What camera should I buy?
This week I respond to a question we receive all the time.
The second most common question I am asked as a professional photographer is, “What Camera should I buy?”.
Buying a camera is like buying a car - it is a very personal purchase and one you will have to live with for a while. It is not a trivial question. Just like anything, there is a process of elimination that needs to be worked through systematically to come up with the right piece of equipment for each person.
1. What sort of photography do you want to do?
Are you looking to be a professional photographer? Then don’t waste any time or money, buy the best DSLR body and lens you can afford. Unlike other items, with cameras and lenses you DO get what you pay for. To have the best experience at the professional level stick with the top two brands, Nikon and Canon. The main reason these two brands seem to be best is the quality of their lenses. No one can beat their glass.
Do you want to take better photos with a smaller camera? Try the new point-and-shoot camera with removable lens system from Nikon. With Nikon’s traditionally durable bodies, and large selection of Nikkor lenses from which to choose, this should be a pretty good camera system. Once again, you will get the best results from a smaller camera by choosing one with good optical zooms and well made lenses.
Do you want to get great pictures of your friends and family? All you need is a good camera phone like an iphone. As long as you use these cameras properly, they work well and they are always at hand.
2. Features to consider.
a. Batteries, batteries, batteries. The camera won’t work without batteries so they are crucial to the decision. I always recommend that if you plan to travel with your camera that you buy one that uses AA type batteries. You can purchase rechargeable batteries for these cameras if you want to save money, but you can also buy AA’s at a corner store in virtually every country on the planet. Cameras that use 4 AA’s rather than 2 will work longer per battery set and give more service.
b. Screen size for the blind. As I get older and blinder I find that reviewing my photos is easier on a larger screen - duh. If this feature is important to you, choose a camera with a large screen. Quality gets better all the time but they still haven’t figured out how to make LCD screens viewable in sunshine. For this reason I always like my cameras to have an optical viewfinder. Using the viewfinder, rather than using the LCD to compose a photo also saves battery power.
Screen that flips out. I find this feature very important. I have a Canon pocket camera with a screen that twists and spins and it does several things for me. An important one is that it allows you to hold the camera low to the ground or high above your head and angle the screen so you can compose your shot. It also spins all the way around so that when you close it, the LCD is facing the camera and is protected from scratches. You can also twist it all the way around so that it faces you and you can see yourself while you are taking a photo of yourself- very handy for facebook profile pics. I use my flip-n-twist screen all the time.
c. Go for the glass. Just like with DSLR’s, the most important feature of a small digital camera is the quality of the lens. All of the camera bodies use the same parts. What separates them is their lens quality. Go for big names, Nikkor, Canon, Schneider, and Leica.
d. Megapixels vs. Optical Zoom. Megapixels are no longer as important as they used to be. In fact, I find bragging about the number of megapixels your camera has is akin to bragging about the size of..., well you know what. You are better off bragging about the length of your optical zoom which is really what matters. Longer optical zooms will give you better resolution because they are actually the glass in the lens making your composition clear. Digital zooms just take the center part of your photo and make the pixels bigger. They do bring the image “closer” but it will look pixellated and grainy. Also, lots of megapixels just take up lots of room on your computer. I make big 20x30 prints from 4-6 Mb size files all the time. It’s all most people need.
e. Other features to consider. Video is a big deal to lots of people, not so much for me. Video takes up a lot of space on your memory card so if you think you will be shooting lots of video, spend extra money on the biggest card you can afford. Waterproofness is important for lots of people, and sometimes even important to me. When I want waterproof I prefer a camera that has a waterproof case that is designed to work with all of the camera’s features. My Canon point-and-shoot has a wonderfully designed waterproof case and I can use my camera underwater and all of it’s features remain fairly accessible. If waterproofness is important to you, choose a camera that has a proprietary case like this. Otherwise, water resistant is probably enough for most people.
There are lots more things to consider when purchasing a camera. When you take the time to research your purchase and decide for yourself what will be best for you, you also learn about your camera and you will have more fun with it and get better pictures out of it. Remember, it’s not the camera that takes good pictures, it’s the person holding it.