SAVE TIME, SAVE MONEY (Updated 12/19/18)
There are so many digital cameras on the market today it can be a hassle to find one that fits your needs without breaking the bank. In this guide I will help you choose the best camera for your needs and help keep your budget in check.
It seems that lately friends are always asking me for advice about what kind of digital camera to buy. Most of them are just everyday normal people, not photographers by any means. They are looking for a reasonably priced camera that is easy to use and take good quality pictures. So instead of explaining it over and over again I decided to write this guide to help guide you in choosing the perfect camera for your needs and one that won't break you budget.
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These days, it's hard to go wrong when buying a digital camera. All the major digital camera companies are constantly improving and the prices just keep getting more and more reasonable. All the major digital camera manufactures today like Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus, Kodak and Panasonic make great cameras. It's very possible to buy a good point-and-shoot camera for less then $200. You could spend as little as $100 and get yourself a decent digital camera without a hitch. Of course, the more you spend on a camera the more features and better performance you will get.
So before I go any further, understand that an expensive camera will not guarantee great photographs. With that being said, you need to have some basic camera knowledge and understand the fundamentals of photography no mater what camera you choose. The best photographers can take beautiful photos with a cheap camera and vice versa. Take some time to really think about how you will be using your camera and what you want to get out of it.
Let's break it down.
What do you plan on using your camera for?
Travel and landscapes - sunsets, lakes.
Friends and family - portraits, parties, kids.
Action and outdoor sports - team sports, school events.
Artistic and fine art - close-ups, black and white, long exposure.
There are many other uses for cameras not listed here so keep them in mind when choosing a camera that's right for you.
Will you be sharing your images with others?
Making prints for photo frames
Share with family and friends via social media
Enlarging prints for hanging on a wall
Deciding on what you would like to use your camera for will determine which camera is required to achieve the results you would like. This brings me to my next question and possibly the deciding factor for most people.
What is your budget?
Remember what I said before ─ an expensive camera will not always mean great photographs. Most cameras do not include any accessories. So don't forget to budget for camera bags, cases and straps. You will also have to choose the right memory card as most camera companies do not include them with the purchase of a digital camera. Also keep in mind that even though many cameras do come with batteries, if you travel or shoot a lot it's nice to have a back-up battery. Some accessories that are less vital but worth considering include a camera case, tripod, external flash and remote control. You may also want to consider reading my article on camera accessories that help make photography a bit easier and hassle free.
There are three main types of digital cameras.
Point-and-shoot - This type of camera has a powerful punch. It is compact enough to fit in a pocket or purse. They are generally easier to use for beginners but don't let their small size fool you ─ Most point-and-shoot cameras pack a lot of features into their small sized bodies. The image quality can also be outstanding on some of the higher end models. Point-and-shoot cameras are generally priced in the range of $100 to $400.
Top 10 Point and Shoot cameras in 2019
Compact or bridge - These are usually medium sized cameras that have a balance between a point-and-shoot camera and the big, full-featured DSLRs. Many of these look like a DSLR camera but often have a built-in telephoto lens that is not interchangeable and usually lighter then a traditional DSLR. They are perfect for intermediate to advanced photographers as well as serious beginners who want a camera they can grow with. Generally, compact digital cameras provide better image quality then point-and-shoot cameras. They range in price from $400 to $600.
Top 10 Compact Cameras in 2019
DSLR - (Digital Single-Lens Reflex) Digital SLR cameras are what the pros use. Commercial, wedding and food photographers use these cameras everyday. They are heavier and bigger then both point-and-shoot and compact cameras. The main things that set them apart are a much larger image sensor, interchangeable lenses and shutter speed. A bigger sensor means each individual pixel is larger and bigger pixels mean better image quality. Having the option to interchange lenses will give the user greater versatility and quality then built-in lenses. DSLRs can cost anywhere from $600 to $5,000. Lenses are an additional expense as well.
