8 Tips You Should Know Before Buying Your Next Digital Camera

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Regardless 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 BekianJoel Dinda, delta16v, John Ragai

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Comments (24)
  • Kishore

    Dear Everyone,
    I would like to buy a camera only for taking pictures.
    I prefer best photo quality resolution.
    Please suggest me 2 or 3 model cameras and please suggest me suitable lenses aswell.
    My budget is roughly 800$ only for body.
    Thanks
    Best regards
    Kishore

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • Ron D

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

  • 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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This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.