8 Tips You Should Know Before Buying Your Next Digital Camera

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camera   8 Tips You Should Know Before Buying Your Next Digital CameraRegardless of what you have been told, there is no such thing as a “do-it-all” camera. If there was a “do-it-all” camera, competition in the industry would suffer, seedy patents would be made, one company would monopolize everything, prices would skyrocket, their profits would fail, and eventually, we would no longer have cameras at all. At least that’s how I see it. It would suck.

With that said, this is precisely why different cameras exist, so from now on, I would recommend thinking of cameras as different tools. While all screwdrivers are tools, not all tools are screwdrivers. Make sense?

We at MakeUseOf know that purchasing a camera is a big deal, so we want to help. Below are just a few things to take into consideration before dropping loads of cash on something you will be using for quite a while.

There Are Quite A Few Different Types Of Digital Cameras

Like I said, there’s no “do-it-all” camera. Here are a few current different types of cameras that you can purchase:

  • Point-and-shoots
  • Megazooms
  • Mirrorless
  • DSLRs

point   8 Tips You Should Know Before Buying Your Next Digital Camera

Point-and-shoots are the most basic of digital cameras, and to be honest, your smartphone may be as good as or better than some of these. However, if you are looking for something that’s purely a camera and not an electronic multi-tool, then have at it. They are great for those of you who know¬†nothing about cameras and aren’t willing to learn (which isn’t a bad thing), and they mostly make use of automatic operations like auto-focusing, automatic white balancing, and auto-exposure. Honestly, all you have to do is click the button to shoot! You’ll find them almost anywhere for around $200. So if you want a camera that’ capable of taking decent photos on a budget, then this might be your best bet.

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Here are a few suggestions (which are not quite in the aforementioned budget) that you should consider:

mega   8 Tips You Should Know Before Buying Your Next Digital Camera

The next step up from point-and-shoots are¬†megazooms, and while they may offer better picture¬†and a closer zoom (I’d say anything above 10x), the internal components basically the same. These types of cameras primarily run on aforementioned automatic functions, and their current incarnation were actually developed as a challenge to the whole smartphone-versus-point-and-shoot issue. Their key feature is the zoom, and that’s something most smartphones are absolutely pitiful at. Price-wise, things will typically be just under $500.

If size (or budget) still matters, compact megazooms can be purchased for under $350, and they are somewhat like a hybrid of the classic point-and-shoot and the megazoom. Their zoom won’t be as powerful, but they can still be used for events like concerts and shows.

Here are a few examples of megazoom cameras:

ilc   8 Tips You Should Know Before Buying Your Next Digital Camera

Mirrorless cameras are on the rise as the next generation of semi-professional cameras, but they still are in the early stages of development. As of right now, these cameras will allow you to enter the world of lenses and quite a few manual operations. Comparatively speaking, these lenses are starting to be quite popular, and even some pros are using them. You will be able to get a decent mirrorless camera for around $600.

dslr   8 Tips You Should Know Before Buying Your Next Digital Camera

DSLRs are riding the wave of current top digital cameras, and they come in a couple of flavors. Entry-level DSLRs (like the current set of mirrorless bodies) start from around $600 and come with less features than the pro-level DSLRs, which are definitely pricier. You are paying for the camera body rather than the lens, and also mostly to have manual features as opposed to automatic ones. The picture quality is top-notch in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing, and you will likely end up paying more for lenses than the camera itself.

Megapixels And Zooms Aren’t Everything

zoom   8 Tips You Should Know Before Buying Your Next Digital Camera

Everyone is¬†always asking me about how many megapixels my camera has. Realistically, I usually shoot video on my DSLR, so it doesn’t really matter to me. In my opinion, it’s not that big of an issue these days. Hi-res is hi-res, and unless you plan on blowing up the picture for editing purposes, current megapixel standards are going to be just fine. Besides, if you are uploading things to Facebook, all of your pictures will be downsized for viewing on the web anyway.

