Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Buyer's Guide 2009: Cameras
Camera Buying Basics: Things to keep in mind when shopping for a new D-SLR
So you're ready for a new D-SLR. There are more choices today than at any time in photography's history. That's the good news. It's also the bad news. How do you choose a camera to fit your needs and budget?
When you buy a D-SLR, you're buying a camera system beyond the camera body itself. Lenses, flash and other accessories often are limited to use with one system or another. With lenses in particular, you can use lenses designed for your camera system only. Flash and some accessories may work to a certain extent, but some features will be limited or unavailable (TTL flash being one example). So, do some research into the range of lenses and extras available with a particular camera.
FULL-FRAME OR NOT?
Most D-SLR sensors are smaller than a 35mm film frame. This includes formats like Four Thirds, APS-C and APS-H. The smaller size results in an apparent magnification when using lenses designed for 35mm, often referred to as a "magnification factor" or "telephoto effect." For example, a 50mm lens on a 35mm camera will produce a field of view closer to that of a 75mm lens when used on a smaller-sensor D-SLR. This is advantageous if you want a telephoto perspective, as you can get stronger telephoto performance out of a smaller, lighter lens. It's a detriment to wide-angle photography, however, for the same reason.
There are two ways to mitigate this. One is to choose a "full-frame" D-SLR. These have a sensor the same size as a 35mm film frame, so lenses designed for 35mm will perform normally. These cameras are at the high end of the D-SLR range. Consider this option if you already own expensive lenses for a 35mm SLR-though the camera body will be pricier than smaller-sensor models, replacing your lenses may be even more costly.
Your other option is to choose a camera with a smaller sensor and select lenses designed for that sensor. Many manufacturers now are making "designed-for-digital" lenses that take the smaller sensor size into account and offer everything from wide-angle to telephoto in the range.
HOW MANY MEGAPIXELS?
Every current D-SLR has plenty of resolution for popular print sizes. Resolution has reached a point where it's really not as important a factor to consider for most photographers. Photographers who make a living with their images may still find some benefit from 20+ megapixels, but for most of us, anything above 10 megapixels is ample for big prints and far more than what's needed for use on the web.
What kinds of subjects do you photograph most? If you're a sports or action shooter, look for a camera with fast frame-per-second burst rates and subject-tracking autofocus. Like to shoot portraits? Features like face detection and expression detection may be a big benefit for you. Averse to carrying a tripod? Then you'll want image stabilization in either your camera body or lenses. Consider your habits, and focus on features designed to address your specific needs.
TRY BEFORE YOU BUY
Order online if you find a good deal, but first, go to a brick-and-mortar store and handle the cameras you're considering. Which models fit your hand most comfortably? Are the menus and controls intuitive for you? How is the build quality? These characteristics vary and are subjective—and difficult or impossible to discern from marketing materials and spec charts.