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How to Buy a Digital Camera

nikon coolpix 8000Selecting the right camera for you should start before the purchasing.  A mistake I often see some digital camera buyers making is that they select a camera way beyond of what they really need and should pay.

Some question to ask yourself and some things to do before you  go to shopping:

  1. What do you do with your photos? What do you need the camera for?
    The answer to this will give you an idea of how many megapixels, what type of camera, format and size.
  2. What experience level do you have with photography cameras?
    Depending of the experience you will select some of the camera features you need nad the type of camera.
  3. What type of photography will you be doing? Landscapes, portraits, macro, sports, weddings, indoors, outdoors, low light ambient etc.
  4. Are you looking to learn the art of photography?  or Are you just interested to point and shoot?
  5. The size and portability matter to you?
    I some time prefer to bring with me a point and shoot camera than my professional SLR due to the fact of small size and portability, especially when I am going to capture photos of family activities.

Answer these questions and you will be in better position to make the right selection of camera for your needs and budget.

Do your research, read the reviews, and don’t buy on name brand alone.  Let me give you some hints!

Megapixels means less than sensor size

One of the sale person’s favorite feature used to sell digital cameras is how many megapixels it has.  Three to five years ago it was an important criteria to  make a right selection,  however these days, with must new cameras with in the range of  5 to 12 or more megapixelscamera sensor it is not so critical.

More megapixels means bigger photo file sizes and more computer storage and processor needs.  A right balance between  good resolution, storage space and sensor size is better criteria to do the right selection.

Knowing the final use for your photos will give you an idea of the maximum resolution you need.  Why pay for megapixels you will not need?

I will go a little deep in the technical part of it, just to give you the tools to understand why. 
Usually for paper printed photos you will need 150-300 pixel per inch, for electronic media 72-100 pixels per inches is enough.  Taking this in consideration then if you will use your photos for share them with friend thru social networks and print them in 5” x 7 “ paper you just need a 3 megapixel camera.   If the use of your photos are for print them in high quality magazines covers and sizes up to 16” x 20 “ then you need a 12 megapixel camera.  See table below

Megapixels Camera Paper Print Size Electronic media Size
2 MP 3” X 5 “ 8” X 12“
3 MP 4” X 6” 11” x 14”
4 MP 5” X 7” 16” x 20“
6 MP 8” x 10” 24” x 32”
8 MP 11” X 14” 28” X 42”

Besides, other photo quality indicator is the sensor size of the camera, bigger is better.  Image sensor range size from 5,76 by 4.29 mm for point and shoot to 50.7 by 39 mm for high end SLR cameras.

Select from the above table how many megapixels you need for your photo use, the bigger sensor and you will end with high quality images, an affordable price that comply wit your needs.

Optical Zoom vs. Digital Zoom

Other feature the sale person will used to sell the camera to you will be the zoom.  There are to type of zoom; the optical and the digital zoom.  Optical zoom is the critical one and it is the second criteria you should used to select your camera.

The optical zoom is given by the lens glasses of the camera and it does not affect the image quality as the digital zoom does.  The digital zoom is given by the camera software that crop and re-size the image to a bigger size, at the end of this process the image lost its quality.  The optical zoom range goes from 3X to 12X for high end point and shoot cameras.

Don’t overlook the LCD

More and more compact camera manufacturers are forgoing traditional viewfinders in favor of LCDs for framing shots. If you do manage to find a model with a viewfinder, it’s likely to be a very small one with limited usefulness, so it’s more important to focus on getting the best LCD you can find. For point-and-shoot cameras, LCD sizes start at 2.5 inches and go all the way up to 3.5 inches, but there aren’t many 3.5-inchers, and the ones we’ve seen are typically expensive. Currently, the sweet spot for screen size is 2.7 or 3 inches. Resolution on the LCD is measured in dots—the higher the number of dots, the more detail you’ll see, and the resolution is independent of the display’s physical size. A decent camera LCD should have at least 230,000 dots.

Pay attention to must-have features

Image stabilization, which helps reduce the blur that can come from shaky hands, is an important feature to have. If a camera has digital image stabilization, that’s fine, but it should have optical or sensor-shift stabilization as well. Virtually all modern cameras include face-detection technology, which detects and focuses on faces in the frame and improves the image’s overall composition and quality by optimizing the color and white balance. Just make sure you turn it on before you shoot portraits or group photos.

Size matter but not for everyone

One of the major benefits of a point-and-shoot camera is its compactness, but some models are more pocket able than others. Thinner cameras are typically more expensive and sometimes sacrifice features. Unless you plan to keep your camera in a jeans pocket, there’s no need to spend a premium on a super-slim camera. With a larger camera, it will still fit in a jacket pocket, but you’ll likely get a larger LCD, a longer zoom lens, and easier-to-manipulate controls.

If your answer to the type of photography you want to do is commercial or learn the art of photography then you should go with a SLR camera. As the P & S, some SLR models are more portables than other, that is why hands on experience it is so important.

Keep in Mind

Do you remember the looking “grains” of the film photography, grains like the ones you see when look close to the TV. Well in digital photography that happen too.  It is know as “noise”.  Looks for noise specifications of the camera. It is direct related to ISO, more ISO – more noise.  Select a camera that will produce less noise level in a given ISO.

ISO is like ASA in film photography.  It is the measuring of light sensitiveness. For low light conditions you need a higher ISO.

Now you are ready to do your re-search online looking for the best price, read the reviews of your potential selections and be ready for the shopping day.

Hands on experience

Once you’ve narrowed down your search to a handful of cameras head into your local digital camera shop and ask to see and play with them. There’s nothing like having the camera in your hands to work out whether it suits your needs.

When I shop for a camera I generally use the web to find reviews, then I go to the local store to see it, ask the sale person a demo of the camera,  I also get to play with it and get a feel for which one I like better.

Make The Deal

Ones you’ve selected the right camera for you it is time to find the best price.

I generally start online and do some searches to find the most competitive prices on the models  I am interested in. With these in hand I am able to negotiate in person with local stores or with online stores.

Help with your tips

Based on my own experience of buying several cameras since 1985, these are some hints I can provide you, but I am sure others will have useful advice to add, fell free to add your tips on how to buy a digital camera in the comment area below.

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About the author

Salvador Alicea

Salvador Alicea es fotógrafo desde 1985 cuando se inició en la fotografía análoga. Comenzó sus estudios en el campo de la fotografía e ingeniería en la Universidad de Puerto Rico. En la actualidad Salvador es fundador de AFD y ofrece talleres y seminarios sobre fotografía a nivel nacional.

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