Black Friday Buyer’s Guide

‘Tis the season to go shopping!  And many times this means shopping for a camera for yourself or for a loved one.  Which then likely means staring at a row of cameras in a retailer totally perplexed on what to buy and if the guy “helping” you has any clue what he is talking about or just pushing a camera that he gets a bigger commission on that particular day.  So I thought I would share a few tips (from my perspective anyway) on what to think about when purchasing a camera.

Tip #1 – Know what you want to do with the camera – As with anything, know what purpose you want to tool to do for you and buy accordingly.  Wide angle shots?  Super zoom shots?  Macro photography?  Low light indoors?  All might require different specs in the camera that should take a priority for you.  It’s hard to find a point and shoot that will do it all well and the ones that do typically are $400+.  And watch for gimmicks on some camera models…they typically are features you will not use that often but you will pay a lot more for them.

Tip #2 – Brands – Although there are some brands that I would not recommend for a digital camera due to the quality of their sensors, lenses, and other features (Kodak and Polaroid come to mind), many of the others are really very similar.  My first point and shoot was a Panasonic and it took FANTASTIC pictures.  And I still think they make some of the best cameras out there.  Yes, overall, Nikon and Canon make some of the best cameras on the market, but some of their point and shoots are on equal or lesser footing with Samsung, Sony, Pentax, and Panasonic.  So don’t necessarily buy for the brand label on the camera but rather does it address Tip #1 and have the other specs on the camera that you require/desire.

The Panasonic DMC-LX3. The point and shoot camera I would purchase if not on a tight budget.

Tip #3 – More megapixels is not always better – The megapixel war seems to still be raging onward although perhaps finally peaking.  Did you know that you really only need about 4 mp for a quality photo in the newspaper?  And that anything above 12 mp is usually a waste even if printing large photos (the largest that the average person usually prints anyway is 8×10).  So don’t necessarily buy one camera over another just because it has more megapixels.  Although it can be nice for cropping (I have 14.6 mp in my camera), but really not a key factor.  The other thing to mention is that many times, more megapixels on a smaller camera means more noise (distortion) in the photos especially if viewing them in a larger format.  Some manufacturers are actually going with less megapixels as well to have better high ISO quality in the photos.  Don’t get me wrong, I still would love to have a 24.5 mp Nikon D3x (price tag $7,500 body only) or 50 mp Hasselblad (price tag $35k).

Drools. Some day I will own this lovely Nikon D3x! Oh yes! You shall be mine!!

Tip #4 – Memory Cards – What type of memory card does the camera use?  A standard for most point and shoot cameras is the SD format due to the size.  But really like that Sony and already have SD cards from a past camera?  Sorry, Sony uses their own memory stick format.

Tip #5 – Be Careful of TV Hype – I see the commercials from Canon for a Rebel dSLR and they make it seem like you will be able to take pictures like the pros of fast action professional sports at night with their basic camera and lens.  And the reality is that the pros are using $6,000 Canon Mark III with a $4,000 lens attached to get those kinds of shots.  I had someone with such a camera ask me at a fitness competition once how he could get better photos of his wife that was competing.  After ensuring that he really wanted the truth, I had to say, “With that camera, with the speed of the action, indoors, with this lighting?  You can’t.”

Tip #6 – Do your homework – Check out the reviews on the camera by actual users.  Feedback on Best Buy’s website or Amazon are a good starting spot.  Cnet.com is not bad if you read the actual user reviews and not the “experts”.  For me I want to read the reviews from the hardcore photographers as well like DPReview.com.  Flickr is also a great resource for research.  Search for photos taken with that camera.  Or look at what people are saying in a group discussion about that camera specifically.

So what are the key things that I would really look closely at in shopping for a camera? Here is a quick laundry list of the things I take into consideration…

  • ISO range – how well can I shoot in low light.
  • Megapixels – I too of course want to know
  • Aperture – Something many times overlooked on a point and shoot, but if I am at the widest angle for the camera what is the aperture and at the longest zoom what is the aperture.  Usually indicated on the lens as a number after f/.  Most point and shoots will be somewhere between f/2.8-f/6.3.  Although there are a couple of really sweet cameras at f/2.0 right now.
  • Manual controls – Are there just automatic settings or do I have the option of taking control and making the camera do what I want it to do?
  • Shake reduction – Pretty much a mandatory feature for a point and shoot these days.

The Canon G11 is another great choice packed with tons of great features for the novice or a seasoned pro. Comes at a price though of course.

Other features – What other features does the camera have that make it appealing for my particular needs.  Weather sealed?  HD video?  Shock absorbant?  Hot shoe for mounting a flash?

Hope that this is helpful in this season of shopping!  Please do not hesitate to post a question about any of the above, specific questions about camera shopping, or any recommendations you might have for others about cameras or features.

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