Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Top 10 Tips For Camera Buyers

Digital technology hasn't only transformed the way we take photographs, but also created an explosion of camera options.
By Wes Pitts Published in SLRs
Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Canon EOS 5D Mark III


Whichever camera you choose, accessories like flash, lens adapters, microphones, GPS and more can make a big difference in not only the quality of your images and video, but also the pleasure of taking photos. It's worth looking at the system accessories offered by the manufacturer for the cameras you're considering (and at third-party options compatible with your system, too).


What started as a high-end feature on top DSLRs is now practically ubiquitous. Even entry-level cameras today can capture HD video, and many with sophisticated options like the ability to control frame rates for a cinematic look. One big difference to keep in mind, however, is sound. Great video imagery becomes nearly impossible to watch if the sound is distractingly bad. If video is an important feature to you, choose a camera that has a stereo input for auxiliary mics so you can choose the right microphone for your recording environment. (To learn more about microphone types and when to choose them, see our DSLR Microphone Guide: www.dpmag.com/mics.)


You'd be hard-pressed to find a digital camera from any of the major makers today that doesn't deliver sharp, beautiful shots. Still, it's worth mentioning that size does matter. All else being equal, the larger the sensor and larger the pixels, the better the image quality, especially in low light. Larger pixels are able to collect more light for a better signal-to-noise ratio. A corollary to this is that more megapixels doesn't necessarily translate into better images. Take two APS-C-sized sensors, one 12 MP and the other 18 MP. To fit the extra 6 MP on the same-sized sensor, the pixels have to get smaller—something to consider.


While the large monitors on the back of your camera are great for reviewing images, they're not always ideal when shooting. Many are actually quite difficult to use in bright outdoor conditions, making an eye-level viewfinder essential. If you shoot mostly indoors under controlled lighting, this may not be an issue, but most photographers are going to want the option of a viewfinder. All DSLRs have them, as do some mirrorless and fixed-lens compacts (though viewfinders are much rarer in the latter two categories). However, many mirrorless models offer an optional viewfinder that docks in the camera's hot-shoe. You're probably going to want one.


I saved this for last, because while important, this is the most subjective of all of the camera characteristics we've considered. My hands are bigger or smaller than your hands, and that affects how comfortable a camera is to hold. The arrangement of buttons and control dials may fit me like a glove but seem misplaced to you. The only way you're going to know for sure whether you'll find using a camera to be a pleasure or a pain is to go handle it in person. And please be considerate of your local camera shop—if you use their staff time to help guide you to finding the right gear, at least give them a shot at making the sale rather than going straight to Google to find the cheapest price. You may save a few bucks online, but probably not enough to outweigh the benefit of having the knowledge and support of your local camera retailer.


Power! The Li-ion batteries used in most digital cameras are really good, providing at least a few hundred shots between charges. However, if you do a lot of traveling where access to recharging isn't always easy, consider one of the cameras that can accept common AA batteries, either as the primary power source or via an optional grip. We also recommend owning at least one spare battery for your camera system.

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