Viewfinder on the back of a Canon DSLR camera.

Essential Photography Items for Beginners

Originally Published: October 15, 2019
Date Updated: October 30, 2023

Getting into photography can be intimidating! When you’re new to photography there are a lot of terms to learn and lots of different products to navigate. Even buying a gift for a photographer in your life can be difficult if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

Use this guide to help you find the essentials for getting started with photography or buying for the photographer in your life.

What Are The Different Types of Cameras?

High-End Cameras for Professional Photographers

Digital Single-Lens Reflex (DSLR) Cameras

DSLRs use a fixed lens to send light to a digital sensor to capture images. “Reflex” refers to how the camera sends light to the optical viewfinder (OVF) before you take the picture. When you press the shutter release button, the mirror flips and sends the light to the camera’s digital sensor to record the picture.

So when you’re looking through the OVF, you’re seeing through your camera’s lens. Point-and-shoot, instant print, and disposable cameras have a secondary lens that doesn’t represent exactly what the camera is seeing.

But with DSLRs, you’re seeing exactly what the camera is seeing. What you see is really what you get. Because of this, DSLRs are popular choices for both amateur and professional photographers.

What is a single-lens reflex Camera (SLR)?

If you see an SLR camera, it will function similarly to a DSLR, but it will use film instead of a digital sensor.

Pros and Cons of DSLR Cameras
  • You can change out the lenses
  • Great photo quality
  • Manual controls
  • Continuous shooting
  • Heavier than newer digital-only cameras
  • Typically larger than newer cameras
  • Operates with more moving parts, which increases the chances of mechanical failure

Related Post: Nikon Buying Guide

Mirrorless Cameras

A mirrorless camera doesn’t use a reflex mirror to record images. Instead of an OVF, you’ll use an electronic viewfinder (EVF) on the back of the camera to line up your shot. 

When they were first introduced to the market, mirrorless cameras were not as powerful as DSLR cameras. But mirrorless cameras are often just as good as DSLR cameras these days. The mirrorless design also gives you several options for previewing and adjusting your settings.

Pros and Cons of Mirrorless Cameras

  • Excels at recording video
  • Live histograms
  • Live highlighting for in-focus areas
  • Smaller and lighter than cameras with mirrors
  • Quieter than DSLRs
  • No camera shake from the mirror
  • Shorter battery life – Uses the internal battery to power the viewfinder and the mechanical shutter. Still, battery life is getting better as companies continue innovating.
  • EVFs sometimes struggle in low-light conditions.
  • There is a slight delay between what’s being captured and what you’re seeing on the EVF. Although this technology is improving every year.
  • Compact camera bodies might not be great if you have larger hands.
  • Interchangeable lens selection is not as good as DSLRs.

Related Post: Canon Buying Guide

Mid-Range Cameras for Casual Photography

Point & Shoot Cameras

Point-and-shoot cameras (P&S) are great options for travelers and new photographers! P&S cameras are lightweight, portable, and easy to use. They’re also great for capturing everything from inside and outside as well as taking photos of people. Point-and-shoot cameras won’t break your bank account and with proper care, they last!

If you have someone in your family who just wants to practice taking photos as a hobby, a P&S camera makes a great gift!

Instant Cameras

Instant cameras make a great novelty gift for anyone who likes capturing memories. They also make a great activity for a party! 

Instant cameras let you take pictures and see them develop instantly. Look for film that has peel-and-stick backs so you can start your own scrapbook of memories. Or set it up at a wedding reception to create a fun take on a traditional guestbook.

Essential Camera Accessories

Memory Cards

Memory cards are essential for any type of digital photography or videography. Originally SD cards and MicroSD cards could only hold up to 2GB but now micro-sized versions of high-capacity memory cards are available on the market. Look for these sizes when shopping for memory cards.

  • SDHC – Up to 32 GB
  • SDXC – Up to 1TB
  • SDUC – Between 2TB and 128TB

Memory Card Readers

A memory card reader is a hardware device for reading a memory card when you don’t have a port in your main computer for your memory card of choice. They’re a super convenient multi-tool for managing your files. Memory card readers will have multiple ports so you can move your files around no matter what kind of memory card or computer you have.


Tripods are a necessity for photographers! Tripods let you perfectly position your camera while preventing unwanted movement. Take a tripod with you to capture perfect pictures whether you’re at a wedding, a family gathering, or out in nature.

What to Look for When Shopping for a Tripod

When shopping for a tripod, look at what kind of material they’re made out of. Carbon fiber tripods will have the best durability-to-weight ratio. Aluminum tripods will be slightly heavier but can be less expensive than carbon fiber.

You’ll also want to look at the types of leg locks on the tripod. Leg locks let you adjust the height of each leg for any terrain so your shot is perfectly even. 

The two main types are flip locks and twist locks.

  • Flip locks are easy to use but can become loose over time. It is possible to tighten them if they do get loose.
  • Twist locks offer better sealing against environmental material than flip locks. However, some people find twist locks harder to use.

One tripod we recommend is the Vanguard Alta Pro Tripod. It has a pistol grip, twist leg locks, and an aluminum frame. Durable enough to take on the trail, and easy to use for family photos.

Tripods for Social Media Content

We also carry tripods with ring lights so you can start making social media videos! Some kits also come with a green screen so you can easily edit out the background of your video.

Other Items to Add to Your Photography Set-Up

Talk to any photographer and they’ll let you know there’s a lot of equipment to get when you’re going on a shoot. Here are a few more items you’ll need when you’re heading out to capture some memories.

  • Camera bag
  • Extra camera lenses
  • Extra batteries
  • Light reflector
  • Magnetic light filters
  • Flash attachments
  • Microfiber cleaning cloths
  • Computer and photo editing software

Can I Buy a Camera in Instalments?

Yes! A good camera is a big investment. We do offer financing through Affirm for qualifying customers. To see if you qualify, click “Learn More” next to the special financing price on the camera you’re interested in.

Shop Photography at Electronic Express

Electronic Express: We Make it Happen.

Founded in 1983, Electronic Express is the largest retailer of electronics in Tennessee with stores now open in Northern Alabama. We carry cameras and photography equipment from great brands like Canon, Nikon, and Vanguard. Also, we offer shipping to all 48 of the contiguous United States. So even if you’re not close to one of our stores, you can still get great electronics at industry-leading prices.