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Camera Buying Guide

Okay, right up front, I'll let you know that some of what I present below is my own opinion! - Tim

One of the first things you should consider is how "serious" you are about photography, and how you plan to use your camera. "Serious" photographers can absolutely get away with using compact cameras, or even cell phone cameras, but they generally have a foundation in photography, which includes understanding how to shoot in full manual mode. If you're serious, then you should consider a DSLR or a MILC, which have interchangeable lenses.

If you're a hobbyist, or you don't want to invest a lot of money until you learn more and see if you want to pursue photography more deeply, perhaps you'd be better off with a compact camera. Also, if you plan on doing a lot of traveling, where you need to travel lightly, a compact camera might be more suitable.

Compact cameras are becoming more feature-rich, and have been adopting better digital sensor technology, but they generally don't produce photographs as technically nice as a DSLR. The reason is largely related to the fact that the digital image sensor on most compact cameras is physically much smaller than those commonly found in DSLRs. Don't confuse the "sensor size" with its "image resolution"! The sensor size is the physical dimensions of the sensor, while the image resolution defines the number of pixels on the sensor. A compact camera and a DSLR that both produce 10MP (10 megapixels) each have 10 million pixels, however, the compact camera's smaller sensor size means that these pixels are packed into a much smaller space than the DSLR. This typically means that there is more noise and/or color accuracy issues with the smaller image sensor found in compacts.

DSLR and MILC cameras have interchangeable lenses, making them much more flexible that compacts, and the longer focal lengths they offer typically mean more creative control of depth-of-field, and longer optical zoom capability. DSLRs and MILCs are generally bulkier than their compact cousins (though the MILCs are a little less bulky due to their mirrorless design).

If you're looking for a compact camera I will leave you to it to research; there are an amazing number of quality cameras out there, and no way I can keep up! In my opinion, there is no better place to start your search for any camera than DPReview.com. They do exhaustive testing and write fantastic reviews for cameras, lenses, and many other photo-related items.

When you buy a camera, here are some things you should look for:

  • Make sure you buy from a reputable dealer. There are a LOT of sketchy dealers out there, and they frequently offer deals "too good to be true", because they ARE! Many of these sketchy dealers are famous for the "bait and switch". Before you purchase, don't just research the item you wish to purchase, also research the dealer! Three great, trustworthy places to buy online: I have purchased from each of the dealers listed above and have always gotten what I ordered, and if there was ever a problem (rare), each of them resolved the problem, quickly.
  • Look for a camera with a "CMOS" image sensor, over a "CCD" image sensor. The reason is that CMOS sensors consume a lot less power.
  • Look for a camera that has a rechargeable battery pack (and charger). You don't want to make the mistake of buying a camera that takes regular batteries! You will go broke!
  • Try to find a package deal that comes with two lenses. You'd like to be able to cover the range between 18mm and 200mm, if you can. Most cameras come with an 18-55mm "kit" lens, but you will probably find that having one "short" lens very limiting as you learn more. You can typically get a bundle that has two decent lenses for much less money than you would spend if you had to buy an additional lens later.
  • I recommend buying Canon or Nikon. There are a lot of other very good camera manufacturers out there, and a lot of innovation, but one thing people rarely consider is the third-party side of the equation; when you purchase a popular camera, one that sells a lot of units, then you will likely have access to additional tools and information, such as camera field guides for your particular camera, third-party lenses, and a vast community of information. You are certainly free to buy whatever brand you like, but make sure you're buying a particular brand for a valid reason, that isn't about saving a few bucks!
  • Make sure the camera kit that you buy has:
    • A camera body
    • One or, better yet, two lenses
    • A camera strap
    • A memory card
    • A batter pack and charger
    • A USB transfer cable, to get your photos out of your camera
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