This guide doesn't follow the traditional approach!
There are six camera categories.
Here, we're concerned with the first four categories.
Most photographers don't have the need, or budget, for the last two categories.
With most of the cameras in the above four categories, you can:
• Take quality photographs under normal conditions.
• Make quality prints, in common sizes, from their files.
Therefore, choosing a camera based on photograph quality and print quality may not be as important as it once was.
Perhaps size and weight are more important.
As you go from category to category, the size and weight of the cameras increase.
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When I discuss camera buying with my students, their first concern is often the size and weight.
A second concern is the cost.
Let's look at these two concerns—before getting into the four camera categories.
As the size and weight of a camera increases, the number of photographs taken may decrease.
Many photographers are choosing smaller cameras because they'll carry the camera around more often.
Bigger cameras are often left at home.
"I'm just going to the store, I don't need to bring the big clunk."
But—photographs are everywhere—even on the way to the store.
"Darn, I wish I had my camera."
There are cameras that fit in a shirt pocket, purse, or bag—that produce quality photographs.
Look for them in the Compact and ILC categories.
If you're using this website, you probably are not in the market for a basic camera.
Therefore, expect to pay at least:
• $400 for a compact.
• $800 for an ILC.
• $800 for an entry-level DSLR.
• $1,200 for a mid-level DSLR.
Here are typical price ranges for each category.
$400 - $800
$800 - $1,200
$800 - $1,200
After dissing DSLR cameras above, let's look at why you may need one.
The heft and girth of DSLR cameras offer four major advantages over their smaller siblings.
DSLR cameras are responsive.
When you press the shutter release, the photograph is taken almost immediately.
When using other types of cameras, there's a lag between the press and the shutter opening.
It's harder to photograph movement, such as a gymnast or a baby's fleeting expressions.
If you're photographing movement, you may need a DSLR camera.
DSLR cameras usually have less noise.
Noise consists of:
• Black-and-white noise (luminosity noise), which is seen as graininess.
• Color noise, which is seen as magenta and green pixels where there shouldn't be such colors.
If you're photographing in dim light often, you may need a DSLR camera.
You can blur the background more with a DSLR camera.
If you're photographing portraits, you may need a DSLR camera to blur the backgrounds.
The large files from DSLR cameras allow you to:
• Make large prints.
• Crop the photographs to a smaller area in the original photograph.
The four categories are described below, along with a section of other buying considerations.
The camera links below are for reviews on Google.
Good sources for reviews are below.
The prices are the approximate street prices.
Brands not listed, such Fuji, Olympus, Pentax, and Samsung, should be considered as well.
Always check if there's a more recent model than the one listed below.
Compact cameras are also known as point-and-shoot cameras.
Because you're here, you're probably interested in the more sophisticated compact cameras.
This writer divides the sophisticated compacts into three categories.
True pocket cameras fit into a shirt pocket.
⊗ Canon PowerShot S120 - $400
⊗ Sony DSC-RX100 - $650
Coat pocket cameras fit into a large pocket.
⊗ Canon PowerShot G16 - $500
⊗ Canon PowerShot G1 X - $650
⊗ Nikon Coolpix P7800 - $550
⊗ Panasonic Lumix LX5 - $500
⊗ Sony RX1 - $2,800 (!)
The zooms on the above cameras usually have limited ranges.
If you like photographing people at a distance, or are going on a safari, have a look at the cameras below.
These cameras have zoom lenses with huge ranges
⊗ Canon SX50 HS - $430
⊗ Lumix DMC-FZ200 - $450
⊗ Lumix DMC-FZ1000K - $900
⊗ Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 - $1410
ILC stands for interchangeable lens compact.
You can change the lens:
• Unlike compact cameras.
• Like DSLR cameras.
ILC cameras are:
• Bigger than compacts.
• Smaller than DSLR cameras.
Here's a summary.
|Compact||One||• *||$ *|
|ILC||Changeable||• • *||$ $ *|
|DSLR||Changeable||• • • • *||$ $ $ *|
Here are some examples of ILC cameras.
⊗ Canon EOS M - $800
⊗ Fujifilm X-T1 - $1,300 (Has analog knobs for most-used functions)
⊗ Nikon 1 V3 - $1200
⊗ Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 - $1,300
⊗ Sony NEX-6 $1,000
⊗ Sony NEX-7 - $1,120
SLR stands for single-lens reflex.
Reflex refers to the mirror and prism for the viewfinder.
Digital SLR cameras:
• Are bigger and heavier than compact and ILC cameras.
• Often cost more.
Digital SLR cameras:
• Produce the highest quality photographs.
The pixels are smaller and the color is more accurate.
You can crop—and you can make a huge print—with superior results.
• Have many lenses and accessories available, far more than ILC camera systems.
• Perform better in dim light (less noise).
• Have less shutter lag.
Shutter lag is when you press the shutter release and the shutter doesn't open immediately.
Compact and ILC cameras have more shutter lag making it harder to capture a fleeting expression or movement.
