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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 one-size-fits-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.
This is precisely why different cameras exist. Think of cameras as different tools. While all screwdrivers are tools, not all tools are screwdrivers. Even within the realm of screwdrivers, these tools come in different sizes and shapes. Like Phillips versus flat head.
Purchasing a camera is a big deal. 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. Check out these camera buying tips to help you pick out the perfect gear!
There are Quite a Few Types Of Digital Cameras
Like I said, there’s no “do-it-all” camera. Here are a few varieties of cameras that you can purchase:
Point-and-shoots are basic, entry-level digital cameras. However, your smartphone may be as good as or better than certain point-and-shoot cameras. But if you are looking for something that’s purely a camera and not an electronic multi-tool, a point-and-shoot is a solid option.
These are spectacular for those with a rudimentary understanding of cameras. If you want a camera that just works, a point-and-shoot is your top pick. Point-and-shoot cameras mostly utilize automatic operations like auto-focusing, automatic white balancing, and auto-exposure. There’s little to no fiddling, unlike DSLR and mirrorless cameras which cater to power users. As the name suggests, it’s as simple as pointing the camera and shooting a picture. You’ll find them almost anywhere for around $200 or more. If you want a camera that’s capable of taking decent photos on a budget, a point-and-shoot is your best bet.
Here are a few suggestions that you should consider:
The next step up from point-and-shoots is the bridge or Ultra Zoom. While they offer better picture quality and a closer zoom (I’d say anything above 10x), the internal components remain basically the same. Mega Zoom cameras boast the internals of a point-and-shoot with the form factor of a DSLR. Ultra Zoom cameras primarily run on aforementioned automatic functions. Their current incarnation was actually developed as a challenge to the smartphone-versus-point-and-shoot debate. A key feature is its zoom — something most smartphones fail at. Expect Ultra Zoom cameras to clock in at around the $500 mark.
If size (or budget) still matters, compact bridge cameras are available for under $350. These act as a hybrid of the classic point-and-shoot and the Ultra Zoom. Their zoom won’t be as powerful, but they can still be used for events such as concerts and shows.
Here are a few examples of Ultra Zoom cameras:
Mirrorless cameras offer more functionality than Ultra Zoom cameras. Just as the Ultra Zoom is a hybrid of point-and-shoot and DSLR, mirrorless cameras take this concept a step further. Instead of a point-and-shoot in the body of a DSLR, mirrorless cameras offer more functionality in interchangeable lenses. But mirrorless cameras lack a mirror and optical viewfinder — standard features of a DSLR. Notably, mirrorless cameras are perfect for street, candid, and shy photographers.
Mirrorless cameras offer a few advantages over DSLRs. Most obviously, there’s size. A mirrorless option is considerably less bulky than a DSLR. Additionally, autofocus tends to be a strong point among mirrorless cameras. Usually video quality is superb as mirrorless cameras are relatively newer when compared to DSLRs. Similarly, lenses are excellent with modern systems which balance performance and affordability.
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 or more.
DSLRs provide the best picture quality and functionality. However, like other camera options, DSLRs come in several flavors. Entry-level DSLRs (like the current set of mirrorless bodies) start from around $600 and come with fewer features than the pro-level DSLRs. For instance, many entry-level DSLRs lack premium features such as Wi-Fi and weatherization. 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. But you may end up paying more for lenses than the camera body. When picking out a DSLR, make sure you’re getting the most from your DSLR. Also, there’s more you’ll want to consider when using your DSLR for video. Be sure to stock up on DSLR gear, or make your own DSLR gadgets like a remote shutter release.
Megapixels and Zoom Aren’t Everything
Everyone is always asking me about how many megapixels my camera has. However, that’s a little like the megahertz myth. Just as clock rate isn’t everything when selecting a microprocessor, megapixels aren’t the only aspect of a camera which determines quality. 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. Instead of concentrating on megapixels alone, think about autofocus, image stabilization, and sensor size.
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 Mega Zoom, don’t let 20x be the reason you don’t buy a 15x. Yes, it kind of is a big jump. However, 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, pay more attention to the megapixels.
Your Purpose is Important
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? Your intent really matters.
Many of you are reading this may very well want a point-and-shoot or even a Mega Zoom, and this is likely for general. If you don’t plan on touching the manual controls too much and would rather the camera run on auto-pilot, this an excellent justification. It all comes down to one thing: control. Do you want to drive manual or automatic? However, another criteria which purpose brings up is location. If you’re shooting on vacation, you may consider a rugged camera. Nikon even makes a waterproof DSLR. If an indestructible camera is overkill, many DSLRs come with weatherization. Since I shoot a lot of outdoor festivals, I snagged a Pentax K-70 for its water resistance.
