Digital Camera Buying Guide

With the kind of options available in the market today, it gets a bit hard to simply name a camera and label it as a great buy. Now it all depends on the user’s requirements, on how serious the person is about photography and what exactly is the purpose for buying the camera and what kind of features is he look for. So here I have compiled a guide that will help you answer the “Which camera should I buy?” question all by yourself.

This guide is, of course, aimed at users starter-level users, casual users, prosumers and amateur photographers. The professionals obviously don’t need a guide to tell them what camera to buy. I’ve listed the points that you need to consider before you buy a camera in the form of questions that you should ask yourself before making a buying decision. Without further delay, let’s move on to the first question.

Question 1: What do I need it for?

It may be the most basic question one can ask before making any buying decision, but it’s surprising how many people don’t really think that through, especially when buying digital cameras. Getting a clear idea of what you would want to use the digital camera for can make the rest of your buying decision a lot easier. I’ve made a general list of the most common uses that come in mind when buying a digital camera.

General purpose/Family camera
This is obviously the most common reason that comes to mind. Everyone wants to have a digital camera lying around the house for general purpose shooting, like during family occasions, outings, or basically a camera that just about anyone at home can pick up and use. Cameras in this category, don’t really require much specialization in anything, and they can be anything from starter level to mid-range cameras as long as they have a good point-and-shoot mode. Size isn’t much of a criteria here, but considering the category they belong to, these cameras are usually in the compact or ultra-compact range.

The Kodak Easyshare C433 is suited best as a general purpose budget digicam

Vacation cam
With vacation cameras, your requirement gets a little more concise. To begin with if you want a camera that will accompany you in your vacations, then you definitely don’t want too much bulk. Ultra-compacts are usually the best choice for this use. Moreover, you would require more than just the basic point and shoot. Basic shooting modes like portrait, landscape, night and macro modes are there in just about all cameras, but more specialized presets like snow, beach, fireworks, candle light, etc. can really be an added bonus. If you’re more inclined towards adventure then you may want to look at a waterproof/dust proof camera or just make sure that the camera you’re buying allows underwater photography using an additional housing.

Pentax Optio W20 can shoot underwater by itself, and the Olympus Mju 700 is an all weather cam
Help you learn photography
Can a camera really help you learn photography? Well, not all by itself, but it can get you inquisitive enough to start researching on the right kind of topics. Mid-range cameras that allow you to set manual exposure, define the kind of light metering, set manual focus can be a great way to start clicking. If you have a little deeper pocket then you can try your hand with superzooms and bridge cameras that are the closest you can get to a proper digital SLR. Though these cameras offer you simple point-and-shoot modes, you must make it your personal mission to try your hand at manual settings, otherwise it’s just a waste.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 has a lot of manual options, which makes it an excellent bridge camera

Amateur/Enthusiast
Most amateurs or enthusiasts throw their budgets to the winds and head straight for the D-SLRs. Still, if you belong to this category, you will not be satisfied with anything less than a superzoom camera. Amateurs love to experiment with different styles in photography, for which they need as much manual control as possible, which is exactly why they have a higher requirement.

Nikon D80 is a great D-SLR option for amateur photographers
If you see where you fit in the above category, move on to the next question.
Question 2: How accessible will the camera be?

There’s no point in having a digital camera if you can’t really use it when you want to. Keep some of these accessibility features in mind before buying and you won’t be sorry.

Build – Size Matters
Though the most high-end cameras are of a bulkier build, it’s not really a good idea for a casual user to lug it around just so he can get some fun shots in auto mode. As brilliant as they may look, carrying a bigger camera like a superzoom or a D-SLR may require you carry a separate bag for it, which can turn off a lot of people. Of, course it all comes down to the camera-size you’re most comfortable with.

Carrying a separate camera bag is not everyone’s idea of a good time

Batteries
This can get a little tricky. There are many users who prefer cameras with a Li-Ion battery, as that makes the camera much lighter and they last you for a respectable amount of time before you absolutely have to recharge. Then there are others who prefer cameras that use the standard AA batteries. Though they make the camera heavier, they are easily available everywhere and the Ni-MH rechargeable batteries are relatively cheaper than buying an extra Li-Ion battery for your camera. It’s all about your personal opinion when it comes to this topic, so use your own discretion.

Li-Ion or NiMH AA batteries?

Memory card
Though this is not really a big deal for newbies, but if you’re upgrading from an older digital camera, chances are you want to buy a new model that supports the same memory card format as you old one, unless you don’t mind spending more on a newer card. More than the kind of memory card your camera uses, its about the capacity of the memory card. Though 512MB is a safe capacity for most casual users, its better to have 1GB card to make sure you don’t run out of space in the last minute.

The more your memory card capacity, the lesser you have to worry about running out of storage space

That’s it for the first part of this buying guide.