Top 10 DSLR Cameras in 2019
Digital Camera Features
You should by now have determined your needs and budget to choose the type of camera you want. Lets get a bit more specific so you can really narrow down the best features for your liking.
Megapixels - This is the number of pixels on a camera's sensor. The thing to note here is megapixels determines a photograph's resolution. A single megapixel equals one million individual pixels. The bigger the number the better. Most cameras these days have more than enough resolution for most photographer's needs. For example, a 3MP camera is plenty of resolution for sharing photos on facebook or email and a 8MP camera is more than enough to make a 16x20 print. Many cameras on today's market have 15 megapixels or more. Keep in mind the more megapixels the larger file space each image will take up on your memory card.
Viewfinder and LCD Screen - The viewfinder is what you look through to frame your subject. Many point-and-shoot cameras rely solely on an LCD screen. This is fine for most people depending on the type of photography they shoot. A viewfinder would be easier if you are shooting action sports for example. LCD screens will also pose as a post-image review so it helps if the LCD is big, crisp and easy to see in bright sunlight.
User Interface - The user interface (UI) has various buttons and dials on the outside of the camera body as well as the menus and settings on the camera's software. The buttons and dials are often the most intimidating things about a camera and some brands make it easier then others.
Image Stabilization - This is such a great technological advancement that it's hard to recommend buying a point-and-shoot camera without it. This will help reduce blur from camera shake and help in low-light situations. Some manufacture calls it something different. Sony calls it Super Steady Shot and Nikon calls it Vibration Reduction. There are two types of image stabilization. Mechanical, which moves the lens and sensor to compensate for camera shake ─ and digital, which will raise the ISO for a faster shutter speed. Mechanical image stabilization is much better than digital for the fact that digital stabilization will often result in noisy (grainy) photographs. Read my field guide on image stabilization.
Lens - Point-and-shoot as well as compact digital cameras have built-in zoom lenses ranging in length from 3x to 40x. If you are shooting things further away like wildlife or sports photography then a long lens might be considered. Be sure to know that there is a difference between optical zoom an digital zoom. Digital zoom is more of a "sales pitch" and is computerized magnification. Optical zoom is provided by the glass in the lens and is much better than digital zoom.
Flash - Most digital cameras will come with a built-in flash. This is perfect for taking picture of family events or other close range shots. The disadvantage here is having a flash built in close proximity to the lens which sometimes will cause "red eye" and unwanted shadows. Advanced photographers who want more control on the direction and distance of flash will need an external flash. This is only possible on a camera with a hot shoe flash mount found on most DSLR cameras.
Memory Card - You digital photos are stored on a memory card. Check your camera to see which types of memory are compatible. The most common are SD (secure digital) and CompactFlash. It is also a better bet to buy a bigger memory card if you travel or shoot many images. Check out my digital memory card guide.
Battery - Most cameras will use either AA batteries or a lithium-ion battery. Some people prefer AA batteries because they are available at more places. Lithium-ion batteries are much lighter and have a longer battery life. Extra batters is a must when purchasing a DSLR camera as they typically will only come with one. Keep one charged in your bag so if you run out of juice you are ready to go with a fresh battery.
Have you figured it out yet?
Once you have narrowed down the features that are most important to you, go over some online reviews for cameras that are in your price range and type. Digital cameras are introduced all the time with new features and the latest and greatest technologies. You can find some really great prices on amazon for last year models that are a great buy.
Pick a camera that feels good to you. Does it fit comfortably in your hand? Is it user friendly? These are all things to think about when making the purchase of a digital camera.
Once you have your new camera, play around with it. Join some photography forums online and ask questions. Feel free to post any questions you have in the comment section below and I would be happy to answer any questions you have.
The number one rule is this ─ have fun. Take lots of photos and learn to master your camera. This is what all the greatest photographers will tell you. Now get going and pick a camera that fits your needs and share some photos in the comment section below. Happy shooting!