With so many digital cameras and each one seemingly having its own special features , ratings and advantages, it's important to look at what you need out of a camera before going out and buying one. It's also important to know what the numbers the salesperson is talking about actually means.
#1 What type of camera do you need?
There are basically four types of camera's to choose from.
COMPACT - If mobility is your main concern and you don't worry about being able to control the features manually I would say go for a compact camera. This is the most popular type of camera and is very easy to use.
The spectrum of this type of camera is huge ranging from a cheap aim and shoot to relatively expensive camera's that has most of the user control of a much more expensive camera.
The image quality ranges from horrible to excellent , so it's important to research what your buying. Generally my rule of thumb is , the larger the camera , the better the image quality.
ENTHUSIAST - These types of camera's try to be a midway between a compact and a SLR camera. The image quality is comparable with a high end compact camera and the features like manual controls normally resemble a slr camera more than a compact camera.
As the name implies this is a good camera for users that want to move towards a hobby photographer. Moving from this camera to a slr is easier than to move from a compact to a slr camera as the features are very similar. Image quality is good to excellent and
SUPERZOOM CAMERA - These camera's are normally very similar to a enthusiast camera but includes at least a 10x optical zoom. Most of these camera's also include image stabilization which is a must when zooming above 5x. The image quality on these camera's are good to excellent and for the price it is a good buy.
DIGITAL SLR - These are the best and most expensive camera you can buy. The price ranges from high to ridiculous and the most people who use this camera are professional photographers and advanced hobby photographers.
They include many manual controls and have the option of attaching many lenses , filters , flashes and other accessories. Unless you are going to be using manual settings and need excellent quality for your pictures , I would not really recommend you buy a dSLR camera.
#2 What to look for in a camera
There are basically 12 things to look at to ensure you buy a good digital camera for you needs.
- Sensor Size / Mega Pixel Rating
- Optical Zoom
- Digital Zoom
- Image Quality
- Recycle Time
- Image Storage Options
- Features and Controls
- Battery Life
- Compression Applied
#1 - Sensor Size
There is a great misconception that the bigger the MP rating , the better the picture. This is a half truth. While a 1MP camera does not offer the same image quality as a 10MP camera , it all depends on what your going to do with your images. For printing a ID sized photo , the 1MP will do the same job as the 10MP camera.
If your going to be printing normal photo's , a good size to look for is anything above 6MP. Unless you want to print poster sized photo's , you don't need a 13MP camera. The extra Mega-pixels are useful for when you want to crop photo's without losing too much of the image quality.
#2 - Optical Zoom
Optical zoom is the type of zoom you want. It means that the lens enlarges the photo and thus , the image quality is not reduced.
#3 - Digital Zoom
Digital zoom is a marketing tool. What it does is physically enlarges to picture like zooming in on a photo when it's on your computer. This reduces the amount of pixels in the picture and ultimately reduces image quality.
#4 - Image Quality
The image quality does not necessarily relate to the sensor size. A 13MP camera can take horrible photo's while a 7 MP camera can take better photo's. The only real way to judge the image quality is to look at pictures taken from that camera.
There are many factors that influence image quality including the lens quality and the sensor quality.
#5 - Recycle Time
The recycle time is the time that the camera needs between two consecutive shots. This is not a major factor if your going to be shooting mostly still images , but if you are for instance planning on shooting sport events , then your going to want a fast recycle time.
#6 - Ergonomics
If you have large hands like me , your not going to want to use a small camera with small buttons. Basically hold the camera you are planning on buying and see how it fits to your hand. Also check where important buttons are situated and try pressing them to get a feel of how the camera handles.
A good rule of thumb for me personally is if I can hold and operate the camera with one hand , it's going to handle well.
#7 - Image Storage Options
Although most camera's use SDHC cards these days , its necessary to check what cards you can use as some cards are more expensive than others.
#8 - Accessories
Check to see what accessories the camera supports like if it can take lenses and filters , is it tripod mountable , can you attach a external flash and so forth. You should know which accessories you are looking for. Don't be told by a salesperson what you need.
Two accessories that is a must is a camera bag and a lens cap if it's not included with the camera.
#9 - Features and Controls
If you need point and shoot functions , you won't need features like full manual mode. So look for a camera with features that suite your needs.
#10 - Battery Life
See how long the included batteries cost and if you will need to buy a rechargeable set with charger separately from the camera. In general , Litium batteries last longer than Nickle one's and Nickle/alkaline batteries.
Also consider buying a second battery if you think you will need it.
Also think about using a camera that can also use AA batteries which you can buy at a store if you are ever in a tight spot.
#11 - Connectivity
Most camera's use a usb interface to connect to your computer to download the pictures. Check to make sure you won't need to buy a dock or cables separately for cost considerations.
#12 - Compression Applied
Camera's use compression methods to reduce the size of a picture. Most camera's use JPEG compression. When compression is done badly , you will get artifacts that remain on the image and which are visible. Check to make sure you will be able to set the compression manually to improve image quality. Some camera's (mostly DSLR camera's) also include the option to compress the picture to a different format or even to leave it uncompressed (RAW) which will lead to better quality but increased file size.
People often ask me for a recommendation on which camera to buy. Here are my personal recommendations.
- Cannon - Best Point and Shoot camera's.
- Kodak -Very user friendly and impressive image quality and good price. I own a Kodak point and shoot and superzoom and love both camera's.
- Cannon EOS range is a good DSLR camera range.
- For any other recommendation , please leave a comment to this tip and I will reply with a recommendation as there are to many needs and camera's to list here.
Here are a list of camera manufacturers so that you can browse their camera's on their website.KodakSonyPanasonicSamsungFijitsuCanon USACanon GlobalNikonPhillips
That is about everything you need to know when buying a camera. If you have any questions , please feel free to leave a comment and I will respond as soon as possible.