicator of how worn a camera is (more on that later). Another drawback to used cameras is that they will have older technology; they will not be future-proof.

When buying used, be sure to buy from reputable dealers like B&H or KEH. Facebook Marketplace can be a good option if you know what to look for; always be safe when meeting up, and always make sure you get all the details when buying used.

Decide What Type of Camera You Want

The next step in your camera buying process is to decide what type of camera you would like. Each type of camera has its benefits and drawbacks. In the end, it’s important to remember that every camera is capable of taking amazing photos and skill is a major determinant is emotionally impactful photos.

If you’re looking to improve your photos, I have an article detailing exactly how to portray genuine emotion in your photos. With that said, let’s look at the first type of camera.


The acronym DSLR stands for digital single-lens reflex. This type of camera uses a mirror to send light to an optical viewfinder allowing the photographer to view their composition in real-time. The camera has a mechanism that flips the mirror upwards to allow light to hit the camera’s image sensor when a photo is taken.

One of the key benefits of buying a DSLR is that they are often priced lower than their key counterparts; mirrorless cameras. However, often high-spec DSLRs are older because brands have shifted towards mirrorless cameras. Newer DSLR cameras will be entry-level and lower cost.

Another feature of DSLRs is that they utilize an optical viewfinder. This ensures the photographer has virtually no input delay and the image he/she sees through the viewfinder is the same as what the camera’s image sensor sees.

As a result of the optical viewfinder, and other reasons, these cameras often have better battery efficiency. However, it is important to note, that in recent years, companies have released more efficient batteries for their newer mirrorless models as well as battery grips to help improve the battery life of their cameras.

Though they are named “battery grips” these tools have more purpose than simply adding battery capacity to cameras. I have an entire article detailing how a battery grip can make your life easier.

One common feature of DSLRs that can be both a benefit and a drawback is that they often will be bulkier and weigh more than mirrorless cameras. This bulk can make them more comfortable to carry and can mean a larger grip to hold on to. The weight, however, can be tiring for long shoots or unsustainable if you shoot with two cameras.

One final drawback, and a significant one, is that DSLRs are louder than mirrorless cameras. This is a result of the mirror mechanism that I mentioned earlier. As the mirror flips up the mechanism that does so makes a noticeable noise. This is distracting when shooting events. For example, if you’re photographing a church service that has moved into a time of prayer, the last thing you’d want is to disrupt it with a loud shutter.

The Mirrorless Camera

The term “mirrorless” in the photography world is most often used to describe a digital interchangeable lens camera that does not utilize an internal mirror mechanism. DSLRs utilize mirrors for optical viewfinders; in contrast, mirrorless cameras use electronic viewfinders. These are small LCD monitors built into the camera that allow photographers to preview their image along with other data such as exposure previews and settings overlayed.

Mirrorless cameras will often cost more, but this cost generally comes with higher build quality. These cameras are also often lighter than DSLRs, but this can mean they have smaller handgrips.

Since mirrorless cameras are often newer than DSLRs, this means their technology can be newer. This can materialize in two key ways. Both are attributed to newer autofocus technology making it faster to pull focus and making it better at recognizing animals and people.

This new technology also means mirrorless cameras are more likely to have touchscreens. It also means these cameras are less prone to overheating. Finally, these new technologies lead to more IBIS (in-body image stabilization) availability.

The Film Camera

Film cameras are the definition of outdated technology, yet have a somewhat unexplainable “feel” in their images. The main reason people shoot on film cameras is the “film look”, the analog aesthetic. This “film look” is something photographers and videographers try to emulate digitally to this day; it is nostalgic and timeless.

Shooting on film forces you as a photographer to understand light and to understand how to use it to your advantage. Film photography can also eliminate editing time, you just need your photos developed which can be done by yourself or by a third party. Film encourages you to be intentional with your shots because they are limited; you cannot erase an image on a film strip once it has been exposed.

Another benefit to film photography is its low-light images. In low-light film photography, you use a film strip with a higher ISO, this means your image will have more film grain instead of digital noise. This grain is caused by imperfections on the actual film strip instead of mechanisms of the digital camera. For a better understanding of this, check out my article breaking down what noise is in photography.

I don’t recommend film photography as your sole or primary shooting method. I do recommend film as a supplement to your DSLR or Mirrorless camera. Cover your bases and get lots of versatile shots from your digital camera, then get some creative ones with a film camera. If you’re worried about missing that perfect moment, check out my article teaching you how to build a church photography shot list.