Then there’s the issue of zoom. Focal length isn’t¬†that big of an issue, and if you are buying a point-and-shoot or a megazoom, don’t let 20x be the reason you don’t buy a 15x. Yes, it kind of is a big jump, but in my opinion, I’d say you should just move closer when you can and save a little money. Furthermore, if you have the megapixels, you could actually blow the picture up a little! This works even for the higher-level cameras, but for those of you working with higher-level post-work, I¬†would pay more attention to the megapixels.

Your Purpose Is Important

purposepng   8 Tips You Should Know Before Buying Your Next Digital Camera

Before you go out and buy a really fancy camera, you¬†really should take into consideration¬†why you’re getting it. Do you want it to shoot bands at concerts? Family gatherings? Scenery while on vacation? Professional photo shoots? Headshots for actors? All of this is really important.

Most of you who are reading this may very well want a point-and-shoot or even a megazoom, and this is likely for your standard all-around usage. If you don’t plan on touching the manual controls too much and would rather the camera run on auto-pilot, this is¬†also be a good justification. It all comes down to one thing: control. Do you want to drive manual or automatic? It’s simple, really.

On the other hand, those of you who want more control and have the expertise may actually want something without the training wheels. Look for the ability to control your ISO, capture modes, number of megapixels, the ability to shoot RAW (which allows for more control during post-processing), and image stabilization. Basically, you will want as much control as possible, so do your research and compare camera models to see which one will best satiate your power-hungry heart.

You Don’t Need A Big Camera

big   8 Tips You Should Know Before Buying Your Next Digital Camera

I say this mostly in a light-hearted manner, but you don’t need a big camera. This can be said for professionals, too. I take photographs in my city for fun sometimes, and occasionally, I’ll take out some powerful cameras. On the other hand, I’m¬†really¬†interested in the new Canon EOS-M,¬†a¬†mirrorless¬†camera that competes with the most top-level cams, but it is freaking tiny.

So do your research. Compare the final products of multiple cameras, and see how things check out. You should be more passionate about how the image looks than how the camera looks.

Granted, you must occasionally sacrifice some features for size. For instance, a compact camera may fit in your shirt pocket, but you won’t have control over the lens and other manual operations. Chances are that the image quality won’t be as good either due to a lower resolution, a cheaper lens, and a sensor that won’t do as well in low-light.¬†On the other hand, a camera that allows for interchangeable lenses and manual operations will allow you to have more control over the picture, but it will – sometimes because of the lens alone – be a “big camera”.

Lenses Are Important

lenses   8 Tips You Should Know Before Buying Your Next Digital Camera

I could write an entirely different article about lenses, but do¬†not, I repeat,¬†do not think that a lens is just a lens. With point-and-shoots and megazooms, you don’t have much say in the matter. But with mirrorless cameras and DSLRs, lenses¬†are everything. Lenses are all different, and it actually goes beyond their focal length and aperture. It even has to do with the quality of the glass and the image it produces, and for a more complex explanation of lenses, you can actually check out this Wikipedia article.

Your lens preference will depend on your image taste, so I honestly can’t help you out here. All I can say is to immerse yourself in the world of lenses and try as many as you can. Don’t limit yourself to¬†justNikon and Canon. For instance, you could test out Zeiss, Rokinon, Sigma, Tamron, etc. Basically, get out there and take a look at what the world has to offer.

If you are absolutely set on your camera brand, get yourself a decent camera body and spend more on the lens. Lenses last forever while camera bodies are constantly changing. Granted, this is¬†only if you are truly set on the manufacturer. Different lenses come with different mounts (i.e. a MFT lens won’t fit on a EF camera), so it’s best to think ahead of time. Furthermore, lenses built for cropped sensors won’t exactly work for full-frame sensors, so you need to think ahead as well for this.

If you are just getting started, I would recommend purchasing a camera body with a kit lens while renting lenses when you have to. This will let you get a feel for things and see if you should make any changes.

