Tips for selecting a camera to purchase :: Digital Photo Secrets

Tips for selecting a camera to purchase

by David Peterson 6 comments

Time for a new camera? You have a lot of different models to choose from. Some of them will fill your need quite nicely while others will only give you a bunch of features you don’t need. There’s no sense in wasting your money on a camera you won’t use for 99% of the pictures you take. Have a look at this quick buyers guide before you head to the store and make your decision.

Before you select a camera to purchase, define your needs

A beginning photographer has different needs than a pro. When you’re just starting out, you really don’t need that many features. After all, you’re still figuring out how much you like photography. If it remains a passion after six months to a year, then it’s okay to upgrade your setup. But if you find your camera collecting dust after months of shooter’s block, you might want to question that next big purchase.

You don’t need an expensive setup to get great pictures. Take some time to learn the rules of composition and lighting. There’s enough information to keep you occupied for at least a few years. That’s plenty of time for you to figure out how much you really love photography.

Most point and shoot models will do just fine. Find one that gives you a little more control outside of the automatic shooting modes. Look for a model that has a shutter or aperture priority mode (a big S or A on the dial), and these are a nice natural step towards learning how to take pictures with manual settings. Any mode that gives you a little room to play around is preferable.

How to know when it’s time for an upgrade

If you’ve had your “old” camera for at least six months, and you find that there’s a certain kind of shot that’s out of your reach, then it’s time for an upgrade. Don’t upgrade from a $200 setup to a $2000 setup just to get one picture. Find out exactly what you need to get that shot, and then try to find the cheapest route to owning that particular piece of equipment.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you own a point and shoot that only has a few pre-programmed modes. You’d really like to take a picture of a sunset silhouette, but your camera doesn’t have a mode for that. You’d also like to learn more about manual photography. What kind of camera should you choose?

If I were you, I wouldn’t upgrade to a digital SLR right away. Not only is it a lot more expensive, but you still aren’t sure how much money you want to sink into your developing hobby. A nice go-between is a higher level point and shoot that allows you to play around with more manual settings. As you get the hang of taking pictures in manual mode, you’ll get more time to decide just how much further down the photography rabbit hole you want to go.

Don’t believe the hype. Most new features aren’t that useful

Camera companies are always coming up with new features. Some of them are legitimate, but most of them are clever marketing tricks. Have you ever heard of cameras with built-in face recognition? How about lenses that have an astounding 100x digital zoom?

Here’s my rule. If a camera company is trying to blow you away with how revolutionary their new feature is, it probably isn’t that big of a deal. We all thought face recognition was going to change photography forever, but it proved to be nothing more than a flash in a pan. (If you've been following my tips for a while, you weren't fooled either.) The feature didn’t work properly, and it was a lot faster to use good old fashioned focusing tricks instead.

Good pictures aren’t the result of technology. They’re the result of technique. Better technology only makes your job as a photographer easier. It doesn’t make you a better photographer. When making those early camera purchasing decisions, stick with cheap reliable models that don’t overpromise. Your wallet will thank you.

What about megapixels? Everyone keeps talking about megapixels

You’re right. They do, and that’s another clever marketing trick and we've covered this before. Camera companies keep pushing cameras with more and more megapixels, but megapixels are only important when you want to create really big prints of your work. Other than that, they don’t offer much added value to your camera. A better LCD or a nice lens can easily trump more megapixels.

For a small poster-sized print, a camera with at least 6 megapixels will get the job done. Anything more than that really isn’t necessary. I know what you’re about to say. You’ve seen cameras with 12 megapixels (and more) advertised all the time. Yes, it is just hype. And no, you don’t need those extra megapixels. You’ll do just fine without them.

Hopefully these tips will help you bypass the digital camera industrial complex that’s out to rob of your hard earned cash. If you’ve got a camera you really love, I want to know about it. I’d also like to know if you really hate a particular model, and if so, why.

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  1. John says:

    I really like your caveat emptor (buyer beware) attitude. There is certainly a lot of hype when it comes to cameras. I don't think I agree with your suggestion to just go to a more advanced point and shoot camera. Why? Because you can buy a very good starter DSLR for the same price. I skipped the point and shoot altogether and found this camera to be a fantastic choice. I started with the Pentax K-50. It comes with most of the automatic features you get in a point and shoot AND most of the most important features of a decent quality DSLR for about the same price as a high-end point and shoot. This has allowed me to make an easy transition from shooting JPEGs on automatic (which i did for anout one day before I switched to manual mode) to shooting professional quality RAW images with the same camera without having to learn a new cameraalthough I did have learn a ton, and take about 20,000 images, to get to where I am today. I am even shooting professionally with it (although I am now ready to upgrade) and, although I have to do a little extra work in post, none of my clients have any idea that their pricey holiday point and shoot camera costs about the samewhich also goes to show, it' not the price of the camera but, how you learn to use it.

  2. Andrew says:

    If I can get some advice Please David.
    Going on a cruise to the South Pacific Islands and am concerned that taking my Nikon 3100 on to the Islands might be risky. On the vessel I am ok with, it's just on the Islands. Is there budget enough watreproof cameras to purchase for such a trip? Bearing in mind it might be the only time it gets used in this situation?

  3. Maureen Hampson says:

    Thank you so much Dave, has been very helpful . Know what I am going to buy now as the one I really liked only has 12 megapixels and after reading your info know now it will be fine. Thanks so much :)

  4. Karen says:

    I have a Pentax KD 100 and I love it!! I really did my homework and shopped around. A professional told not to go with the other brand names just because pros say they are the best, but go with the one you like. I found it easy to understand. And I just liked it. And I am learning that it is what you do with it more than what you have!!!
    Thanks David

  5. John says:

    I have a Nikon D70 and was going to upgrade to a Nikon D300, but after reading David Peterson's tips and help topics, I've decided to keep my Nikon D70 because of all the new things I found out what I can do with this camera.

    Thank you David

  6. Ana says:

    This summer I learnt my first basics of photography and I loved it! I decided to try it myself, with my dear digital camera...

    But it is broken (something regarding the energy part).

    I'm thinking about buying a new camera and this post came right on time! I'm still not 100% sure about what to buy, but I have less doubts now!

    Thank you

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