How to Buy a Digital Camera

How to Buy a Digital Camera

How to Buy a Digital Camera
How to Buy a Digital Camera

A common mistake I see most folks looking to purchase a digital camera make is getting suckered into buying a camera that is beyond what they really need and require. Peer pressure also often plays a major part when choosing your first camera and hence, here are some questions you need to ask yourself before making that first, all important purchase of your photographic career.

  • What do you need the camera for?
  • What type of photography would you be indulging in? (Portrait, Landscapes, Macro, Sport, Wildlife, Street etc.)
  • What conditions would you be largely photographing in? (indoors, outdoors, low light, bright light)
  • Would you rather largely stay in auto focus mode or would you much prefer to learn the art behind photography?
  • What is your level of experience with cameras?
  • What kind of features are you looking at? (long zoom, image stabilization, large LCD display etc.)
  • How important is size and portability to you?
  • What is your budget?
  • Are you more interested in a camera that requires minimum effort, or is superlative image quality your top priority?

Digital cameras are among the more difficult cameras to purchase. Not only are there hundreds of models to choose from, one also has a number of different types ranging from simple compact point-and-shoot cameras to advanced D-SLRs and mirrorless cameras with interchangeable lenses.

There are five main classes of cameras to consider when shopping for a digital camera:

The Compact Point-and-Shoot

Point & Shoot Camera
Point & Shoot Camera

Since phone cameras have replaced Point-and-shoot cameras, this is a dying breed. Both Point-and-shoot cameras as well as Mobile phone cameras share several common features.

  • They are tiny devices making them easier to carry in your pocket.
  • They sport a tiny sensor with smaller optical zoom quality packed with pixels.
  • Packing higher megapixel makes them pretty noisy if you plan on printing large photographs.
  • They all sport LCD screens, but without an optical pathfinder.
  • Some high end models have a slightly larger sensor and are definitely the better pick of the lot.
  • A Few also sport rugged & waterproof designs with wide angle lens which can be mounted on helmets for extreme sport photography.
  • Most digital cameras don’t have possess manual control or RAW capture capabilities.

When selecting a compact digital camera, close attention must be paid to a few things. A tiny camera packed with 18 megapixels is probably going to suffer in low-light shooting situations as compared to a 12-megapixel because of its sensor resolution. Look for larger sensor compact cameras with manual control if are in a budget and still want compact form factor. If you already possess a smartphone with a good camera, there is no need for another one unless you want rugged & waterproof ones to use in extreme sports or underwater.

Super zoom Cameras or Bridge Cameras

Super-Zoom Camera
Super-Zoom Camera

For those who want to get closer to the action without burning a hole in their wallets, super zoom cameras or bridge cameras are the way to go. Super zooms often look like miniature D-SLRs, and generally include an electronic viewfinder in addition to the rear LCD.

  • They sport a tiny sensor with smaller optical zoom quality packed with pixels.
  • Packing higher megapixel makes them pretty noisy if you plan on printing large photographs.
  • Pay special attention to the quality of the electronic view finder(EVF), as it is much easier to hold the camera steady at your eye than it is at arm’s length.
  • Make sure the EVF quality is suitable for use.
  • When you’ve zoomed all the way in – some models go as far as 1000mm – you’ll need all the help you can get to bag a steady shot. The general rule of thumb is that you need a shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second to get a sharp image at 1000mm.
  • Although good image stabilization will let you get away with higher speed settings, you’ll still need to look for a model that does well at high ISO settings – the lenses on these cameras don’t let in a ton of light when zoomed in all the way, so upgrading the ISO to 1600 or 3200 may be necessary to get a sharp telephoto lens style shot under less-than-ideal light conditions.

