How to buy a digital camera when you don’t know anything about cameras: the beginners guide
If you’re not already in the photography industry, it can be VERY overwhelming to shop for a camera-especially if you are purchasing it FOR someone else. I remember that overwhelming feeling too, there’s numbers and features and you’re unsure of which ones you need or which ones are important. Let’s face it, the photographic gear market isn’t lacking in options. I wished I had someone who could “dumb it down” for me so that it could make just an ounce of sense. I want to be that person for you! I get it, you’re not camera savy but you just want to be sure you are getting the best possible deal all while making sure it has the features you/they will need. I’ll try my best not to use too much photo jargon so that you can at least get an understanding of the things you should be considering when purchasing a digital camera.
The first thing you have to understand is that there is not a single answer I can give to anyone. The short answer is “it depends” on a lot of things because everyone will be using their camera for something different. I know-that’s not the answer you wanted to hear but I’m not a sales person so I’m not going to try to push you towards one brand/model/feature if it’s not what you need. You also have to understand that there is no reason to spend LOTS of money on a piece of equipment if you are not going to use it to it’s full capability. That would be like buying a fancy expensive car with all the bells and whistles but instead of driving it, you push it from place to place. You have a fancy car but you’re aren’t using it the way it was meant to be used nor taking advantage of the upgrades you paid for.
If you’re not interested in all the mumbo-jumbo and you’re like, “Listen Jen, I just want you to tell me what I should buy!”….here are two cameras I would recommend for beginners. Just click on the image and it will take you the page on Amazon. Both run between $300-400
Before you walk into the store or look for something online, think about these things. You’ll find that a sales person will most likely ask you these things anyways, so it might be a good idea to have some info to relay to them.
What is your budget?
What are you willing to spend? This is probably something you should first consider because otherwise you could be wasting a lot of time. If you walk into a store and the sales person spends 30 minutes showing you a $2,5oo camera but you’re budget is between $500-800, you’re only going to be depressed when you get attached to something and find out it’s beyond what you can spend. So have a round about number you are willing to spend, this will help narrow your search. Another tip: be more specific. If you say you have a budget up to $1,000, you might be slightly overwhelmed with the choices but if you say you have a budget between $700-1,000 they will most likely be able to narrow down the selection so that it’s not information overload!
What will you/they be using it for?
-what is your/their experience level: this is a big one because if they are someone who already understands all the features of a camera then it will alter what you should be looking for. If it’s someone who has no idea what it all means, you might want to find something with a little less bells and whistles-why pay for all the features if you aren’t/won’t be using them.
-what features are you looking for? What goals do you want to be able to achieve with your new camera? Do you want it to be able to take photos in the dark? Do you want to just get good vacation photos? Are your kids in sports and you want to get close up shots when they are on the field/court? Are you photographing animals at the zoo? Do you need it to go underwater? Maybe all of the above?
I personally feel like this is an important feature-not everyone may agree but even if you are just using it as general camera on the automatic settings, the ability for your camera to adjust it’s ISO will give you many more options to shoot in several conditions. You’re thinking, Jen, what is an ISO? It may sound a little familiar because you probably remember the film days when you probably used 400 ISO film. This is a measurement of the sensor’s sensitivity to light (short meaning, the long one is very technical).
If you want good results shooting in low-light conditions without a flash (sporting events, award assemblies, dim rooms), you want to look at cameras that not only shoot at high ISO (1600 or greater), but can do so while producing decent shots.
DLSR-Point and Shoot-Mirrorless?
DSLRs (Digital Single-Lens Reflex) are getting more affordable they are certainly not for everyone. They are usually bigger, heavier, harder to keep clean (if you’re changing lenses) and can be more complicated to operate than a standard point and shoot but they do offer lots more flexibility on what you can shoot.
DSLR’s have endless opportunities. Original manufacturers make plenty, third party brands abound, and you can even get adapters to attach almost anything to almost anything else. Many DSLRs come with kits that may come with the camera body PLUS a lens. Usually the lenses are of lower quality but can certainly produce good results. I shoot with a professional DSLR where I can switch my lenses depending on the situation.
