What Camera Should You Buy?

September 01, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Being a photography enthusiast, I'm frequently asked, "What camera should I buy?" My first question invariably is, "What type of pictures do you want?" That question can really throw people, but that's not my intent. Rather, I'm trying to determine a multitude of things from your answer.

For example, if you tell me you want to take pictures of your friends while you're out for the night and post them to your social network sites, I might ask to see your phone. Nearly any phone you could buy today is going to be able to deliver a six to eight megapixel image. Nearly four times that of my first digital camera! More than enough pixels to get a good image that you could enlarge to an 8x10 photo if you liked the picture enough. In fact, there's a Seattle photographer, Chase Jarvis, that has made a name for himself by blogging an iPhone photo every day. Subsequently it was turned into a book.

Or you might tell me that you're going on a vacation to a faraway land and want to have some nice images that you want to share with friends. I'm apt to point you to one of the "mirrorless" cameras available that have interchangeable lenses. They're perfectly reasonable in price, small and compact enough to easily fit into any purse or day pack, and can produce images in the 16 megapixel range. That's the same pixel count as the Nikon D4 which costs $6000 without a lens. Yours for a mere 10% of that, lens included, thank you very much.

So you're not sure about the whole interchangeable lens thing. Maybe that's too much camera for you. I'll direct you towards one of the newer "point and shoots." Even these cameras are 16mp, and feature an optical zoom lens, usually in the 24-140mm range, with digital zoom capabilities after that. What is the difference between an optical zoom and digital zoom you ask? Optical zooms, are comprised of glass elements that move inside the lens housing to zoom in and focus. A digital zoom merely takes a portion of the image and then converts that image into a "full frame." Sort of like taking picture and then cropping it digitally in the photo editing software of your choice. In fact, there would be no difference in picture quality if you took a picture at the end of your zoom lens, imported into your software and then cropped. I'll make the argument why this is a better solution anyway some other time.

Anyway, the new point and shoots offer many features including scene modes. Perhaps you want to take a portrait of someone in front of a brightly lit casino for example; there's a scene mode for that. Underwater capabilities, for sailing or snorkeling (down to around 30' depths). Full HDMI video modes, effects modes, continuous shooting modes, and even GPS and mapping features for geo-tagging. Sure, a lot of those things already exist on your camera phone you say, but the secret is the optical lens and twice the megapixels, which leads to more composition and editing options, which your camera phone simply cannot do .

But you really think it's time to step up into a "real camera." Now I'll ask how much do you want to spend? We have some options. The Nikon 3200 has 24mp, an 18-55mm lens with vibration reduction and full 1080p video at around $750. Or we can go to the medium format Hasselblad H4D-200ms with a whopping 50mp capability for a mere $35,995. Of course we'll have to get a lens or two as well. That price is only for the camera body.

The good news is there is a camera for nearly every budget when we start to talk about DSLR's (Digital Single Lens Reflex). If you're ready to move into a "big boy or big girl" camera, the photographic possibilities are nearly limitless. If this is your first camera of this type, I will steer you towards an entry level or intermediate level camera like a Canon Rebel or Nikon 5100. Which brings us to the next inevitable question; "Which one's better? Canon or Nikon?" I don't know. Which is better? Mac or PC? Chevy or Ford? Corn Flakes or Post Toasties? There's a reason all of these brands have been around a long time. They are all quality products. Why did I choose Nikon? Simply because when I wanted to make the conversion from shooting film, to shooting digital, that particular camera seemed like a good deal.

Regardless of which system you choose, remember this; the two systems are not compatible with each other. Canon lenses fit on Canon bodies and the same goes for Nikon. There's also plenty of third party lens manufacturers out there, but their "Nikon lenses" go with Nikon bodies and Canon goes with Canon. Can't we Canon and Nikon users all just get along?

As you've guessed by now, there is a lot of decisions to be made on what camera you should buy. I'll of course help you with your question as soon as you tell me your answer to, "What type of pictures do you want?"

In my next blog, we'll discuss how to take better photographs regardless of the kind of camera you have!

Keep shooting!


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