A large super zoom can be the perfect travel camera. It won’t offer the image quality of an SLR, but it should beat smaller point-and-shoots and compact super zoom models on photo quality. Not having to carry extra lenses will cut the weight, and a lens with such a large zoom factor will ensure that you’re always able to get your shot. All prospective buyers of lower end D-SLRs should definitely try the cameras in this segment to see if they are suitable for their needs as they tend offer the most high end features with excellent zoom, at a fraction of a D-SLR’s cost.

Range finder – Big Sensor, No Zoom

Range Finders
Range Finders

Back in the days of film cameras, hardcore photographers, who made their living with an SLR would often keep a high-quality pocket camera around. These small shooters generally had a prime lens with a fairly wide aperture.

Now you can get the same type of camera with a digital sensor, called Range finders. The choices are still a little slim. Pros that normally lug around a heavy D-SLR should also take note, as the image quality you can get from these fixed-lens compacts are quite impressive and can save you some serious back breaking when shooting for fun. If you are a street photographer and want to capture street action with minimal fuss and without anyone noticing you, this is the ideal choice. Even though Range finders have not been well explored in the candid wedding photography scenario, it would, in my opinion, make for an ideal camera for such an occasion.

  • Range finders sport a very large sensor (same size as D-SLR sensor)
  • With fixed prime lens, there is no option to change lens.
  • Sport fast aperture lens like f/2
  • Most have separate viewfinder with an EVF
  • The results are on par with a D-SLR
  • The compact form factor makes them very easy to lug around

Mirrorless Compact Interchangeable Lens Cameras

Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera
Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera

For SLR-quality images without the bulk, mirrorless compact cameras are the best option. By foregoing a large penta-prism and mirror mechanism which is used in D-SLRs as an optical viewfinder and replacing it with an electronic view finder, these cameras have lost weight. They allow the use of interchangeable lenses like a D-SLR and hence, are compact alternatives to a D-SLR.

When looking to buy a mirrorless camera, one needs to decide on how many lenses one plans on purchasing. At this point, Micro Four Thirds is the most complete system in terms of available lenses, but Samsung and Sony are actively adding glass to the NX and E-mount systems. The Canon EOS M, Nikon 1, and Pentax Q systems have the fewest lenses available. Many mirrorless cameras allow you to mount legacy lenses via adapters – you’ll just have to live with a manual focus and aperture control.

Entry-level models generally handle just like a point-and-shoot, though they lack an eye-level electronic viewfinder, while the upper echelon of cameras handle more like D-SLRs with plenty of control buttons.

Most mirror less cameras have sensors that are smaller than D-SLRs, so you’ll want to test how a particular model performs at higher ISO settings.
While some can keep up with larger cameras, most others cannot. You’ll also need to take a look at the camera’s speed – most deliver decent bursts of shooting at around 3 frames per second, but autofocus speed can be a concern. As of now even though they have features similar to D-SLRs, they are priced similar to lower end D-SLRs which is a major hurdle in adapting these cameras.

If you are looking for all the D-SLR features in a compact form factor, then amirror less camera probably is ideal for you. If you are into action, sports or wildlife photography, where one needs quick autofocus and burst speeds, then these cameras for not for you. Go the D-SLR route, instead.

Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera(D-SLRs

Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera
Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera

For traditionalists who want the ultimate in shooting control and image quality, Digital SLRs are the best option. These cameras are bigger, heavier, and more expensive than others – but also offer the largest image sensors, fastest focus speeds, and the widest variety of lenses. Like a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, you’ll have to stick to lenses that are compatible with a specific camera. Canon and Nikon have the most complete selections. Sony keeps adding to a good library of lenses. Chances are that, as a first time D-SLR buyer, your camera will come with a kit lens from the manufacturer – but if you have a very specific optic in mind, it’s best to ensure that it’s available in the lens mount you desire and at a price you’re comfortable at.

