This is building on an idea from this discussion about equipment recommendations. The idea is that we'd have a "soft landing" post which "I am new; what camera should I buy?" questions could be marked as duplicates of.

The idea is that while many equipment recommendation questions are great for the site, new user camera recommendations tend to be particularly problematic (see the link above for reasoning). The proposal is to make a community wiki post which would provide helpful general information and pointers to other Photo-SE questions that cover the topic.

We've got What are considerations when choosing a DSLR brand?, How much do lens lineups vary across DSLR platforms?, Are there disadvantages to a prosumer camera for a beginner, aside from cost?, and some other great questions with great answers, but new users aren't finding these. And the good ones are all one step narrower in specificity, so the new questions can't fairly be marked as duplicates of one of them.

Closing everyone's vague question as off-topic or "not a real question" seems harsh and unfriendly. Might this be the better solution? Here's what I'm proposing:

I am new to photography: what should I buy, and what do I need to learn?

I am new to photography. I have taken pictures before, of course, but nothing serious. Now I want to get more serious. I'm not turning professional or anything, but I want a good camera. What should I buy?

Do I need a dSLR or a compact camera? What about those new mirrorless cameras?

What brand should I pick?

What about zoom? How do I know what lenses to get?

What resources are there for learning about my new camera once I get it?

How do I learn about the basics of photography?

Where do I get more help?

This is a community wiki question intended as a welcoming spot for new users. Each answer should cover one topic, either one of the above or some other fundamental concept. And each answer should be a pointer to another specific question (or set of questions) on this site, not new information.

What do you think?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Seems as though we already have a place for this sort of article- in the Tag Wiki. Here's what I did for the Lighting-Basics Tag Wiki: photo.stackexchange.com/tags/lighting-basics/info Very similar to what you're proposing above, no? \$\endgroup\$ Jun 2, 2011 at 20:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Tag wiki is a good suggestion. I'd like to separate the general equipment-recommendation out from this specific case, though. (camera-recommendation, I guess) And the bar to editing tag wikis is a little higher than providing answers to a CW question. That might be okay, though. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Jun 2, 2011 at 20:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ The downside of a tag wiki is that we can't mark posts as duplicates of it, which is what I'd like to do. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Jun 2, 2011 at 20:51

4 Answers 4


This seems almost anti-stackexchange to me. We're supposed to be providing experts to useful, specific questions. Throwing them a general "soft landing" isn't too much different than just throwing them back into the wild of the internet to me. We've already closed several questions before for being too general in their asking - but now we're purposing a super general question will solve the problem?

I'd rather see us provide more of a suggestion of "these are the questions we need answers to in order to help you out". Stuff like (for cameras):

  • What's your skill level?
  • What's your budget?
  • Do you have an investment in any particular brand already?
  • What's your intended use?
  • ....some more

This gives us a stable, valid platform to provide useful information to the asker. I think we're alot more likely to turn visitors into useful members if we provide a more useful answer and teach them that there are "factors" to consider like those questions rather than just shooting from the hip.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'll have to give @mattdm's proposal more thought, but my instinct is that a meta post with "the series of questions we ask when we're given a super-vague question to help us narrow things down to provide a helpful answer" is the right direction to go... Rather than a noob getting a flurry of comments, ranging in tone from helpful and welcoming, to hostile and offputting, they could simply be referred to a "Details to Include in Your Question to Help Us Help You" post... Upon updating their question we'd be in a much better position to help them... \$\endgroup\$ Jun 2, 2011 at 18:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Bonus: we'd be able to relatively quickly determine that the OP wasn't serious about getting an answer from us (because they posted the question and then never returned to respond to the request for more information) and we could close it out without worrying about whether we're 'scaring someone away' by being unnecessarily quick to close the question... \$\endgroup\$ Jun 2, 2011 at 18:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ I could see us having a meta question with several answers, "Questions we ask for a vague camera purchase query," "Questions we ask for a vague lens purchase query," "Questions we ask for a vague studio lighting purchase query," etc... \$\endgroup\$ Jun 2, 2011 at 18:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Right, thats what I was thinking. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – rfusca
    Jun 2, 2011 at 18:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ To me, a form-based approach is very different from Stack Exchange, and at least suggests a separate site (see meta.photo.stackexchange.com/questions/529/…). For what it'a worth, I actually wrote such a forum for a camera-recommendation forum (see dcresource.com/forums/… ). I just don't think it'd work here. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Jun 2, 2011 at 18:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm: Current "System": OP asks a vague shopping question and get a flurry of comments asking them to clarify and narrow their question. @rfusca's "System": OP asks a vague shopping question and is referred to a post with questions we'd like them to answer so they can clarify and narrow their question. How is that so radically different than what we're doing now that it would require "a separate site" or "wouldn't work here"? \$\endgroup\$ Jun 2, 2011 at 19:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Jay — I was responding to the idea of having a form for new posts. I think that's different from what you are suggesting. But maybe I'm misunderstanding. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Jun 2, 2011 at 19:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm - The choice of the word "form" was just used to indicate that there exists a list of questions that are helpful to answer. A meta post would be appropriate. \$\endgroup\$
    – rfusca
    Jun 2, 2011 at 20:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ So, I think this suggestion addresses the "not a real question" issue in meta.photo.stackexchange.com/questions/1037/…, but not the other ones. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Jun 2, 2011 at 20:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm: Yeah, I think we're on the same page, but just to be clear in no way am I advocating having a form that everyone is required to fill out in order to get a question answered. This would be more a list (What's your price range? Do you favor any particular brand? What is your experience level? Etc.) that we could refer a poster who has posed a vague question to. Essentially a list which would include the questions we generally are asking now in the comments... Posters can choose to use the list to update their question with additional detail to help us help them... \$\endgroup\$ Jun 2, 2011 at 20:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ ...and I think that was essentially what @frusca was saying as well, if I'm not mistaken... \$\endgroup\$ Jun 2, 2011 at 20:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think rather than looking at this as "anti-stack exchange", it might make more sense to look at it as a way to guide people into a more stack-exchange way of forming questions. \$\endgroup\$
    – D. Lambert
    Jun 3, 2011 at 13:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the anti-stackexchange bit. Not really sure I agree about having a form though...it just doesn't really matter in the long run how much meta-information we have for people. \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Jun 3, 2011 at 18:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @jrista - "form" may not be the right term, but just a list of common questions that help us to help you on some common questions. \$\endgroup\$
    – rfusca
    Jun 4, 2011 at 0:19

