Dear Pops – How To Buy a Camera
Here’s a question from a Facebook friend…
I want to pick up a pocket camera. What kind do you recommend? I have an SLR digital camera already. I just want this for carrying along with me.
It would be hard for me to recommend a particular brand and model out of the hundreds of cameras available. People have varying wants, needs and budgets. What I can do, is tell you how I would go about choosing and buying a camera for myself.
The first thing I would do is take my time. Unless you have to buy a camera for some event tomorrow, give yourself some time to research and shop. The camera you buy will likely be with your for, at least, a couple of years. The right choice will yield great photos and lasting memories. The wrong choice will only frustrate you and end up on a shelf in the back of a closet.
If I were looking for a new camera, I’d start shopping around. Visit a few stores, watch the sale flyers, browse your favorite online retailers. Get an idea for whats out there.
While you’re shopping, compare common digital camera features and begin to make a list of what you want/need a camera to have.
Important considerations for a digital camera I might buy:
Am I going to be buying AAs or AAAs or does it have its own rechargeable battery pack? I prefer the rechargeable battery pack. I’d also like to know how long the batteries it uses will last before having to be replaced/recharged. Manufacturers sometimes rate battery life by the number of pictures you should get on a fresh battery. I’d reduce their estimate by a third.
On an inexpensive, point-and-shoot camera, you’re not going to get a high quality lens, but you still want as good as you can get. Every image has to pass through that lens to get to the camera’s sensor. You also need to decide if zoom is important to you. When shopping for zoom, only give consideration to “optical zoom.” “Digital Zoom” is a marketing gimmick and virtually useless to a photographer. Digital zoom simply crops the image; something better done with your photo editing software.
I prefer a camera that uses SD cards because my computer accepts them. Other types of memory media are fine, as long as its compatible with the card reader you will use to download images. Many cameras don’t need a card reader; you simply plug in a USB cord to download the images to your computer. When you buy the camera, be sure to buy enough memory for the number of photos you might take in a single outing.
I would be looking for a major brand-name camera. There are plenty no-name cameras that entice you with a long list of features at low prices. They rarely deliver on the promises boldly printed on the package. Pick a camera from a company with a reputation for good cameras. Of course, you could always gamble and maybe you’ll get lucky…or not.
After you’ve done your research and found a camera that offers the features you want at a price you’re willing to pay, look for detailed reviews. There are people who know a lot more about cameras than I do – with the expertise and tools to uncover the good, bad and ugly of any digital camera. Before I’d buy any camera, I would look at the reviews offered by independent experts. I’m not interested in reviews that simply serve up the manufacturer’s marketing materials. I want unbiased, detailed testing and review. Three sites I like are www.dpreview.com, www.imaging-resource.com, and www.digitalcamerareview.com. (There are plenty of others on the web.) Go to these sites and type a camera brand and model into the search box, and you’ll likely get a full review, complete with image samples. You can also look for cameras they recommend in the price range your interested in. When trying to choose between a couple of different models, these sites can help you compare them side-by-side.
My final step is to look at what actual users are saying about the camera. I like going to Amazon.com because of their Customer Reviews. I’ll look at the ratings and some of the experiences customers share. You can learn quite a bit from someone else’s hands-on, real-world experience.
If I were in the market for a new camera, that’s the approach I’d take. In fact, when I was ready to upgrade from my 5-year-old Kodak a few months ago, I went through this process. I hadn’t been in the camera market for 5 years, so I had to educate myself. I looked at a number of cameras and narrowed it down to three – a Canon, a Nikon and a Sony. There’s no way I could have made the best choice just by browsing the electronics department of a discount store for a good price. On a store shelf, they all look good; they’re all on sale. The Sony I bought (and love) wasn’t even available at the local retail outlets I shopped.
If you have some camera buying tips or suggestions for Julie, feel free to comment below.