On the flip side: Some cameras that we refer to as “point and shoot” cameras are cameras that generally have a permanently attached 35mm lenses. No changing lenses, no zoom. If you want to zoom, you have to use your feet and walk closer. Some people love them, some people think it’s a stupid idea. In the end, it depends on your shooting style and your personal preference.
When doing research, you may find the popularity of the mirrorless cameras also known as micro-four-thirds (MFT) cameras. These are fairly new to the scene, but MFT and other mirrorless cameras are serious cameras in packages that look and feel a lot like those point-and-shoot cameras you have probably owned. An MFT may very well be a good option for your first camera, but there are some technical disadvantages (as well as some technical advantages) to MFT / mirrorless cameras that you would need to learn and understand, but more importantly there isn’t quite as much help (free or paid) out for them as there is for DSLR – yet.
Optical Zoom is King
-not all zooms are created equal
-digital zoom doesn’t really matter
-Digital zooms simply enlarge the pixels in your shot which does make your subject look bigger, but it also makes it look more pixelated and your picture ‘noisier’ (like when you go up close to your TV).
Does it come with extras?
I mentioned this briefly above….check to see what kind of bundles/kits comes with the camera you are eyeing up. Sometimes the manufacturer or the store will throw in things like a camera bag, memory card, and even a lens or two, etc to sweeten the deal. Bundles in general are a good deal BUT only if you’re not winding up with stuff you wouldn’t have bought in the first place. It’s rare to find bundles that aren’t stuffed with cheap accessories, but if you find one that’s really got only items you want and is available at a discount vs. buying items individually, that’s great.
Anything over 4 Megapixels is not needed if printing regular size prints.
In some cases, too many megapixels may actually be a hindrance. If you don’t have a high end computer with a fast processor and plenty of memory, you may not even be able to process an image from that 21.2MP behemoth you are drooling about at the photo shop. Plus, too many MPs may actually negatively affect high ISO performance on a lesser camera. So while MPs are important, it is not the specification that should make or break your decision on a basic DSLR.
Most basic DSLRs that are out right now have at least 10 megapixel digital sensors. Megapixels are merely the total pixels or points of light that a digital sensor has to make an image. Having more does not make for a better image, it only allows for that image to be blown up to a larger size. But 10MP is sufficient for almost any size print you are likely to make these days.
I can personally tell you that I’m a Canon shooter and always have been. Why? Well, not because they are necessarily better than Nikon, Sony, etc -because that depends on your needs, but it’s what I started with-therefore it’s what I have stuck with. Once you start to invest in camera equipment it can very expensive to switch back and forth between brands, especially if you are going to the DSLR route. You can’t interchange lenses with different brands. But really, as you/they are starting out, either manufacturer is going to be significantly better than anything you/they currently have had so far. Either would make a fine choice for learning the technical makeup of photography.
When it comes to picking your first DSLR it’s important to remember that you aren’t buying just a camera — you are investing in an entire line of bodies, lenses, and accessories.
When to upgrade
You’re probably asking, how do you know it’s time to get a new camera or upgrade cameras? Let’s assume that you’ve been shooting with your “point and shoot” for a while now, and you’ve taken some pretty nice snapshots. But maybe you are starting to feel a little limited by what the camera is capable of doing. You’ve read up on photography, and there are things you want to work on. You feel it is time to step up! That’s when you know it’s time. Don’t upgrade before then because you will be spending money on Bells and Whistles that I mentioned above. Only upgrade when your current camera is limiting you……not because you don’t know how to work the current one because chances are you will have the same problems with the new one and a little less money in your pocket.
Bells and Whistles:
- WiFi connectivity
- Built-in flash
- Hot shoe (for an external flash)
- Touch screen
- Articulating screen
- Dual memory card slots
- Image stabilization (in-camera or in-lens)
- RAW file support (gives you more control in post-processing)
- Video capabilities (HD, 4K, etc.)
- External microphone support
- Shooting speed (frames per second)
- Minimum focus distance or macro mode
- Shooting modes (for creative effects)
- Weather sealing
- Battery life