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Photo Tips > How to Buy a Camera

Camera Categories

There are five camera categories.

I've left out the large, heavy, and expensive, pro cameras.


Super Zoom


Entry DSLR


Which Category Is for You?

With most of the cameras in the above 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.

Size & Weight


As the size and weight of a camera increases, the number of photographs taken may decrease.

Many photographers are choosing smaller and lighter 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."

Look for smaller cameras in the compact, super zoom, and mirrorless categories.

Keep in Mind

The person behind the camera is far more important than the camera.


Camera Categories

Compact Cameras

Compact cameras are also known as point-and-shoot cameras.

This category has been largely supplanted by cell phone cameras.

However, there are still some outstanding cameras remaining that will fit in your pocket.

Super Zoom Cameras

These cameras have zoom lenses with huge ranges.

Mirrorless Cameras

Mirrorless cameras don't have the mirrors and prisms that DSLR cameras have.

You're looking at a screen, not through the lens, like a DSLR camera.

Therefore, they're often lighter and more compact.

Digital SLR Cameras

SLR stands for single-lens reflex.

Reflex refers to the mirror and prism for the viewfinder.

You're looking through the lens.

After dissing big cameras above, let's look at why you may need a DSLR.

Why You May Need a DSLR Camera

The heft and girth of DSLR cameras offer five advantages over their smaller siblings.

Advantage #1 - Less Noise

DSLR cameras usually have less noise.

Noise consists of:

• Black-and-white noise (luminosity noise), which is seen as graininess.

• Color noise (chrominance noise), which is seen as magenta and green pixels where there shouldn't be such colors.

Noise becomes more evident as the ISO value increases.

If you're photographing in dim light often, you may need a DSLR camera.

Advantage #2 - Less Depth-of-field

You can blur the background more with a DSLR camera.*

If you're photographing portraits, for example, you may need a DSLR camera to blur the backgrounds.

* Full-frame mirrorless cameras can blur the background more than entry and mid-level DSLR cameras.

Advantage #3 - More Pixels

The large files from DSLR cameras allow you to:

• Make large prints.

• Crop the photographs to a smaller area in the original photograph.

Advantage #4 - Speed

If you're photographing action, DSLR cameras may:

• Focus more quickly.

• Track the moving subject and predict the focus point.

• Take more frames per second.

Advantage #5 - More Lenses & Accessories

DSLR cameras have more lenses and accessories available.

All Camera Categories: Three Desirable Features

These features may add to the size, weight, and cost.

However, you'll probably want the added burden to your shoulder and wallet.

#1 - Viewfinder

A viewfinder makes it far easier to see your future photograph when you're photographing in the sun.

#2 - Flip Screen

A flip screen makes it easier to photograph over your head or at knee height.

#3 - More Buttons

Are you constantly changing the exposure compensation, ISO, white balance, flash, and other settings?

Then, get a camera that has buttons for these features.

Or, a convenient-to-use touch screen.

All Camera Categories: More Things to Consider

Consider #1 - Test Drive the Camera

If possible, go to a store and handle the camera you want to purchase.

In the Sarasota area, Johnson PhotoImaging is recommended.

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.

Consider #2 - Megapixels & Noise


The number of megapixels is less important than it once was.

As mentioned, most cameras produce quality photographs nowadays.


Noise is specs of tone and color that shouldn't be there.

It's especially apparent when using high ISO values.

Compare the low-light performance of cameras.

Consider #3 - Zoom Lenses

A zoom lens allows you to change the focal length of the lens from wide angle to telephoto.

Zoom Factor

Compact, super zoom, and mirrorless cameras, may describe the range of their zoom lenses by using zoom factor instead of millimeters (mm).

The larger the figure, the more zoom range.

The zoom-factor figure is derived from dividing the most telephoto focal length of the lens, by the most wide-angle focal length.

For example:

30 mm (telephoto) ÷ 5 mm (wide angle) = 6X

Optical versus Digital Zooms

Compact, super zoom, and mirrorless 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 telephoto to extremely telephoto.

That's because the camera is enlarging a small area of an image, digitally.

DSLR Lenses

Typically, DSLR cameras are offered with a "kit" lens.

Kit lenses are fine lenses, but their zoom range of about 18mm to 55mm is limiting.

You may want to buy a second lens with a focal length of about 55mm to 200mm.

Or, purchase a single lens, such as an 18mm to 200mm or 300mm.

However, these lenses are often more expensive than buying the two lenses (18mm to 55mm and 55mm to 200mm).

Close Focusing Distance

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.

Other Manufacturers

You need not purchase a lens made by the manufacturer of the camera.

Tamron, Tokina, and Sigma make many well-reviewed lenses.

Consider #4 - Wider Aperture Lenses

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.

And, you can blur the background more.

With compact, super zoom, and mirrorless cameras, look for lenses with apertures of f/2.0 and f/2.8.

DSLR Cameras

DSLR zoom lenses with wide apertures are big, heavy, and expensive.

Consider getting a 35mm or 50mm lens in addition to a zoom lens.

The f/1.8 versions of 50mm lenses are about $130.

50mm lenses let in up to eight times more light than zooms.

Go to 50mm Lens: Good for Low Light & Smooth Backgrounds.

Consider #5 - Caveat Emptor

If the price is too good to be true, it's probably a scam.

Consider #6 - Imported (Gray Market) v. U.S.A.

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.

Consider #7 - Extended Warranties

Avoid purchasing an extended warranty.

It's usually not a good value.

Consider #8 - Buy a "Previously Owned" Camera

Most cameras are hardly used.

Therefore, many photographers buy used cameras.

Go to Used Equipment.

Consider #9 - Reviews

A good place to start reading a camera review is at its end—the conclusion.

Bob Atkins:

Bob Atkins Canon DSLRs

Thom Hogan:

Nikon Field Guide Nikon DSLRs

Ken Rockwell:

Ken Rockwell Variety of camera categories

Steve Sanders (originally):

Steve's Digicams Variety of camera categories

Best APS-C Camera 2017 Buying Guide (Entry-level, Mid-level and professional) (7/2017)

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Be Sure to Set the Time & Date

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.