Always Try Before You Buy

try   8 Tips You Should Know Before Buying Your Next Digital Camera

As with lenses, try as many cameras as you can before you get set on buying one. You could visit your local camera shop or even ask a friend to borrow one for a day. This prevents buyer’s remorse and allows you to test things before you actually end up committing yourself. It will also educate you as a buyer.

While you’re at the store (or borrowing), check the build on the camera. Does it seem cheap? Too plastic-y? If you can sacrifice a cheap build to save a little cash, then that’s your prerogative. I’ve done it before, so it’s no big deal. Furthermore, see how much control you have over the images. Browse the menus and see how many options you’re offered. Is there a button for each feature for quick access, or do you have to dig through the menus to get to each and every little thing?

Furthermore, if you are purchasing a camera with a fixed lens (rather than interchangeable ones), compare the clarity of each one you try. Does the image seem soft? How sharp are the features on your subject?

Renting Is An Option

rent   8 Tips You Should Know Before Buying Your Next Digital Camera

Going right along with trying before you buy, you can actually¬†rent cameras and lenses for a discounted rate. If you have the cash, you can visit your local camera rental shop, or test things out by using LensRentals or BorrowLenses¬†if you don’t have anything local. Sometimes renting isn’t worth it based on your budget, but depending on your situation, they might be.

Your Phone Can Work

phone   8 Tips You Should Know Before Buying Your Next Digital Camera

Last but not least, check yourself before you decide you need a camera. What you need may actually be right in front of you in the form of your smartphone. Many people I know have opted to use their phone rather than purchase a camera, so try and see if this applies to you. Depending on the situation, a smartphone can work just as well as a camera.

Then again, your smartphone may not offer some of the “flashy features” that cameras have. For instance, there’s GPS-tracking, and this can help you mark down¬†where exactly you took a photo for later reference. Then there’s the ability to connect to WiFi by these cameras. What this means is you can sometimes offload videos onto a hard drive¬†while shooting, or you can use your smartphone with the camera to control settings from the palm of your hand using a specialized app.

Conclusion

Honestly, I hope that this article has helped you, and for those of you who know a bit about cameras, I welcome you to add onto what I said here. Realistically, we can’t provide you with everything you need to know about how to use a camera. I mean, there are university majors for that, and people are paying thousands of dollars each year just to make that happen. However, we can help you pick out the right one.

What other things should you consider when buying a camera? What else would you like to know?

Image credit: Nomadic Lass, Peter Stevens, Tahir Hashmi, Jung-nam Nam, jp1958, Etienne Vilois, Sascha Grant, Bob Bekian, Joel Dinda, delta16v, John Ragai

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23 Comments - Write a Comment

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Mandip Das

Very nice article, well done. I am considering buying either Nikon D5100 or Canon EOS 600D in a few days. I don’t care about video photography much! Love to shoot black and white photos. What do you think, which one would be best for me?

Tom

Each of those has its trade-offs in the world of monochrome.

The Nikon has better Low-light and dynamic range (not by much), which are very important for black & white, but the canon has higher resolution, and IMHO the crop factor is better.

but if you are only shooting black and white, go nikon.

Disclaimer: I own a canon.

GF

> Love to shoot black and white photos

Congratulations for your tastes. Fascination of B/W is incomparable.

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Jon

For some reason, I can no longer sign in, so I’m posting without signing in…

Your article is quite disappointing on the mirrorless front. You said, “Mirrorless cameras are on the rise as the next generation of semi-professional cameras, but they still are in the early stages of development.” And then you posted three cameras–three of the youngest systems on the market, and you didn’t say one word about the system that started it all, and is only truly mature system that actually has a number of decent bodies by multiple manufacturers as well as a huge assortment of lenses–namely micro 4/3rds system. What’s up with that? Please edit your article to actually do your readers a service, and include something about this system. Not mentioning the system that started the entire “mirrorless” revolution is more than a mere oversight. It’s a travesty.

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Onaje A

Great info. People who would like to go Pro need this. Thanks.

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Jolie

Can you please suggest a point and shoot camera for indoor and outdoor sport photography, zoom and settings also?