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, RAW shooting (which allows for more control during post-processing), and image stabilization. Typically, high-end cameras of any category including point-and-shoot, afford greater control. But mirrorless and DSLR cameras spanning the gammut generally yield full contro. 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
I say this mostly in a light-hearted manner, but you don’t need a big camera. Additionally, you don’t need top of the line equipment. A seasoned eye for photography can more than compensate for high-end gear. This can be said for professionals, too. I use a Pentax K-70 as my main rig. However, often when I’m not using the K-70 I simply use my Samsung Galaxy phone. The quality, particularly in decent light and with little to no zoom, is exceptional. It’s when there are dim lighting and moderate zoom where quality degrades substantially. Even a basic point-and-shoot or bridge camera boasts enhanced quality over a smartphone camera. There’s no need to rush out and buy the latest DSLR for quality photography.
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 pocket. But you won’t have control over the lenses and other manual operations. Chances are the image quality won’t match that of a DSLR, mirrorless camera, or even a robust bridge camera due to a lower resolution, a cheaper lens, and subpar sensor that won’t perform as well in low-light. A camera that allows for interchangeable lenses and manual operations delivers maximum control over the picture. Yet often this increased performance also comes with a beefier body.
Lenses Are Important
I could write an entirely different article about lenses, but a lens is not just a lens. With point-and-shoots and Mega Zooms, you don’t have much say in the matter. However, with mirrorless cameras and DSLRs, lenses are crucial. Lenses carry quite a bit, far beyond merely focal length and aperture. For lenses, the quality of the glass and the image it produces matter greatly. For a complex explanation of lenses, this Wikipedia article is incredibly comprehensive.
Note that lens preference depends on your image taste and is pretty subjective. Immerse yourself in the world of lenses and try as many as you can. Don’t limit yourself to one brand like Nikon and Canon. Test out Zeiss, Rokinon, Sigma, Tamron, etc. Get out there and take a look at what the world has to offer. I opted for a Pentax K-70 for its bevy of features including lens compatibility. Most Pentax bodies deliver compatibility with legacy lenses from older film cameras. That’s a huge win for Pentax as there’s a ton of choice as well as greater affordability of lenses.
If you are absolutely set on your camera brand, get 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. an MFT lens won’t fit on an EF camera), so it’s best to think ahead of time. When selecting a camera body, consider lens compatibility as a key component. Furthermore, lenses built for cropped sensors won’t exactly work for full-frame sensors. As such, this is another facet to selecting a lens.
As a first DSLR, I suggest purchasing a camera body with a kit lens while renting or borrowing lenses when you have to. That way you get a sense of a lens and how it functions with your camera, as well as the photo quality it produces.
Always Try Before You Buy
As with lenses, try as many cameras as you can before buying. You could visit your local camera shop or even ask a friend to borrow their rig. This prevents buyer’s remorse and allows you to test cameras before committing yourself. Plus, there’s the edification 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. Ultimately, the internals of a camera matter more than the externals. Granted, construction does impact longevity. Therefore, build quality can affect function. Construction also matters for certain situations. If you shoot mostly outdoors or in wet climates, you may require a camera that’s weatherized. Furthermore, see how much control you have over the images. Browse the menus and notice which 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? Ease of use is a major factor.
Additionally, if you purchase a camera with a fixed lens, compare the clarity of each one you try. Does the image seem soft? How sharp are the features on your subject? Unlike an interchangeable lens camera, you can’t simply swap out lenses with a point-and-shoot or bridge camera.
Renting is an Option
As with cars, you can rent cameras and lenses for a discounted rate. Just visit your local camera shop. Alternately, test gear out by using LensRentals or BorrowLenses if you don’t have anything local. Renting may be more affordable than buying initially. But the frequency of use and cost of rental equipment might mean that’s not the case.
Your Phone May Work
Finally, check yourself before you decide you need a camera. Try your smartphone camera before snagging a pricier rig. As smartphone technology continues to evolve, better cameras get shoved into phones. It’s increasingly common that consumers simply use phone cameras rather than standalone cameras. Similarly, smartphones morphed into de facto music players. Still, there’s a reason standalone mp3 players persist and that cameras, whether point-and-shoot or DSLR, continue to thrive. Depending on your 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. The biggest shortcomings, however, are typically zoom and low-light performance. For the best smartphone cameras, check out flagship handsets like the Samsung Galaxy S8 or even budget phones like the ZTE Axon 7.
This goes for almost any purchase you make, not merely cameras. Always read reviews. For cameras, look at both reviews from established sites such as CNET, PC Mag, and MakeUseOf. But real-world consumer reviews from the likes of Amazon and Best Buy are fantastic as well. These are more candid and offer a sense of image quality, build quality, and ease of use from the perspective of the average person.
When selecting a camera, there’s a ton to consider. Primarily, camera type is key. Additionally, specific use matters greatly. Budget is a major limiting factor. Depending on your situation, you may choose to spend more on a smartphone with an excellent camera instead of buying a standalone rig. Alternately, you might opt for a point-and-shoot or bridge camera for better quality. Those seeking top-tier functionality and quality look to mirrorless and DSLR options. Remember, look beyond buzzwords like megapixels. Instead, concentrate on specific features and lens quality. Last, read reviews. Never make a purchase without delving into reviews of specific cameras you’re considering. Once you’ve selected your camera, check out this beginner’s guide to digital photography!
Your turn: what camera buying tips do you recommend?