Sensors come in two sizes; if you’re looking at a camera that’s priced at less than $1,800, it will have an APS-C sensor, which has less than half the surface area of a 35mm film frame. High-end enthusiast and pro-models use full-frame sensors, which closely match the 35mm film. Each system has its strengths: APS-C wins on price, it can use lighter lenses that don’t offer enough coverage to be used with a full-frame camera, and photographers who often shoot at extreme telephoto distances appreciate the cropped field of view that appears to give legacy lenses a longer reach.

If you can test a camera before purchasing it, you absolutely should. Each manufacturer has a slightly different way of doing things – so, for example, you may find yourself comfortable with the controls on a Canon, but not on a Nikon, or vice versa. Another aspect to check out in person is the camera’s viewfinder. Entry-level SLRs use penta-mirror finders, which are not as large or bright as the penta-prisms installed in pricier D-SLRs.

Sony is the odd man out when talking about viewfinders – all of its D-SLRs, including the high-end models, use electronic viewfinders. This is because they have fixed mirrors that don’t move while shooting – the camera merely speeds up autofocus and burst shooting speeds, but precludes the use of an optical finder. Whether or not you’ll be happy with an EVF is a personal preference – some shooters are very happy with them, others will settle for nothing less than an optical finder.

Full-frame cameras are heavier and more expensive, but they more than make up for the bulk with their incredible array of features. They’re capable of capturing photographs with an extremely shallow depth of field, blurring your subject’s background.

If you buy a higher-end APS-C camera or a full-frame D-SLR you’ll have the option of buying it as a body only- which is to say, without a lens. This lets you choose which lens best suits your style. Some full-frame cameras are available with a bundled zoom lens, but it’s of much higher quality than the low-end 18-55mm kit zoom.

Remember that buying a camera does not stop soon after purchasing a D-SLR or a perfect Mirrorless. You will be forced to shell out for lenses. Most manufacturers of low end D-SLRs price their cameras along with a basic kit lens (18-55mm) at a lower price range. This price range often seems attractive to most photography enthusiasts to jump into the world of D-SLR cameras. If your friends are shutterbugs, there is also a peer pressure to get a D-SLR, against other types of cameras which are considered inferior by most photography enthusiasts.

Ideally, if your enthusiasm persists, you should soon outgrow the 18-55 lens as you start exploring the world of photography and you eventually end up spending quite a bit on the lenses. If you do not plan on pursuing photography as a hobby, beyond a few casual captures, stick with the basic lens. Else prepare your wallet for a surprisingly large budget, in the near future for purchasing all the lenses and accessories required for your hobby.

If you want all the additional lenses and the focal length, but are on a short budget, a better alternative would be to opt for a super zoom or bridge camera. These will satisfy your lens requirements as well as help you to learn the basics of photography and while they may not be able create large size prints, they’ll still be able to give you a substantially better capture than a low end D-SLR with a basic kit lens would. This is especially true if you’re keen on exploring wildlife photography.
Later on, when you have sufficiently large budget, you can explore your hobby to your heart’s content by purchasing a mid-range D-SLR with choice of lenses.

As you have noticed, I have not really named any specific models or brands in this article. They are up to you to make a wise decision after reading all the reviews, taking your budget into consideration as well taking the points I have mentioned above.

6 thoughts on “How to Buy a Digital Camera”

  1. Informative and I was thinking to comment that why you have taken Canon 5D Mark 3 why not Nikon D800 but after reading last conclusion lines I can’t ask that question.

  2. Very nice write up doc,it will help many I hope.
    Though you have not mentioned any specific make/model,I would like to say “Pictures tells the story which the text cant” 😉 .

    Keep helping. 🙂
    Thank you,

  3. “E VF quality is suitable”, how is it done easily ? Is there any sort of rating for that too ?

  4. Very Informative and Very clear.
    If you could write a short Review on some models , that would be fantastic 🙂

  5. Dear Raveendra Shastri,
    I have done few reviews of some of the cameras I use. The photography literature is full of such reviews. I will try my best to review few of my acquisitions as I purchase.
    Thanks for visiting my website and liking it 🙂

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