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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.

Camera manufacturers are also targeting families who desire SLR image quality yet still want an easy-to-use camera in a P&S mode principally. Such a Family DSLR 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 Leica Nikon Olympus Panasonic Pentax Samsung Sony
Pro

1D X
5D MK III

        645D    
Advanced 6D
7D
X-Pro 1
X-E1
M9-P            
Serious

60D
G1X
G15

X100s
X100
X20
X10
XF1
X-S1
M9-P
X1
D7000 E5
E-P3
GX1
GH2
G3
LX5
K-5 NX11
NX100
 
Beginner T5i 700D
EOS M
HS50 EXR
SL1000
F550 EXR
F500 EXR
S4000
S3400
S3200
S2950
V-LUX 30
D-LUX 5
D5100
D3100
P500
P300
E-PL3 FZ47 FZ48 K-r   A35
A580
NEX-5
NEX-3
NEX-C3
Family dSLR SL1 100D     D5100 E-PM1        
P&S

S110
SX50 HS
SX500 IS
SX280 HS
SX260 HS
SX160 IS
D20
N
ELPH 530 HS
ELPH 520 HS
ELPH 330 HS
ELPH 320 HS
ELPH 130 IS
ELPH 115 IS
ELPH 110 HS
A4000 IS
A2600
A2500
A2400 IS
A2300
A1400

XP30
XP20
T200
Z900 EXR
Z90
JX300
JV200
AX300
AV230
 

S9100
S6100
S4100
S3100
L120
L24

XZ-1
SZ-30MR
SZ-20
SZ-10
TG-810
TG-610
TG-310
VR-320
VG-120
VG-110
GF3
ZS10 TZ20
ZS8
TS3 FT3
FX78
FH25 FH27
FS35 FS37
FH7 FS22
FH5 FS18
FH2
FP7
FP5
S3
S1
L55
WG-1 GPS
WG-1
RS1500
S1
TL500 EX1
WB700
SH100
ST6500
ST90
ST30
PL210
PL170
PL120
TX100V
TX10
HX100V
HX9V
HX7V
WX10
WX7
W570
W510

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. The Best Camera Is The One WIth You

Very often, we overlook the extra weight and size of a DSLR. We know we want better image quality and performance, and we read that a DSLR will give us those, but we are not ready for the shock when we actually hold one in our hands. Anyway, we go and buy one, use it excitedly for the first few weeks, and then it sits on the shelf for the rest of the year.

The best camera is the one with you. When you step out of the house, and do not feel like lugging a heavy DSLR around your neck, you then miss opportunities to take pictures. Luckily, there is a brand new category of cameras coming out: the Digital Intercangeable Lens (D-I-L) camera features a large image sensor in a compact body, and gives image quality and performance that are equivalent to what you can get from a DSLR. So, do not automatically think you need to upgrade to a DSLR. Check out the Digital Interchangeable Lens cameras.

4. 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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