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You are hereHome > Digital Camera Buyer's Guide

 

Digital Camera Buyer's Guide

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 camera.

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) below.

The Six Categories

Categories Description
Point-and-Shoot   You want a digital camera that automates everything. You 'point' and 'shoot' the picture -- the camera does the rest.
Beginner Amateur   You 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.
Serious Amateur   Well, 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. Your digital 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 photographic style.
Advanced Amateur   You've 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.
Family dSLR   As 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.
Professional   You 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 you.

Category Canon Fujifilm Kodak Leica Nikon Olympus Panasonic Pentax Sony
Pro

1Ds MKIII
5D MKII

S5 Pro   S2
M8
D3
D700
D300
E-3   K20D A900
Advanced 50D S100FS
S9100
  Digilux 3
V-Lux 1
D700
D300
E-620 L1 DSLR
L10 DSLR
FZ50
K-7
K200D
A900
A350
A300
R1
Serious T1i 500D
G10
S5 IS
SX1 IS
S100FS
S8100fd
S1500
E900
Z8612 IS V-Lux 1
D-Lux 3
D90
D5000
D60
P6000
E-620
E-330
SP-590UZ
GH1
FZ50
LX3
FZ28
FZ8
FX500
K-7
K110D
A350
A300
A200
R1
Beginner T1i 500D
SX200 IS
F200EXR
F60fd
S8100fd
S2000HD S1500
Z8612 IS   D5000
D60
P90
E-620
E-450
SP-590UZ
GH1
FZ28
FZ8
FX500
K2000 A200
H9
H7
T700
Family dSLR XS 1000D       D5000
D60
E-620
E-450
GH1
K2000
K200D
K110D
 
P&S

D10
SD970 IS
SD960 IS
SD780 IS
SD1200 IS
TX1
A2100 IS
A1100 IS
A480

F200EXR
Z33WP
Z30
J250
J20
A150
Z1285
Z1085 IS
Z1012 IS
V1273
V1073
M1033
M893
M863
M763
 

P90
S700
S630
S620
S230
S220
L12
L11
L10

9000
7000
TOUGH 8000
TOUGH 6000
550WP
830 AW
820 AW
790 SW
FE-300
FE-290
FE-280
FE-270
ZS3 / TZ7
ZS1 / TZ6
TS1 / FT1
FX150
FX500
FX55
FX37
FX30
FX12
FX10
FS20
FS5
FS3
LZ7
LZ6
LS80
S10
Z10
W200
W90
W80
W55
W35
W30
H3
T200
T77
S700
S650

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.

Our Reviews Matrix lists more digital cameras and the category they belong to.

Jumping Category

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 the camera.

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 ignorant salepersons.

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 can make.

After you have purchased your digital camera, take time to learn its features. Read the manual, experiment, practice, 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 process.

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.

If you want free web hosting to share your pictures with family and friends, our sister publication, Cassepoze.com provides 5MB free.

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Still Undecided? The Original 4-Step Process

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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