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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