Alan T

This sort of depends a lot on is you want to go all the way to the megazoom level. If you do cameras like the Canon SX50 or the Sony DSC HX300 have huge zoom ranges, burst shooting. If you want to include Geo tag data then the Sony DSC HX200V or the Nikon P520.
Want a smaller camera that will fit into your pocket, something like the Sony DSC HX 10V or the one I use the DSC HX 9V.

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Tim Gray

What about the size of the sensor? This can make a difference to the quality of the image (for example, the subtlety of colours). As important as 12 megapixel plus resolution. This is another reason why ‘full size’ ‘SLR’-type digital cameras have better quality images (and why they’re more expensive): they can easily fit in a larger size of sensor – eg the size of a 35mm negative. Some smaller ‘compact’ type cameras have larger sensors now and, if possible, it would be worth paying a little more for those (eg some Panasonic Lumix and Sony compacts have larger sensors). Unfortunately, the information on the sensor size of the camera is not often given in the specification data given on nmost websites.

Alan T

Fully agree with Tim, the sensor size is often the reason that your phone may not take as good a picture as a camera. It isn’t that the phone manufacturer wouldn’t like to use bigger sensors (as the latest Nokia demonstrates), it is just the physical size of the phone restricts it. Also,most cameras have dedicated software where as phones have to share the system, this can result in problems and image issues. For me I love my phone for pictures as I always have it but when possible I carry a Sony compact zoom in my pocket.

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Rob H

The category of camera I prefer is missing – or else bracketed somewhat dismissively with point and shoot.

My priority is that I can have a camera capable of good shots with a reasonable degree of control (speed/aperture etc) and with me always in a shirt pocket.

For me that’s the Lumix TZ range, streets ahead of the best cell-phone cameras – it does have a “point and shoot” mode but it’s a pretty smart one pretty reliable if you need to grab a quick shot when an opportunity suddenly arises.

“Shirt pocket” digital cameras range from maybe as little as USD30 to over USD300. Needless to say the USD300 models have much more to offer.

Another issue I’d highlight is water resistance. Any camera with an extending lens, is susceptible to just a few raindrops which can get taken into the mechanism when the lens retracts and risk internal damage, possibly just condensation that will dry out but maybe worse.

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Dornie

The weight of a camera and lens is important especially if your traveling or just walking around without a tripod. After a while the camera can become very heavy and burdensome affecting your shooting. Cameras can vary from a few ounces up to several pounds. It can be uncomfortable holding up a camera waiting for that certain shot. As you get older a heavy camera becomes more of a problem.

Ron

Then there is the point and shot that do a raw image and fits in your shirt pocket.

It hard to please everyone. No matter what you write on you will leave someone out. Good Job!

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Sassah122 S

I’m not sure what you mean here “Then again, your smartphone may not offer some of the ‚Äúflashy features‚ÄĚ that cameras have. For instance, there‚Äôs GPS-tracking, and this can help you mark down where exactly you took a photo for later reference.” iPhones and some androids have great GPS features.

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BChap

The article is somewhat dated, in that the Canon SX260 reference should be changed to SX280 which has signficantly upgraded features. That’s what a normal person would look at today. I am a fan of Canon, myself.

As good as the Canon is, a comparison buyer will find the Olympus SH-50 has even better performance, such as a faster lens, and better macro closeup distance. The latter would be better in low light situations. Other features like an HDR mode, and real-time panaromic stitching send the Olympus over the top, in my opinion.

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AP

In every category you have mentioned few names except cameras in smartphones , I think HTC ultrapixel and NOKIA’s pureview cameras which are best in my opinion.

Fritz Pinguin

I fully agree with the Pureview. I “upgraded” from N8 to 808 Pureview lately and I am just amazed.

