Sunday, March 05, 2006

What camera should you buy?

Over and over again, people who know about my hobby will ask me, "What camera should I get?" I think all of us who have heard this question wish that we had a dollar for every time we've been asked this question.

My standard response is nearly always, "Well, how much do you want to spend?" I've found that what people are really asking me is "How do I get the best camera for the amount of money I want to spend?"

With that said, there's some things to consider when buying a camera these days. Anyone looking to get a camera who doesn't have any idea of the options needs to take these issues into account:
  1. Film vs. digital-dollar for dollar, film cameras are far, far less expensive. If you are on a budget, film is still an excellent option, except that you will pay for film, processing, and prints. With the Internet and computers, digital photography has surpassed film photography in popularity, and the instant feedback is invaluable in getting good photos and learning photography skills. So, choose based on your budget and needs.
  2. How much do you want to spend?--your camera choice is dictated by the cost of equipment. Cameras with more features usually cost more. For digital, increased prices usually means increased resolution (megapixels) and/or features. The cheapest digital cameras may not have a review screen, zoom lens or a built-in flash; a film camera at the same price will have a lot more features. And don't forget about accessories--for example, a digital camera will need memory cards and a single-lens reflex camera is going to need a lens and external hot shoe flash.
  3. What do you want to do with the camera?--If you want to photograph a fast-moving indoor basketball game, your needs are different from the person wanting to photograph the family vacation. Hence, your choice of camera will be dictated by your needs and what you want to do. Consider what you want to do or accomplish and choose your camera accordingly.
  4. Do you already have equipment?--If you have Nikon lenses, choose a product compatible with those lenses. If you have Canon AF lenses, choose a product compatible with those lenses. If you've a collection of Pentax gear, why would you choose a product line that renders that gear useless? Do you have a bunch of memory cards of a specific type? Then try to choose a camera that will use time, unless they are too small or obsolete (like SmartMedia).
  5. Avoid technical dead ends--don't buy technology that's out of date or a dead end. So, don't get a floppy disk camera. For memory formats, compact flash and secure digital are likely to be the big winners. Sony's memory stick is not widely adopted, and therefore is heavily dependent upon Sony for its future. SmartMedia is dead. xD is used by Fujifilm and Olympus, but probably won't last. Low megapixel digitals just don't cut it either-some cell phones now have higher megapixel counts than expensive mid-level digitals of a just 6 years ago (2000). The point is--don't lock yourself into a dead end, or you'll just have to buy another camera anyway.
  6. Actually handle some cameras--each camera is laid out differently. Each camera will feel different in your hands. Go to a store and "test drive" some cameras to see which ones feel right to you, which ones have the buttons in the right place, and which ones you can immediately rule out.
  7. Do some online comparisons--Check out the online camera sites for comparisons and reviews. There's: , , and for starters. You can do price comparisons at and .

So, while making no specific recommendations here, thus saving me from having to update this post each time a new camera is released, I think there's enough here to help guide you in choosing the correct camera for your budget and needs. One thing is for sure--no matter what you buy, something better will eventually come out. Don't let that stop you from enjoying some photography!


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