Buying a digital camera and researching models can be very time-consuming. This article aims to reduce the time you spend searching.
Whether planning to buy your first camera or just looking around for an upgrade, there are so many options to choose from – and so many things to keep in mind. Here are the most important points to think about when you buy a new camera.
It is always a good idea to have a fixed amount in mind. When looking through different offers and promotions, it is often easy to slip off and spend more money than planned – but if you keep to the budget (and don’t go more than 10 % over it), you would look more carefully and always ask yourself ‘Do I really need this?’
New or used
This decision affects the budget, so you really need to have a strong argument why you need a new camera – do you want the extended warranty, or you have concerns the previous owner could have dropped it or used it on the beach? Or do you prefer to pay less and take something that has already been tried and used – so you won’t be surprised with a defect item that needs returning to the manufacturer.
It’s not just an accessory – in most cases, a bag is a must for the camera you are buying. Check if you can use your old bag (if you have one), or if the new one comes with a bag. But make sure you have an appropriate way to store and carry the camera around, and to protect it from rain, dust and scratches.
Size matters – even more for digital cameras. Larger cameras weigh more, they are more easily recognized (which is not good for street photography and concerts, if that’s what you primarily use the camera for). They are often more expensive, and with more complicated controls. So if you are a newbie, ask yourself what you really need. Of course, the opposite is also true: if you are looking for more control and better image quality, then pocket cameras are probably not the thing for you.
Some cameras have their own Li-Ion battery which comes with a dedicated charger. Others use standard AA batteries – so wherever you are in the world, you can buy a new pack of batteries and start taking pictures.
Automatic vs. manual controls
Depending on your background, skills and interests, you can choose between cameras with automatic only controls, semi-automatic, or manual. Of course, all consumer cameras (and even the professional ones) have an automatic mode – but not all of them allow for manual controls. Ask yourself if you need to be able to fine tune exposure, aperture, shutter speed and ISO – or you don’t mind the camera deciding for you.
More and more cameras are now capable of recording in RAW format. It gives you more control over the picture quality, and it is an uncompressed file. But of course, that takes up much more space, and more importantly – takes a lot of time to edit. If you need RAW, then the next question is can the camera shoot in RAW + JPEG – because you might find it more convenient. But if you take hundreds of photos and are not really bothered by editing them, then you probably only need JPEG.
Even smartphones can record video – so you’d probably want to be able to do that with your digital camera, too. You need to decide if you want HD or you are OK with an SD (standard definition) camera. Bear in mind that HD sometimes only means more size and more problems with editing, playback and encoding – if your camera lens is not good enough, or you only shoot videos at low light conditions (resulting in bad picture quality), you may not need HD.
The other important aspect of video is sound – if you intend to record videos, you should check out the sound quality. Stereo is not crucial for built-in microphones – but definitely review some test footage, and do it with headphones on. You don’t want crisp visuals with poor sound – more and more cameras ship with decent microphones, so make sure yours is one of these models.
Contrary to popular belief, more megapixels don’t always mean better picture quality. If two cameras have the same sensor size but one of them has more megapixels, it means that they just made each pixel smaller. In this case, the camera with less megapixels should be the choice. Moreover, better resolutions are usually only needed for professional photography and print – ask yourself how often you print and to what paper sizes. You shouldn’t be paying for megapixels you don’t need. If you do need good picture quality, it’s not the megapixel count you should be looking at – but rather, the camera’s sensor size.
The more optical zoom the camera allows, the more risk there is for camera shake to affect the quality of the photos. So for cameras with 6x or more zoom, image stabilization (IS) is a must. However, cameras with little optical zoom (less than 5x) can work well enough without image stabilization. Also, when you’re using a tripod, image stabilization should be off – so if that’s the primary way you take pictures, you may not need IS.
Focal length and optical zoom of the lens
If you take photos of various objects (landscapes, groups of people, portraits, etc.), you probably use different zoom settings for each of them. The smaller the focal length number, the more wide-angle shots you can make (you fit more objects / people in the frame). The bigger the focal length number, the more you can zoom into a scene without physically moving forward. Think about what types of photos you would be making with the camera and decide on the optical characteristics.
Focus range and macro
If you are a fan of macro photos and close-ups, definitely check the focus range of the camera. You’d be surprised how many people buy a camera to take macro photos of flowers and foliage – only to find out their camera doesn’t support the focus range they need.
Display and viewfinder
If most pictures you take are in bright sunlight and you can rarely see the display, you need to check the brightness of the new camera display. Also, you may choose one with an electronic viewfinder – it shows you the same information as the display, and is less affected by sunlight. If you often take photos from unusual angles, or you don’t want to be noticed by your body language that you’re taking a photo, you should try and find a camera with a twisting display – it makes previewing the shot easier and more convenient.
Of course, the camera will not take the photos for you, so in the end, it’s more important what you do with it than the specific model you’re using. So choose a model, but more importantly: start taking photos with it.