May 13, 2005

Buying a new digital camera

by Nick Stubbs

I feel, after visiting so many websites and reading so much advice, and also by frequently visiting photography forums, that I have to speak on this subject.

For the majority of the buying public, there are 2 categories that we fall into when getting started or upgrading in digital photography, the "Absolute Beginner" or the "Amateur" (or serious amateur sometimes labelled as semi pro).

Now for the beginner, or someone getting started in photography itself (not just digital), the choice of cameras nowadays is quite overwhelming! Everywhere you look there are cameras, not just in camera shops like the good old days. You even get given a cheap digital camera as a gift for buying something else in some places. There are reasonably powerful digital cameras in the more expensive mobile phones now and they come in all shapes and sizes.

So where do you possibly start and how do you make that choice for buying a camera for yourself or someone else. Really it is quite simple and there are 3 criteria you should look at:

1.Quality - If you want the camera to last at least a few years and not get bothered by a bit of bashing about, go for quality. A titanium body, not plastic, something that is fairly heavy and robust in your hands, you can feel quality!

2.Features - Do you want quality video capabilities? How big do you want to print the pictures that come from the cameras files (how many mega pixels)? Do you want to have at least some manual features so you can get a bit creative? Or do you just want a "Point-and-shoot" digital camera?

3.Price - You will have a budget in mind of how much you want to spend. Get the best camera and memory you can for your budget, worry about extras later! Don't be cheap; if you want reasonably good quality prints, by spending too little on a very cheap camera, you will waste paper, printer ink and/or good money at your local lab. Get a good make and model of digital camera now and it will outlast a cheapie 4 or 5 times.

DO NOT be swayed by digital cameras that have "Non-Photographic" features, gadgets and gizmos. Any of these unnecessary features added means that some quality has been sacrificed elsewhere. Buy a camera to be a camera, and nothing else. I would also suggest buying one of the top brands such as Canon, Nikon, Konica-Minolta, Olympus etc., they may cost a little more, but the difference in quality is worth it. They all make cheaper end cameras too.

Look for decent features such as a good optical zoom, NOT digital zoom. Digital zoom is an unnecessary marketing tool; it is the same as zooming in on the photo once you get it onto your PC. 10-20X digital zoom is acceptable but I have seen video cameras with 1000X digital zoom, have you ever tried holding the camera steady at these kind of magnifications, even with a tripod?!!

Basically, write down exactly what you want and need from the camera, go to a reputable dealer and buy a good branded camera that has what you need for your requirements and budget, don't be swayed by the salesperson into buying more than you need.

Now, the Amateur or Semi Pro. When you start to look at Semi professional Digital SLR's or Advanced digital compact cameras, the choice is a little less but no less confusing. The same advice goes here as in the previous section, think about what you need the camera for, how you think you may progress in this hobby and your budget.

The "prosumer" advanced digital compact cameras available today are steadily encroaching on the quality of the DSLR, although in my opinion, they will never catch them. The optical zooms are fantastic, the sensors, albeit smaller than the DSLR are powerful and produce stunning images, and some even have "built-in" image stabilisers…Great!

Again, my advice would be to go for quality. These cameras are more expensive anyway and you want one that will last and put up with a bit of knocking from your "getting creative in photography" moments! Once you have your advanced digital compact, don’t be swayed by the latest upgrades, updates or releases. Get to know what you have, learn how to use it effectively and learn the photography side of photography, not the technical side.

Once you are happy with your progression and feel that you want to move on, be more in control and maybe even start to earn from photography, only then should you splash out and upgrade to a Digital SLR.

The Semi Professional Digital SLR or consumer DSLR is a fantastic thing in photography. Many of the "die-hard" film photographers are seeing the light and going digital. Many aspects of film are still widely used and will do for some time, as large format film photography produces the absolute finest detail I have seen (at the time of writing. In 2020, who knows?).

However, the latest batch of Digital SLR's have now reached the point where they match or out perform 35mm film. It is predicted that next year (2006) will be "boom time" for the sales of DSLR's as the quality increases and the prices come down. There has never been a better or cheaper way to get into 35mm photography!

The BIGGEST thing to consider when buying a DSLR kit is to choose your brand loyalty. Look at Canon, Nikon, Konica-Minolta, Olympus, Kodak etc., and make your choice, why? As you progress and become more enthusiastic or serious, you will want to add more lenses to your kit. Wide angle, telephoto, zoom, macro, standard….there is a massive choice.

With the way technology is going, you are much more likely to upgrade your camera than you are your lenses and it will be a lot cheaper to do so once you really get into this hobby, believe me! One decent lens in my kit cost €2,000 (£1400) alone. A decent lens will, with care, last you a lifetime. There is only a certain level of quality of the glass you can obtain with optics so remember this point when buying your camera.

My choice? Canon. I used to work for Nikon and had a preference towards them, but nowadays all my kit is Canon. I feel they are one step ahead with technology and the lenses (especially the nice white ones) are amazing! Just look at the next major sporting event on TV, how many "White" lenses you see. Only Canon makes white lenses.

Again, once you have made your choice, BUY the camera, ENJOY it and LEARN from it! If the sensor (i.e. 8MP or bigger) produces LARGE, high quality prints, why be swayed by the newer, latest upgrades? Photography is about "learning" and enjoyment, DO NOT be intimidated by technological gobbeldy gook, as long as your camera has the features that you need, quality to match and you build a nice set of lenses over time, who cares if the latest model has 0.1% better white balance control, or flashing lights?