Sunday, 10 December 2006

How to Choose A Digital Camera

One thing ahead: Go digital! There is no reason to shoot film anymore. Digital quality is on par with film for most applications. And convenience and cost make the digital experience far more enjoyable.

What camera you should buy depends on

1) What you would like to do with your camera
2) What your budget is

After thinking about these two points, you will be able to choose a category / type of camera that suits your needs. I will provide some brand / model recommendation at the end of the post. But if you think about the subjects listed first, you will be able to choose for yourself what suits you best.

So what would you like to do with your camera?

Think about the factors below, as they will most likely determine what will suit you best.

Usage: Travel photography, portraits, landscapes, snapshots, macro work, underwater, architecture, … Do you want to sell your work, consider a career in photography or become a full-time Pro?

Ergonomics and features: How does the camera fit into your hands! Easy and simple to use. Just press the button vs. full control of all parameters.

Size and weight: Do you want this tiny thing to disappear in your shirt pocket … walk/ hike a lot with your gear … prefer solid build quality …

Image size: Do you want to print your photos? What size? Or only display them on your PC, TV, online?

Image quality: Is snapshot quality for capturing friends and family sufficient or would you like to produce outstanding fine art photographs.

Your Budget

Digital Cameras start at about 150 US$. I wouldn’t recommend spending less. Chances are high that you will regret it soon and wish you could go back. If you choose a Digital SLR, there is practically no upper limit ;-)

My personal approach is
1) Determine what suits my needs best
2) Do I have the required budget? Do I want to spend that amount of money?
3.1) If yes, compare prices and buy it
3.2) If no, find alternatives and get the best I can afford

Always compare prices! Within one large shopping mall the prices can vary up to 15%. Write emails to the camera stores around you and ask for the best cash price they can offer.

Buying online can be risky. There are lots of scams out there. Also dealing with warranty issues and online stores can be trouble. One US store with a top reputation is B&H: They ship internationally, but there are issues related to warranty, duty and taxes. Read their help to find out the details.

Generic indications on usage and prices

An other heads-up: If you want to get “seriously” into photography, you will need a “big and bulky” Digital SLR (single-lens reflex camera), which offers interchangeable lenses. You can get started for under 1,000 US$, but you will spend much more along the way. I will have a separate post on “how to get started with a SLR system”. So please skip the rest of this post if you want to sell your work, make a career in photography or simply want a Digital SLR.

Size and weight
In general there are 3 size types of cameras available: Pocket-size, Compact and Advanced Cameras (“bulky”). Choose for yourself what you prefer. You pay extra for Pocket-size compared to Compact in case of similar quality and functions. The “bulky” larger Advanced Cameras normally offer a solid built quality, additional functions, better image quality and better zoom range.

Image size
This determines the amount of Megapixel you will require. To make it simple, you do not need more than 6 Megapixel. This resolution is good enough for large prints like 10x15 inch. A photo does not look better with more Megapixel. It’s a pure marketing instrument to sell the latest model. Read the following if you want to know the details:

Image quality: Determined by the optical quality of the lens.
Ergonomics and Function: Determined by electronics, used materials and form.

There a gazillions ways to compare image quality and technical parameters. Keep it simple: Go to and read what they say. They have the best reputation in providing independent information.

Brand Recommendations
I personally prefer Canon. Simply because of good experience plus they are an established brand. Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic and Fujifilm make good digital cameras too. However, for digital SLRs Nikon and Canon are the only real options.

There are endless possibilities what you can do with a camera. You have to find out for yourself. However, I have a couple of hints and recommendations.
When it comes to models/ prices, please keep in mind that this is of Dec 2006.

Pocket size: Small is trendy. Look at Canon’s SD series (SD600, SD800IS, …). Fuji has a good reputation with small cameras as well.

Underwater: If you want to do diving or surfing with you equipment, you will need an underwater cover. These cost almost as much as the camera itself. Consider a waterproof camera like the Pentax Optio Wpi or Olympus Tough 720SW. A cheap alternative for fun water snapshots is Comes with a wrist-band, handy for surfers.

Long zoom: I like a large zoom range. Simply because you have more options on what to shoot. A larger zoom requires a larger lens. All super-zoom cameras (10x / 12x optical zoom) are larger Advanced Cameras. Current models are Canon PowerShot S3 IS (known for it’s good movie mode), Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ05, FZ7 or DMC-FZ30, Sony DSC-H5 and the Fujifilm FinePix S series.

Value for money: There are many compact cameras with a good image quality and nice feature set for an affordable price. E.G. Canon’s A series (A710IS).

TIP: Buy a card reader (which fits your memory card type) to download your photos from the memory card to your computer. This is one of the cheapest and most convenient accessories you can get (approx. 15 US$).

Again, If you want to get “seriously” into photography, you will need a Digital SLR. And that will be a completely new chapter.

Sydney Opera House, shot with Canon S1 IS

1 comment:

Henry said...

good recommendations