If you are ready to make the switch to
digital photography, there's good news!
Digital cameras have gotten better with
every new model introduction, and many of
the newest models can be as easy to use
as any Point-and-Shoot (P&S) 35mm film
In shopping for a digital camera, many
photographers make the mistake of trying
to find "the best digital camera."
Of course, that's a moving target as digital
cameras get better and better with each
new model introduction, but what they are
really asking is "what's the perfect
digital camera" -- and there's no such
thing. In their (often) exhaustive search,
many end up discouraged and even more confused
than when they started.
We have put together this Buyer's Guide
to help you find -- not "the best digital
camera" -- but the digital camera that
is "best for you."
Each person has different needs and has
different photographic knowledge and aptitude.
For example, one person may simply want
a Point-and-Shoot camera with the camera
making all the decisions; others may want
a camera that will allow them to learn and
grow as amateur photographers. So, what
may be best for one person may not necessarily
be the best digital camera for another person.
This Buyer's Guide will help you narrow
down the hundreds of digital camera choices
available to you to a manageable handful.
1. What Type of Photographer Are You?
The first thing to consider is to ask yourself
what kind of photographer you are. In other
words, HOW do you intend to use your digital
camera? Select the type of photographer
you are from the table (The Six Categories)
want a digital camera that automates
everything. You 'point' and
'shoot' the picture -- the camera does
are starting out in photography and
this is probably your first digital
camera. You need something that is relatively
easy to use to start out with. You may
or may not want to get serious about
photography later on, so you want a
camera that will let you try a few things
without getting overwhelmed. Your digital
camera will have Auto
mode, plus a few controls to allow some
learning and experimentation.
you're hooked! Photography is
fun, and digital photography has opened
up new horizons in seeing and artistic
expressions. You want to learn about
f/stop, depth of field, and freezing
action; how to apply the rules of good
composition, proper exposure in different
situations, and faithful color reproduction.
You do not want to be restricted as
to who, when, where, what, and how.
You want to learn, imagine, and create.
camera will allow you to explore and
experiment: you're ready
and not afraid to learn what all those
controls are for, experiment with them
to see the different images you obtain,
and start to discover your own likes
and dislikes, as well as your preferred
been at it for years now, and you know
both your own personal strengths and
limits, as well as the strengths and
limitations of digital cameras and image
editing software. You've learned to
not only follow the rules, but also
when to break them. You know the type
of photography you like best. Your digital
camera should give you total
creative control as well as the best
image quality possible. You
want a digital camera that you can customize
to work the way you like to work
(and, in many cases, it does require
you to customize its settings before
you can obtain quality images from it).
But, you can also work around the limitations
of a digital camera; it is, after all,
just a tool to you.
easy to use as a P&S but with the
image quality, speed of operation and
flexibility you would expect from a
dSLR. A Family dSLR is as full-featured
as any digital SLR and will take you
as far as you want to go. It is Point-and-Shoot
simple in use -- not in features.
are a pro. Only the
best will do. Buy whatever
you want from any of the categories
-- and why are you even reading this?
Note that the Beginner and Serious Amateur
categories tend to overlap each other to
a great extent because cameras in these
two categories basically have a similar
feature set. However, digital cameras targeted
to a serious amateur photographer usually
have more accessible features, features
have more range, there is usually a larger
and better image sensor, better lens, perhaps
optional lenses and accessories, etc.
A new category we have added in 2005 is
that of Family dSLR. Camera manufacturers
are starting to target families who desire
SLR image quality yet still want an easy-to-use
camera in a P&S mode principally. Such
a camera is as full-featured as any digital
SLR and will take you as far as you want
to go. It is Point-and-Shoot
simple in use -- not in features.
Once you've found your category, read up
on the digital cameras in your category
to familiarize yourself with their features
and capabilities. All the digital cameras
we feature on this site has a category assigned
to it, which might or might not necessarily
match the manufacturer's. Remember, this
is our personal opinions and
a digital camera may well stradle categories.
[Plus, we ourselves get confused with all
the hundreds of models and marketing messages.]
Feel free to disagree and move one up or
down a category if you so choose. Our categories
are presented to help you -- not to constrain
Note that although we intend
to keep this table as up-to-date as possible,
it will from time to time be out of step
with what is most current on the market.
We also plan to retire old models. In determining
which models are considered "current,"
our guide remains the camera manufacturers'
web sites. The latest models are listed
above the "-----" line, though
we may leave an existing model there too,
especially if it has not yet been replaced
by a newer model.
