Choosing The Right Digital Camera For You
How to narrow the multitude of options? Consider your photography habits and the features you really need
Digital cameras come in a wide range of sizes, capabilities and prices. From pocket models about the size of a deck of cards to pro D-SLRs weighing nearly three pounds, there's something—a variety of somethings, actually—just right for every photographer.
The big question: How do you choose the best camera (or cameras) for you? Following are some considerations, the first being, what types of digital photography do you do or intend to do? This will rule in or out many cameras and narrow the field.
Digital Camera Types
Let's compare the most popular types of digital cameras. Assuming most of us aren't in the market for a $25,000 studio camera, we'll stick to the popular compact and D-SLR models.
Advanced D-SLRs. These are the most costly of the popular digital cameras, featuring the best performance, the most versatility, the sturdiest build and the greatest bulk. But they're too cumbersome for casual photographers to cart around, and many photographers don't need all those features and capabilities. If you shoot lots of images on a regular basis, in tough field conditions, need 12-megapixel resolution or higher, or must shoot 8 frames per second, a pro D-SLR is a terrific choice. For most of us, though, the lower-priced D-SLRs are a better choice.
Entry-Level D-SLRs. These offer the best "bang for the buck"—very good performance, lots of features and relatively low prices. Performance isn't quite up to that of the advanced models, although it can be very close; some of my best action photos were made with entry-level D-SLRs. The entry-level models aren't as rugged as the high-end ones and thus not the best choices for those who shoot several hundred images a day in tough field conditions. But they use the same lenses as the manufacturer's pro models and perform very well. My D-SLRs have all been in this category.
Compact Zoom Cameras. The most versatile of the compact "all-in-one" digital cameras, these feature big-range zoom lenses, amazing close-focusing capabilities, very good image quality and even movie capability. For many photographers, one of these models is all you'll ever need.
Pocket Cameras. These go-anywhere models come in some stylish packages, and many really will fit in a pocket (although I find it safer to wear mine on a bolo-tie strap around my neck). Some are simple point-and-shoot devices, while others offer quite a few versatile features. Every photographer should own one, even the pro-model D-SLR shooters, as they're so easy to take everywhere you go, as a backup camera or when a big D-SLR isn't practical.