How to Buy a Digital Camera
As much as I appreciate a great photo, having a digital SLR in my hands is useless. My husband has the Pentax K10D, along with several lenses. It's heavy (although this model is heavier than others because of its weather-resistant feature), and no matter how many times he explains the settings, I can't figure out how to adjust them to the current environment. But the camera produces some damn good photos.
That being said, my husband is trying to get me to try out some of the newer DSLRs with excellent automatic settings. Seems like the over saturation of point-and-shoot cameras have caused manufacturers to open up new markets -- namely, the point-and-shoot graduate. The heavy hitters like Canon and Nikon are developing DSLRs that are smarter and can sense and adjust to the environment very well.
At any price point, there are any number of camera options. Whether you're in the market for a DSLR or compact point-and-shoot, it's not about getting the best features (there are too many). Get a camera that best fits your lifestyle and preferences.
Here are some tips to help narrow down your options. And once you get one, make sure to check out all the different ways to use a digital camera!
How often do you envision carrying this camera around? My point-and-shoot is in my purse, all the time. If we only had the DSLR, I wouldn't be taking any photos at all. The last thing I want to do is lug that thing around. Even though there are DLSRs that aren't as heavy, they're still bulky. If it becomes inconvenient (it doesn't fit in your purse or pocket), you might opt to leave it at home, which means less opportunity for impromptu and more casual photos.
Megapixels don't matter.
Okay, what I mean is, megapixels aren't as important as most people think. Many base their buying decisions solely on the megapixel count, but it's not the feature most can take advantage of.
There are point-and-shoot cameras offering 10 megapixels, but for most users, it's no different than a 5 megapixel camera. Megapixels are only important if you want to produce large prints (very large). 5 megapixels is enough for a print up to 11 x 14. If you aren't going to make prints larger than that, the extra megapixels don't offer any benefits.
Photo files are large.
The more megapixels, the larger the file size. Do you want to buy larger capacity memory cards to accommodate more photos? Do you need a larger hard drive to store and archive your photos? Do you know how to resize the photos so you can email them to friends and family?
If you end up with a camera that you liked for non-megapixel reasons, you can set the camera to take pictures at a lower megapixel, so you can save space on storage.
There's learning curve.
Digital SLRs are great because you can make very specific adjustments to get a good shot in any setting. If the lighting is bad or low, there's a setting to make it work. If you're trying to catch an action shot, no problem. But how much manual control do you really need? How many of the manual settings will you actually change? Even a lot of the higher end point-and-shoot cameras come packed with special settings and options.
Cameras with a lot of manual controls will allow you versatility and flexibility in getting the shot you want, in any environment. While that all sounds great in theory, in practice, few take advantage of all the controls. Decide how much you're willing to put into learning to use the special features and controls before choosing a camera that has a lot of them.
Choose your quality level.
How much does quality matter to you? Do you have an eye for it, or do average photos suit your purposes fine? DSLRs will produce images at much higher quality. But that's not to say that point-and-shoot cameras don't deliver excellent shots. They do, and they're improving every day. But the DSLRs will deliver even better shots. Will you notice and appreciate that quality difference? Because you'd be paying a lot more for it.
Also, is your desire for creating really nice photos enough to carry a DSLR around with you? Or is creating pretty good shots with a small, convenient camera enough for you?
Ignore the digital zoom.
Digital cameras often have two types of zooms: optical zoom and digital zoom. Ignore the digital zoom.
The optical zoom is what allows you to adjust the lens to take a closer shot. The digital zoom only enlarges the pixels. The image quality goes down dramatically when you use digital zoom.
If you like to zoom, choose a camera with a large optical zoom capability. But keep in mind that zooming makes the image more sensitive to motion. Keeping a steady hand (or having a tripod and/or image stabilization feature) is more important.
Additionally, having more megapixels means you can crop sections of your photo without losing any quality, negating any use for digital zoom at all.
Decide on a battery.
If you use your camera for infrequent shots, battery life and type of battery probably doesn't matter much to you. Even when a camera is low on battery, you can often still get several shots in before it dies completely. But if you like to take photos throughout the day at events, you should pay attention to the battery options.
Some cameras have their own rechargeable battery while others use standard AA batteries. Read reviews on battery life and decide whether you'd prefer to carry spare AA batteries around, or you're confident you'll be able to charge up your camera before you need it (and have it last the whole time you're using it).
Many, many features.
The list above is just the tip of the ice berg. When it comes to digital cameras, features abound. Make sure you pay attention to the features that really affect you, and ignore the ones that you know you won't use, no matter how cool they seem.
For example, many cameras offer video capture. But how often will you want to record video? And keep in mind that it'll never replace your camcorder (not yet, anyway), as it only records a few minutes at a time. It also takes up a lot of space on your memory card.
One very cool feature that I'd love to see in my next camera (but would not pay extra for), is face detection and other "smart camera" functions. For example, some cameras will automatically take a photo when it detects a smile. Perfect for capturing baby shots when a smile could come too quick to react to.
Direct link to Sony Party-Shot promo video