Matrix lists more digital cameras and
the category they belong to.
OK, so you've found the one digital camera
that appeals most to you in your category.
However, you also notice that there is one
in the category above which is priced about
the same. Should you buy that one instead?
It depends. It's probably quite safe to
do so up to the 'Serious Amateur' category.
When you come to the 'Advanced' subcategory,
however, caution is 'de rigeur' (recommended).
You may find that some digital cameras in
this category require you to fiddle with
more settings than you may want to -- or
know how to -- before you can obtain quality
images. When using such a digital camera
in the Auto mode, you might be disappointed
with the results compared to your point-and-shoot.
But, if you know how to adjust the controls
properly, the image quality you obtain far
surpasses what you would obtain from your
point-and-shoot. We're not saying that you
shouldn't do it; we're just saying to take
this into consideration before you do it.
Most likely, though, you have identified
a shortlist of candidates and you are wondering
how to choose among them. Besides determining
how you intend to use the camera, it helps
to also know WHAT you intend to take with
2. What Kind of Photography Do You Like?
Give a group of photographers a digital
camera each, take them to a particular location
-- say, at a farm in the countryside --
and ask them to shoot what they see. One
might shoot a landscape shot with the farm
at mid distance and the mountains in the
horizon; another may shoot the same scene
but include the white undulating fence in
the foreground; a third photographer may
shoot close-ups of the wild flowers; a fourth
photographer may use the telephoto on his
camera to bring details on the mountains
up close; yet a fifth photographer may only
shoot the animals on the farm.
Each one of us has a certain preference
about the kind of photography we like. If
you like to shoot close-ups of flowers and
insects, a digital camera that does not
allow you to shoot macrophotography is not
the best digital camera for you. The same
digital camera may have a 10x optical zoom
and would be the best camera for our friend
there who likes to shoot telephoto mostly.
Similarly, one person may take most of his
pictures outdoors; yet another takes most
of her pictures indoors.
One of the reason why there are so many
different models, even from the same camera
manufacturer, is because one camera cannot
have all features equally at an excellent
level. That is why it is a mistake to select
digital cameras based on features alone.
Just because a camera has a feature that
you want does not necessarily mean that
the feature is practically usable. For example,
the feature may be hidden deep down into
the menu structure that to use it requires
an excessive amount of button presses, thus
making it practically useless: your subject
may have moved and even disappeared by the
time you reach the feature in the menu and
turn it on. Another feature may just not
work as well as advertised, and falls into
the category of a "gimmick." Educate
yourself so that you do not fall for clever
marketing claims, slick advertisements and
One excellent way to figure out your photographic
style preference is to look at a number
of pictures that you really like, and ask
yourself what they have in common.
3. What Next?
One major step that many consumers skip
over is to go into a store and actually
handle the camera. Often when you cannot
choose between two cameras, just handling
them is enough to help you make up your
mind. Usually one of them just handles 'right'.
Remember, choosing the digital camera that
is right for you is a decision only you
After you have purchased your digital camera,
take time to learn its features. Read the
manual, experiment, practice, practice,
Get out some photography
books from your local library. Be inspired.
Study the photographs that evoke a positive
response from you. Why do you like them?
Is it the composition, the colours, the
content? Try to select a few that do not
look too difficult to emulate. Then go out
with your brand new digital camera, and
try to see if you can take a similar picture.
If at first you don't succeed (and chances
are you won't), don't get discouraged. Learn!
Be patient with yourself, and enjoy the
It should only be when you have learned
a whole lot about photography and it is
now the camera that is limiting your growth
that you should consider upgrading to the
next category. Don't wait ten years though
before you do upgrade. ;o)
So once you've made your purchase decision,
relax, and enjoy becoming a better photographer.
Whether it is landscape, portraits, macro,
action, abstract -- discover your own unique
style. If it brings pleasure to you, that
is all that really matters. Have fun!
Whichever digital camera you end up buying,
we hope you derive great joy from using
it for many years.
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Still Undecided? The Original 4-Step
But, what if you're an absolutely beginner
in photography, and yet need a digital camera
that produces professional images? In that
case, you need to look at the 'Professional'
category -- and quickly upgrade your photography
and camera skills by attending some good
photography classes! In cases like these,
when you are looking for a digital camera
for a specific function, you need to figure
out first what your requirements are. Whether
you have the skills or not to use it is
altogether another matter.
Our original Buyer's Guide consisted
of 4 steps to help you understand your requirements
and select the digital camera that is right
for you. It is still good advice and we
encourage you to read the whole article.
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