Which camera should I buy?

Great question, but it’s impossible to answer without more information and, in fact, there’s no right answer. If I had a dime for each time I was asked this question, I could buy a Starbucks® venti half-caf caramel macchiato. Yep, I was asked about 50 times! So before you run out and buy the next camera you see your favorite celebrity hawking on TV, ask yourself some questions:

  • What’s my budget?

If you’re getting a point-and-shoot (P&S), you won’t need too many accessories, so a smaller budget will work. Some must-have accessories are: spare battery, card reader, 2  memory cards (4-8 GB each), and a protective case. There are lots more accessories, but these are what I’d start with. A 6-10 megapixel camera is plenty, and at least 3-5x optical zoom.

If you’re getting a dSLR (a digital single lens reflex camera that lets you change lenses), your budget will have to be much higher because, besides the above accessories, you’ll also want to start with 1-2 lenses to cover a good range of focal lengths, filters (a circular polarizer to start), a tripod and ball or tilt/pan head (and these are probably the most important accessories of all – don’t skimp here!), a cable or remote shutter release, a camera bag, an external flash unit, rechargeable batteries, and I could go on and on. This isn’t your father’s pocket camera!

  • What will I photograph most often? People? Sports/Action? Landscapes? Close-ups? Wildlife? Candids of my kids? Everything?
  • What’s my skill level and how much more am I willing to learn (to have more control over how my images look)?
  • Would I prefer quick-and-easy, or the ability to make most or all decisions about how my photo will look? Do I want my camera to make all or most of the decisions for me, or do I want to? For example, do I want soft backgrounds behind portraits and flowers? Flowing waterfalls or freeze-action falls (flowing is sooooooo much prettier!)? Do I want more control over how my sunsets look with respect to colors and saturation? Do I want cool light trails behind moving cars at night? Will I read the manual? (That answer should be a resounding “yes”!) Do I want to make eye-popping silhouettes?
  • Will I use the images mainly for emailing and uploading, or will I also print many of them (and if so, what’s the largest size I’d print)?

There are many more considerations, but for simplicity’s sake, we’ll stick with this short list. Now, let’s talk about recommendations:

A P&S has shutter lag. Can’t escape it. Shutter lag is that horrible delay between the time you press the shutter release and the time the photo is made, and that delay could mean missing the shot. A P&S also has a limited focal range, meaning you can’t shoot wide angle or true telephoto. A P&S is convenient, easy to carry, and is often good enough for your needs.

A dSLR gives you maximum control over aperture, shutter speed, ISO, metering, manual or auto focus, and much more, which will give you the greatest control over making a photo look the way you want it to look, not the way the camera thinks it should look, provided you take the time to learn at least the basics of photography and exposure. Many P&S’s offer these controls as well, but they may be limited.

There’s soooo more to write about this topic and I hope you found it helpful. It’s a difficult question to answer, and ultimately you have to make the decision. Most important is that whichever camera you choose, it’s just your tool. The camera isn’t the photographer, you are! Like a painter, his brushes and other tools don’t make the painting, he does. The best set of cookware doesn’t make that delicious meal: you do. Photography is about light, your vision, your mood, your eye, your passion, and telling your story the way you want it told (an exception, of course, is photojournalism).

Whatever camera you choose, read the manual and then go out and have fun!

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~ by Karen Rosenblum on July 3, 2010.

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