Choosing a New Digital Camera--Nice Guide from Time Magazine
Probably the one question that I'm asked most about digital photography (particularly from Facebook friends) is: What's the best digital camera to buy? I'm always happy to hear the question because it shows that at least some people realize that there are cameras beyond the cell-phone camera in their pocket (an important warning about those in a minute). It's often a tough question to answer because the models seem to change so quickly and also, not all of the best digital cameras are made by the traditional camera makers (Canon, Olympus, Nikon, etc.). Companies like Samsung and Sony, better known as electronics manufacturers than camera companies, make some very respectable cameras--which isn't surprising since (lens design aside) all digital cameras are, in fact, electronic gizmos.
The first thing you have to consider, of course, is price. How much are you willing to invest in your photography? You can get a great compact digital camera for well under $150 and probably even under $100 if you aren't looking for too many features. You can get a great digital advanced zoom camera (essentially an advanced compact with a larger optical zoom and more exposure features in most cases) for around $300. And if you're willing to go to the $500-1,000 range and you want the ultimate in digital-camera flexibility and sophistication, you can get a very good MILC (mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera) or a dSLR. Both of the latter allow you to change lenses.
Time magazine has published a pretty handy introduction to camera buying and it covers the rest of the basics pretty well. One thing I'll add (or at least emphasize) is not to get too caught up in the megapixel wars. There was a time when more pixels meant much better images but we've long passed that point. Now manufacturers are cramming more and more pixels (light-gathering elements) onto tiny sensors (the smaller the sensor the smaller the camera, which is what most people want) and image quality is actually beginning to degrade--and I'll write more about that in a future post. But for now, keep in mind that any camera that offers 10 or 12 megapixels will provide excellent pictures and very big enlargements. Bigger or "full frame" (the size of a frame of 35mm film) sensors have more real estate an so can offer more and bigger pixels and so they are an exception--with those sensors more pixels can vastly improve image quality.
My cell camera warning: It has happened to another friend of mine--he lost his iPhone! Painful enough to lose a $500 phone, but he also lost hundreds and hundreds of digital photos and videos that he never bothered to download. One of my primary complaints about cell phones is that people either don't know how to download their images or they don't bother. Either way, if that is your primary camera (a mistake, I think) and you lose the camera or have it stolen--there go your photos. Forever. If you are using your phone as your primary picture-taking device, learn how to download the images and do it on a weekly if not daily basis. Yes, you can upload images to Facebook or Flickr, but those images are crunched (for space reasons) and you'll never be able to get a good digital file from them for printing purposes. Download, download, download. And back up your downloads, too.