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Stephanie S

Joshua, this is an excellent article on buying cameras. I am sure there are others out there but you broke it down pretty well. What I have is what is called a “bridge camera” or at least that is what I was told it is. It isn’t just a point-and-shoot but it is not a DSLR either. It is not mirrorless. It comes with a ton of features (scenes they call them) but what sold me on the camera is that besides the basic “auto” setting, I can change the aperture, the speed, all sorts of choices if I want to get special effects or the ability to fine-tune my photos. Sony and GE (yes, GE!) are two companies that sell this camera. I believe that they are same camera after seeing my granddaughter’s best friend’s Sony (I have the GE). Everything is the same except the brand etched on front. Anyway, I am curious if you know where this type of camera fits? Thanks for a great article.

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Jon B

Good article, and quite useful. I’d be interested in your view on how important sensor size is in selecting a camera. In particular in the compact market. I notice Canon make a model with a near SLR sized (18 x 14 mm) (the PowerShot G1X). Is this feature a significant improvement or advantage?

Paul R

The sensor size affects the field of view: so, in short reply to you, yes, compared to smaller sensors it will be technically superior. Whether the difference is noticeable it is difficult to say.
The traditional standard comes from the world of film when the ‘size’ of the sensor was a 35 x 24 mm film frame. In simple terms the bigger the sensor the wider the field of view. This is much easier to explain with a diagram but it basically means that a compact camera with a small sensor needs a wider angle lens (shorter focal length) than its 35mm predecessor or a full frame DSLR.
Using a straight edge (ruler) draw 3 parallel lines across a sheet of paper.(with the long edge of the paper vertical). Put the first near the top, the second about 6 inches down the page and the third about 2 inches below the second.Mark the centre of the second line and put four marks on the top line two about 1 inch in from either edge and two about 2 inches from each edge. Now draw lines from each point on the top line through the midpoint of the second line and on to the third line. Looking at this simple diagram the top line represents the ‘view’, the second line is the front of the camera lens and the third line is the plane of the sensor. The proportions will not be correct of course but this should give you an understanding of how a bigger sensor will see a wider field of view.
In the 35mm SLR world it was usually accepted that a 50mm primary lens would provide a field of view similar to natural vision. Put that lens on a full frame DSLR (Canon makes two the 1D and the 5D) and it achieves the same result. Put the same lens on a 600D (with a crop factor of 1.6) and it will behave like an 80mm lens on a full frame. Or, put the other way, to achieve a ‘natural’ view you would need about a 31mm (say 28mm) lens to achieve the same result. The G1X has a crop factor of approximately 2 so (not having seen one) I would suggest it has a lens with a focal length near 25mm. A smaller sensor would require an even wider angle lens. In general (with a simple lens such as on compact cameras the wider the angle the more distortion is likely at the edges. Taken to extremes this can become an issue but once again whether the difference is noticeable between one compact and another is difficult to say. Hope this helps, or other readers.

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Denis

After having lots of high quality SLR’s etc I now have a Panasonic HD Camcorder and find it extremely versatile for both stills and movies – compact handy quick plenty of settings takes a 7mp still and HD video great zoom, excellent in low light – Worth considering I would probably never buy a still camera again :)

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Ron D

Any chance that you could do the same sort of thing for camcorders?

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Paul R

Interesting article, and quite useful.
Seeing the first pic of what looks like a 35 mm bellows camera from another era reminds me of some useful comparisons. Smartphone cams are the pin-hole cameras of today., compacts are the box brownies and SLRs akin to bellows and plate cameras. While these comparisons are not quite fair they provide a useful comparison between the tiny lens fixed focus fixed aperture smartphone cams, the bigger lensed compacts with a variety of possible aperture focal length and shutter speed mixes, and the even bigger lensed SLR with additional control over focal length , aperture and shutter speed.
If you want convenience and all-in-one portability for snapshots get a smartphone. If you want better control over your pictures stick with an ordinary CP and spend the rest on a good compact or entry level DSLR – although you will lose the connectivity of a smartphone you may gain the time to take more enjoyable photographs.

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Lynn

I already have a canon DSLR and am looking for a smaller high quality camera to carry around with me in my purse. I want a small camera in addition to already using my phone for photos. What do you think of the sony-cybershot-dsc-rx100-ii?

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