Like any other expensive consumer electronic, buying a camera can be intimidating. There are so many choices, specs to consider, and ever accessories. It can feel like if you don't thread every needle perfectly you're going to end up with something you don't love, or worse: something you don't use.
Luckily, we've made every mistake in the book when it comes to buying cameras and have distilled them in to seven key mistakes (and how to avoid them).
Don't Buy From The Grey Market
Common in the watches as well as cameras, the "Grey Market" is a blanket term for products that are legitimate, but intended for another country's domestic market. For example, a camera destined for the Chinese market being sold in the USA.
Generally camera makers hate the grey market, because it messes with their pricing. They hate it so much that companies like Canon and Nikon will refuse to cover them under warranty or (in the case of Nikon) refuse to work on them at all.
These deals show up all the time on places like Ebay and Amazon, and less reputable camera sellers and are usually spotted by the fact that the seller will be the one offering the warranty, not the camera maker. It's almost always not worth the savings and you're just setting yourself up for a hassle (and lower resale values). To avoid it, just buy from official dealers found on the camera-maker's website.
Don't Buy the Wrong Memory
One of the most common mistakes when it comes to buying the necessary accessories for a new camera is buying the wrong memory. While you're probably going to buy the right shape memory card, you may not be getting all the performance your camera offers. SD cards are particularly guilty of this.
This $18 SanDisk card looks basically identical to this $80 SanDisk card but they offer drastically different levels of performance. Some cameras can use the new UHS-II standard, some can only use UHS-I. The same logic goes for CFast cards (vs CF Express vs XQD) and it just gets more confusing from there. Some cameras may not even function properly if you get too slow of a memory card.
All that being said, don't skimp on memory. Make sure you're buying the correct format and the fastest card that your camera can use (check the camera specs for this). On the flipside, there's no point in paying 5 times as much for a memory card if your camera can't harness the performance.
Don't Focus on the Wrong Specs
Speaking of specs, it can be tempting to just go down the specs list of two cameras, tally up which one has more of the better numbers and call it a day, but be honest with yourself when comparing cameras, especially if it means a jump up (or down) in price. Sure one camera might have twice as many megapixels, or boast a huge maximum ISO but so often it just doesn't matter, and it might actually be a pain point. Does it matter if the camera can shoot 8K video if you've never shot a frame in your life? Probably not. Will your life be materially better if you're shooting 60 megapixels instead of 35? Do you need Olympics-grade autofocus? Can you do without a zoom lens?
The best way to really answer these questions is to rent a camera and find out, but as a rule of thumb, like so many other things, simpler is better.
Don't Skimp On Your Lenses
This one's easy. If you're buying an interchangeable lens camera: buy nice lenses. You'll notice lens quality way more than you'll notice camera quality. Additionally, lenses (especially those made by the camera makers) hold their value so much better than cameras. General rule of thumb is to avoid cheap zoom lenses with variable max apertures (they'll be written like f/4.5-6.3 or something). You don't have to spend huge sums either, there's great value to be had in fast (think f/1.8 or f/1.4) non-zoom lenses - especially in the super-useful 35 and 50mm focal lengths.
Don't Forget to Buy Extra Batteries
Even easier than the lens tip: don't forget extra batteries. Realistically you probably just need one extra, but modern mirrorless cameras chew through power and the last thing you want is to carry around a useless brick all day. Side note: don't buy 3rd party batteries. Yes the name-brand ones are expensive, we know it doesn't seem worth it.
It is, just do it.
Don't Forget to Look At Used Options
The used camera market rules. Generally, they're built incredibly well and tend to not really wear out (doubly so with lenses), so you can find fantastic deals - especially on camera bodies - on used sites. B&H and Adorama have their own used departments, but there are a ton of great places. Some of our favorites are Lensrentals, Ebay (watch for grey market), and (I can't believe I'm telling you about this one) the Buy & Sell section of fredmiranda, a popular photo webforum.
Don't Buy A Third-Party Extended Warranty
You'll see these from most online camera retailers. Don't bother. Camera companies' warranties are generally very good and cameras (especially those in the ~$750+ range) are really well made these days. Save yourself the $200.