Welcome to (The Occasional) Photo Tip of the Day! Please also visit my main site jeffwignall.com. Text and photographs Copyright 2016 Jeff Wignall.

“The best way out is always through.”

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Help with Buying a Digital Camera

If you're thinking of buying someone (or yourself) a new digital camera this holiday season, you know what a confusing task it can be! It seems like newer cameras with more features are introduced everyday (it seems that way and it's probably true). In addition to the help below, I've have a written a camera-buying guide that you'll find on my website and it might help you sort things out a bit.

One of the things that changes rapidly is just the types or categories of cameras available--while you once only had to choose between a point-and-shoot or a DSLR (digital single-lens-reflex), now there are  new categories like advanced zoom cameras, mirrorless DSLR cameras and, of course, some very sophisticated cell-phone cameras. While my buying guide doesn't make specific camera suggestions, it does provide an overview of camera types/categories and what you should for and what you can expect from each type of camera. 

Whenever someone asks me (which is almost every day!) which camera to buy I suggest that they make a list of things they need from a new camera to help them narrow down not only the type of camera that will best suit their needs, but even help with comparing specific brands and models. If you take a few moments to answer the questions below, you'll find that choosing a camera will probably come down to just a few different models and your job will be a lot simpler. Here are the primary things I think you should consider:

  • How much do you want to spend on a camera?
  • Is the camera for you or is it a gift?
  • Is size and weight a big consideration?
  • Do you want to carry this camera in a purse or pocket or are you willing to carry a shoulder bag just for your camera?
  • How long have you been taking pictures?
  • Do you have a passion for photography? (Or does the person you're giving it to?)
  • What subjects do you want to photograph? 
  • Do you mainly want to shoot snapshots of the family, or are you hoping to photograph specialty subjects like sports, wildlife, birds, etc.?
  • Do you want to add more lenses at some future date?
  • Do you want the power of an accessory flash or is a built-in flash powerful enough (keeping in mind the range of a built-in flash is probably limited to 12' or so)?
  • Does a camera that's waterproof matter? (If you live near the beach, that might be a consideration.)
  • What brands do you feel comfortable with? Generally people feel more confident buying a brand that they already own or use--or that a friend suggests. Most of us are very brand loyal. I use Nikon DSLR cameras, for example, but own Canon, Olympus and Kodak point-and-shoot and zoom cameras. I like them all.
  • Does image-stabilization (anti-camera-shake technology) mean a lot to you? If your hands aren't steady or if you shoot in low light a lot, that might be a big consideration.
  • Do you want to download photos via wireless technology? (A growing trend.)
  • Does the color of the camera matter? (What?!)
  • Finally, are you going to replace this camera a year from now when something new comes out?
Answer these questions and you'll have a much better picture of what you or your lucky friend wants and needs. I strongly suggest that you print out these questions and jot down your answers and then bring the page with you to the camera store. These are some of the questions that a good camera salesperson will want to ask you and if you have the answers ready, it can save you (and them) a lot of time--and probably save you some money. And prepared customers get much better customer service from busy salespeople.

One other question I get asked a lot is whether it's better to buy a camera locally or online. Good question! If you have a good local camera shop, I strongly suggest you go see them (and go on a weekday morning and you'll get a lot more personal attention) because nothing beats good advice from an experienced camera salesperson. I don't like big box stores or electronic stores--the people there have to know too much about too many products to keep up--and lots of them are on commission. But I also buy a lot of gear online and I find it very helpful to read others' reviews on sites like Amazon Search Amazon.com for digital cameras because you get to read honest reviews based on personal experiences. Yes, some reviews are stupid and talk more about shipping experiences than the cameras, but most are about the product and are very useful.

Also, places like B&H (highly recommended--see ad in the side margin) and Amazon (highly recommended) have the best prices you'll find. Personally, I'm often willing to pay a little more for in-person service, but for speed and cheap prices, you can't be a good online site. But know the site before you buy--never buy online strictly by price. There are a lot of scam sites out there. Stick with Amazon or B&H.

Feel free to print this article or email it to friends. Email me if you have questions.


Victoria said...

What about if I want it all? ;-) Seriously though, the list you posted of things to think about is REALLY GREAT! (in my case, I went with Nikon because it's what I know... and picked the D90 SLR because it could take the lenses from my D55 film camera and I wasn't ready yet to spring for a newer telephoto... which I'm now seriously considering after realizing distant images of birds were lacking with current equipment. (Thanks for the nice note the other day with suggestions for fall foliage locations in New England... do let me know if you ever decide to organize a photo shoot in that area... who knows... I might just come up for it!)

Jeff Wignall said...

Hi Victoria!

Wow, someone actually reads my blog!!! I get so few comments I've been wondering if anyone did and seriously considering stopping it. And yeah, those birds a tiny you have to glue their feet to the branch to make them stand still while you photograph them, that's the trick. Either a really long lens or really fast hands and a good hot-glue gun. Personally, being lazy, I've got a collection of stuffed birds that I just wire up in a pretty tree and shoot all day from a lawn chair while eating a chicken sandwich. Sometimes other birds fly in to see what's going on, but I shoo them away so they don't ruin my compositions. jw