It’s important to work these things through, and to find the combination of features and price that work for you. And I’ve got some great places to start.
Firstly though, a general rule. Don’t trust anyone who is trying to sell you something. I’ve had more than one example of the sales process getting in the way of the facts. And that’s where the web comes in. Although it’s difficult to trust any one source, you can cross-check easily and comprehensively. Don’t buy a lemon just because you didn’t do the homework.
Get The Low-Down
I’ll use my purchase as an example. I’m a Canon guy, but it’s not a religion. Replacing my 30D with a new model was a matter of weighing up what I did and didn’t want, and what I was and was not prepared to pay for it.
A great place to do this is Digital Photography Review (DPreview). I’ve talked about this before, but it’s always the first place I look. In this case, you can find the camera , a full review, and numerous user forum entries talking about the camera. You can also often get comparisons with similar cameras.
DPreview also provides links to sites that will sell you the camera. They may or may not be useful to you. I like to buy cameras in New Zealand if I can, so I just use those links as helpful pointers for pricing.
Inevitably, unless your camera choice is rather retro, you’re going to need to check out some technical specifications. Dpreview will tell you exactly what is in the camera, but they won’t explain what it all means.
If you need explanations about some of the technology in your biggest purchase of the year, there is nowhere better than Wikipedia to go. It’s dangerous as well though, for two reasons.
First, everything is linked to everything else, and you can forget all about why you went there in the first place. Secondly, it’s not always the most authoritative place around, but most of the disagreements relate to things other than established technical standards, so you should be on safe ground.
For instance, in my case I was going to need to upgrade memory cards. My old and valued EOS 30D used the same broad range of Compact Flash (CF) cards, but my 4GB cards weren’t going to be much use with a camera that creates 30MB RAW images.
DPreview and a number of other sources mentioned about how the 7D supports UDMA, and Wikipedia was able to provide enough information to tell me that it didn’t really matter a whole lot unless I was planning on serious sports photography or HD video. I was born without a sports gene, so it’s less than likely, and I could cross that off my must-have list.
Turns out, by the way, that some 133X CF cards would do the trick, so I now have a Kingston 16GB one, along with a 32GB. Early days yet, but they seem to be great!
It turns out that, so long as the camera you are considering isn’t really new, some of the best advice comes from people who use them. So make use of the community.
You know how fond I am of Flickr, and they certainly have the weight of numbers, but they don’t tend to be the most technical of photographers. There are some exceptions though, and Flickr seems to have a group for everything.
There’s a significantly higher geek quotient to be had at Photo.net, and they have forums for everything.
For instance, there’s a Canon EOS forum that deals with a whole range of Canon SLRs, and huge numbers of helpful people are actively involved in there.
All of these places are filled with people who have opinions. Some are researched, balanced and helpful. Others are seriously biased and illogical. It’s best to take it all with a degree of cynicism, and to check up on anything that sounds suspicious.
I know I said three places, but I wanted to add a little friendly advice. Something to take on your journey.
Please don’t research and purchase a camera online without actually touching an example of the model you want to buy. You can confirm as many tech features as you like, but if it turns out that the viewfinder irritates your eye, or the screen flickers, or it’s just too damn heavy for your little hands, you’d be much better to find that out before the purchase is being drip-fed from your hard-earned income.
If you are purchasing something which you might need some help with later, it could be well worth it to buy the camera from an actual store. Somewhere that they know what they are doing, and can offer good advice. You know. The place where you touched the camera.
That’s it. Oh, the 7D? It’s amazing.
Have you purchased any camera gear lately? Have any horror stories or advice? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.