I am seeing a general theme here. If we are going to answer the new photographer question - we really want to ask them the same things a good salesmen would ask.

  • What are your primary uses for the equipment
  • What did you have before and what did you like or dislike
  • What is your budget(not something a good salesmen will flat out ask, but applicable here)
  • What are your goals aspirations in photography
  • Does size matter to you
  • Would you want to purchase and carry additional lenses to get the best quality
  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you expand a little bit on how questions which do include these things would make good photo-SE questions, and avoid the problems I've identified (or how you think those things are not actual problems?) Thanks. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Jun 3, 2011 at 20:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Here's an example of a relatively-specific question which generated several of the problems I'm concerned about. photo.stackexchange.com/questions/16501/… You gave a decent answer, backed up with sensible reasons. There's a couple others like that, all going in widely different directions. None has more than a few upvotes. And we've got the startings of a "rah rah my brand is better than your suggestion" war. Hopefully this question will be no one's first exposure to the site. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Oct 31, 2011 at 23:33

I guess I just don't understand why we don't deal with each question as it comes. Some users are going to ask "correctly", and some users are going to ask "incorrectly". It doesn't matter how much meta-information we have for them to read, how thorough our tag wikis are, whether we have a "form" for them to fill out or not. Some just won't "ask correctly"...because they don't care, because they found our site and simply clicked "Ask Question", because they are seeding their question on 50 different sites trying to get as much information as they possibly can, etc.

We can try to formalize the "process" as much as we want, but it ultimately won't change the status quo. Some people are intelligent enough to know that they need to be specific when they ask for help, and others are either dumb or too sloppy to realize that being more precise and specific is in their own interest. I DON'T want to make equipment recommendations off-topic, since they are a critical element of photography, particularly for new entrants into the field. They are our largest traffic driver, and could very well be the primary factor on our (Photo-SE's) long-term success. Our response to people who DO come here initially with an equipment recommendation seems to play a fairly significant role in determining whether they stick around and become a regular member, or decide were a bunch if dicks who can't simply HELP and take a ride to the nearest site that WILL answer their question.

Dealing with the crappy equipment recommendations, and closing them when they are clearly "not a real question" due to lack of specificity or interest from the OP, is simply part of the territory. We should deal with them on a per-case basis. I have already updated the equipment-recommendation tag wiki to clarify what we see as an acceptable type of eq. req. question, and what kind of specificity we need. We can always direct people to the wiki in the event that they do not provide the specificity we need to provide a proper answer...but we WILL most likely have to post a few comments on "bad" eq. req. questions when they occur to get more info, because reading the FAQ and examining all the tag wikis is most definitely not what every new user does before asking a question...they simply (and quite appropriately) just ask.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I am not suggesting making equipment recommendation questions in general off-topic. I am very specifically trying to address "I'm new; what camera?" questions. I think this can be addressed much better than the way it usually is here. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Jun 3, 2011 at 18:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Note that my suggestion is not to add more meta-information in an out-of-band location. It is to quickly close "I'm new; what camera?" questions but in a way that nicely actually provides helpful information. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Jun 3, 2011 at 19:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ Why close them at all? If the person provides enough information to get a useful answer, why not just answer them? If the question initially lacks enough information, but it is provided on request, why should they be closed? They should only be closed if they are literally unanswerable...and again, that has to be determined on a case-by-case basis. \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Jun 3, 2011 at 19:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Please see meta.photo.stackexchange.com/questions/1037/…. And take a look at the history of these types of questions on the site. Again, not equipment-recommendation in general, but "new user; what camera" in specific. The response is almost always negative. Random but representative example: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/487/…. I think we can and should do better. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Jun 3, 2011 at 19:44

Okay, so, after some discussion in chat, what I'd like to propose is:

Next time a question comes in like this, tag it "camera-recommendation" (currently a non-existing tag), and populate the tag wiki with the "landing" information I'm suggesting (similar to the suggested text in the quote block above, but with links to the relevant existing questions), plus some tips on specific details that might be helpful.

Then, someone would very nicely post a comment saying welcome and pointing to that.

I'm still concerned about issues beyond vagueness, but maybe we should start with this and see where that goes, and deal with those things if they become problems.


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