Some examples of DSLR cameras are below.
Street prices are not listed in this section.
You'll encounter prices for the camera body only, and for the body with various lenses.
Typically, the cameras are offered with a kit lens for another $100 or so.
Kit lenses are fine lenses, but their zoom range of 18mm to 55mm is limiting.
You may want to upgrade to a zoom with more range.
⊗ Canon EOS Rebel SL1 Very compact, about 14 ounces
If possible, go to a store and handle the camera you want to purchase.
You want a camera with easy to change controls.
• Exposure mode
P, Tv, Av, etc.
• Exposure compensation
Make a photograph brighter or darker
Make the camera sensor more or less sensitive to light.
• White balance
Make the camera "color" match the color of the light in a scene.
Check the return policy of the establishment.
Buy a camera from an establishment that will accept a camera for a full refund, for a week or so after purchase, for any reason, as long as:
• The camera is in new condition.
• You have the box and all packing materials.
• The warranty cards are not filled out.
Go to Stores.
The number of megapixels is the number of light sensitive photosites on a camera's sensor.
Photosites are cups that collect the photons.
Having more photosites is often good.
But, when more cups are added to a sensor, the cups get smaller.
Smaller cups have more noise.
Noise is specs of tone and color that shouldn't be there.
A camera with a larger megapixel value—may have more noise—if the photosites are too small.
A zoom lens allows you to change the focal length of the lens from wide angle to telephoto.
The range of zoom lenses on compact and ILC cameras is most often given as a zoom factor, such as 4X, 5X, etc.
The larger the figure, the more range.
A student photographing her downhill-racer kids bought a camera with a 12X zoom.
She could photograph her kids whizzing by from the sidelines.
Another student photographing landscapes bought a camera with a lower zoom factor, 6X.
He didn't need a powerful zoom.
The zoom-factor figure is derived from dividing the most telephoto focal length of the lens, by the most wide-angle focal length.
30 mm (telephoto) ÷ 5 mm (wide angle) = 6X
Compact and ILC cameras may have both optical and digital zooms.
An optical zoom uses the lens to change the view from wide angle to telephoto.
The image quality of an optical zoom is fairly consistent no matter where you've zoomed the lens.
For example, a telephoto view of a sailboat crossing the Bay of Fundy will be about the same image quality as a wide-angle view of the bay.
In contrast, when using a digital zoom, the image quality decreases as you zoom from wide angle to telephoto.
That's because the camera is enlarging a small area of an image digitally.
The resulting image from a digital zoom is not as sharp as an optically zoomed image.
Don't buy a zoom lens with a limited range of focal lengths, such as a 18mm to 55mm.
A better range is from 18mm to 70mm, or thereabouts.
Consider getting a zoom lens with an extended range, such as a 18mm to 200mm.
They're not as big or heavy as you might expect, but they do cost much more.
A more economical choice is:
• A kit zoom lens, which is 18mm to 55mm.
• A 55mm to 200mm zoom.
Check how close the lens will focus.
Some zooms will only focus if you're six or seven feet from the subject.
You may want a lens that allows you to be closer to your subject.
You need not purchase a lens made by the manufacturer of the camera.
The aperture in a lens is like an iris in an eye.
A physically large, a wide aperture, let's in more light.
You won't have to use flash as often.
Look for lenses with apertures of f/2.0 and /2.8 on compact and ILC cameras.
DSLR zoom lenses with wide apertures are expensive.
Consider getting a 50mm lens in addition to a zoom lens.
The f/1.8 versions are about $110 to $130.
50mm lenses let in up to eight times more light than zooms.
If the price is too good to be true, check the business at:
• Use a search engine.
Enter the name of a business plus the word problem.
Then do another search substituting complaint for problem.
Also, try adding forum to the search string, to locate forums in which people are discussing their camera-buying woes.
A store may offer products that were not imported via their manufacturers.
For example, Nikon U.S.A. imports cameras into the United States.
These Nikon U.S.A. cameras have a warranty that's good in the United States.
A store can import Nikon cameras from elsewhere, rather than from Nikon U.S.A.
These cameras are called gray-market cameras.
Gray-market products may be less expensive.
However, they don't have the manufacturer's warranty in the United States.
Instead, the store may offer their own warranty.
Avoid purchasing an extended warranty.
It's usually not a good value.
Most cameras are hardly used.
Therefore, many photographers buy used cameras.
Go to Used Equipment.
As you read camera reviews, use the Camera Features Explained section for explanations of what the buttons and knobs do.
• Bob Atkins Canon DSLRs
• Consumer Reports publishes reviews of cameras every July. Subscribe to their online services or get a copy at a library.
• Nikon Field Guide Thom Hogan, Nikon DSLRs
• Ken Rockwell Canon & Nikon
When you turn on your new camera, you'll probably be prompted to set the date and time.
By setting the correct date and time, your photographs will be sorted into the correct folders by the software that you use to organize your files.