Probably one of the most common questions I get is “Which digital camera should I buy?” – and the answer isn’t as simple as you might think. The best part is that with each new camera introduced you are getting more for a lot less money.
The most important consideration is what you want to use the camera for most often. If you really just want a camera to slip in a pocket for birthday parties, and quick shots of scenery you can’t go wrong with a 5-7 megapixel point & shoot. More megapixels are great if you want to zoom in on a smaller part of the image, or print the pictures larger than 11″x14″, but they fill up memory cards fast, and need to be resized prior to emailing or posting to websites.
Although I shoot Nikon cameras professionally, I think that Canon makes the best small point & shoot cameras on the market. The only exception to this is if you’re looking for a waterproof camera, in which case I’d suggest the Pentax Optio. These small cameras have good battery life, usually 3x or 4x optical zoom, and a number of shooting modes. The tradeoff is in zoom power, and the ability to over ride the camera’s exposure computer.
If you’re looking for more control, a greater zoom range, or something to replace an SLR film camera without carrying a selection of lenses, I’d suggest one of the ‘hybrid’ point & shoot cameras. They are larger, so slipping it into a pocket isn’t as easy, but they do produce superior results. You can shoot in the normal program mode, or override shutter speed, aperture & other settings to achieve a different creative vision. They also come with larger lenses, which effectively give you sharper richer pictures. However, expect to pay more for this type of camera to account for the greater control they give you.
Finally, if you really want to exercise the upmost in creative control and have an understanding of the fundamentals of photography, you’re probably in the market for a DSLR camera. There are a lot of these to choose from and often come bundled with a basic zoom lens. Again, like the hybrid style of camera, you can either shoot in program (auto) mode, or fully control the camera to achieve a desired creative outcome (depth of field, motion blur, high-key, low-key, multiple exposure, and on, and on, etc…). The way to really make the best use of the DSLR style of camera is to invest in an assortment of lenses ranging from wide-angle through to telephoto. A simple rule to follow when buying lenses is the wider (faster) the aperture (the ‘f’ stop of the lens – for example ‘f2.8’), the better the lens. They do cost more, but ultimately they will be the most important piece of equipment in your photography. I invested in the best quality Nikon lenses I could buy for my film SLR camera and still use the same ones 10 years later. Also, zoom lenses are very handy, but you often (but not always) sacrifice some image quality for convenience. I could go on about lenses, but I’ll save that for a future discussion.
Finally, find a camera that fits your budget & most importantly use it! In the courses I’ve taught the single biggest concept I stress is to shoot as often as you can. There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes – in fact, I’ve heard (and personally believe) you learn more from your mistakes than from your successes.
In future discussions I will deal with memory cards, software, bags, and pretty much anything else that comes to mind. Please don’t hesitate to email me if you have specific questions, or would like me to expand on something in this post.