Consider The Gear You Have Available For Use

When choosing a camera you must consider the gear you already have available to you. In the context of church photography, it means seeing if you have access to any lenses owned by your church or any of its congregants.

First things first, though, if your budget is tight (or non-existent) consider using your phone for photography. Smartphone cameras have become incredibly advanced lately; top-of-the-line Google Pixels, Samsungs, and iPhones rival professional cameras in some aspects.

In terms of DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, it can be beneficial to stick to the same brand of gear you have access to (camera system). For example, if your church has Canon EF mount lenses available for you to use, it will save you money on lenses to use a compatible camera body.

Another option in this case is to utilize lens mount adapters. These allow you to use lenses and camera bodies from different mounts or brands. With a lens mount adapter, you could utilize a Canon lens with a Fujifilm body, or the reverse.

Camera gear is pricey, especially when you start to build a kit, so saving money where you can is crucial. Remember, the best camera is the one you have on you, even if it’s a smartphone.

10 Camera Specs & Features To Look Out For

Things like buying new versus used, camera type, and available gear are all important decisions you need to make. To best inform those decisions, you must understand some key specs and features you’ll find on DSLRs and mirrorless cameras.

1. The Sensor

The job of a camera’s sensor is to take light and convert it into digital information. The four main sensor types are full-frame, APS-C, micro-four thirds, and medium format. Sensor size is also important to pay attention to. Between two sensors of the same megapixel count, the larger will always have better low-light performance. On that topic, a higher megapixel count means a higher quality, a larger image that helps for prints or cropping.

2. ISO Range

ISO is one of the three settings included in the “exposure triangle”. It can be thought of as “fake light”, the higher your ISO, the more “fake light” you are introducing into your image. A wide ISO range on your camera will help in low-light shooting. Another ISO-related feature that is useful is dual native ISO. At your camera’s native ISO, there is the least amount of noise in your image, dual native ISO allows you to use a higher ISO with lower amounts of noise.

3. Autofocus System

Autofocus is a feature in every newer digital camera you’ll find (and plenty of older ones too). There are a few things you need to consider in regards to autofocus when you are in the market for a new camera. The first is the type of autofocus; phase detection and contrast detection are common. Hybrid systems combine both to improve performance. Autofocus speed is another thing to consider, faster autofocus is crucial for capturing movement and action. Autofocus coverage is important because it considers the number of autofocus points and their spread across the frame.

4. Image Stabilization

Image stabilization is important for low-light and low shutter-speed shooting. When buying a camera body, look for a feature called IBIS. IBIS is an acronym for in-body-image stabilization. This system stabilizes your camera’s sensor to help avoid blurry photos. IBIS will enable you to use a slower shutter in low-light situations reducing your ISO and noise.

5. Continuous Shooting

Continuous shooting allows you to hold down your camera’s shutter button for a “burst” of photos. When capturing events for your church or even sung worship, fast-burst shooting is important to ensure you capture the exact moment you intend to. Virtually all cameras can continuously shoot to some extent, what you’re looking for is how many shots per second the camera can take. When looking at a mirrorless camera, look for how many shots per second the camera can take with the mechanical shutter not electronic.

6. LCD Screen

Professional photographers use their LCD screens for all aspects of their photography. From viewing settings and exposure information to previewing their shots, a solid LCD screen is crucial. That being said, here are three things to consider. First, does your screen tilt or swivel? This can help you see your screen at tough angles. Second, does your camera have a touch screen? This is useful for selecting autofocus zones or changing other settings. Third, how bright is your screen? A bright screen is crucial for daytime shoots.

7. Connectivity

WIFI and Bluetooth connectivity allow you to connect your camera directly to your cellphone. This is perfect for church events to share photos with attendees instantly. On the flip side, you can share your images directly to your phone if you’d like to upload them to your church’s social media immediately.

8. Weather Sealing

Weather sealing can help you for outdoor shoots, or even can allow you to get up and close during baptism if that’s your style.

9. Battery

The type of battery your camera uses determines how many shots it can take on a single charge. A low-rated battery means you’ll have to take more along with you during a shoot. Look for the rating of the camera’s battery, usually lister in terms of exposures or “shots”.

10. Lens Mount

A camera’s lens mount determines which lenses it’s compatible with. Look to see what mount the camera uses and which lenses you have available to you. You want to be sure there are good lenses available for your potential camera and at a price point in your budget.

Jeremy Goh

Jeremy grew up volunteering at church and has also worked in a church setting. Along with working as a freelance creative, Jeremy is studying for a business degree in finance and international business.

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