Home How-To Tip Of The Week 12 Questions to Ask Before Buying a Camera - 12/22/08
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Monday, December 22, 2008

12 Questions To Ask Before Buying A Camera - 12/22/08

How to buy the perfect camera

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Tip O The WeekEvery new iteration of digital cameras seems to be light years ahead of the previous generation. While it makes the selection of cameras much better, it doesn’t make it any easier to answer the simple question, “Which one is right for me?”

The good news is that it’s pretty difficult to choose a bad camera these days. The bad news? There are a lot of features to wade through to make sure you’re getting the ones most important to you. The key is to not only understand the features of a camera, but the benefits to you as well. Figure out what you value and choose, above all, the camera that’s right for you. Ask yourself these questions; the answers should point you toward a more perfect purchase.

What kind of a photographer am I?

A beginner, an enthusiastic amateur or an aspiring professional? Beginners likely want cameras with lots of automatic features—many point-and-shoot choices will do. Someone with a little more knowledge of photography would likely want access to manual controls, and should perhaps consider an advanced point-and-shoot or D-SLR. An aspiring professional should look for a camera with comprehensive adjustability, even in lieu of other features or conveniences, and should probably stick to D-SLRs with robust feature sets.

What do I like to shoot?

A passionate photographer may photograph almost exclusively at birthday parties, family gatherings, evenings out with friends… casual situations. That photographer probably wants a camera with not only automatic controls, but one that is compact (and easy to carry along to all of those events) and simple to use. A photographer who likes to photograph action and sports will be much happier with a camera that has a fast response time, making a D-SLR a more appropriate option. Wildlife or nature photographers may be able to use D-SLRs or point-and-shoots, but to be able to photograph animals up close will require a long telephoto lens or a point-and-shoot with a powerful 8, 10 or 12x zoom lens. A photographer less concerned with the specifics of what he or she shoots, but interested in learning to generally take better pictures, is the ideal candidate to look toward a D-SLR with interchangeable lenses that can accommodate a variety of subjects. Even entry-level D-SLRs offer the option of manual controls while maintaining comprehensive automatic feature sets.

Do I prefer to compose with the viewfinder or an LCD?

Even pro-level D-SLRs now sport huge LCDs on the camera back, and some point and shoots no longer contain a viewfinder at all. If this compositional choice is important to the way you shoot, it should factor in to your decision. A larger LCD screen, and one that rotates to multiple positions, makes composing in a variety of situations more convenient—especially if you find yourself holding your camera at arm’s length to get creative angles.

Tip O The WeekDo I want to take my camera everywhere?

If so, a big zoom may not be in the ideal camera for me since large focal lengths often mean bulkier cameras. Even though the long range of a powerful zoom may sound appealing, if you won’t use it, it would just get in the way. If you don’t want long zooms but you do want portability, consider limiting your camera to a point-and-shoot with only a 3x or 4x zoom, because they’re smaller and easier to fit in a pocket.

Am I frequently photographing in low-light situations, or with long telephoto lenses?

If the answer is yes, it’s probably wise to invest in a camera with stabilizing controls built in. Not only does image stabilization help to handhold a camera in lower light levels, it also helps to minimize the camera shake that’s amplified when using a telephoto lens. If you don’t shoot in those situations, however, you might be paying for a feature you never knew you had. And if I’m really shooting in low light a lot, regardless of the lenses I use, I want a camera with a higher maximum ISO and lower noise.

Do I want to learn more about photography?


If the answer is no, perhaps simplicity in a point-and-shoot should be your biggest draw. If the answer is yes, however, no camera without manual controls will allow you to experiment and learn as you go. A D-SLR’s comprehensive feature set may be lost on someone without the desire to learn to use it, just as an easy-to-use all-auto camera may drive a photographer crazy if he just can’t control exposures as he wants to.


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