Buying a new digital camera can be very confusing. There are many options out there, from DSLRs to point and shoots, some as low as $80, and some as high as several thousands of dollars. We hope this buying guide can help you decide which camera is best for you.
What are megapixels?
First off, you need to know what megapixels are. The number of megapixels is the count of the number of pixels the image file contains. If a camera captures 10 million pixels, it's a 10 megapixel camera. Logically, the more megapixels a camera has, the higher the resolution your photos will be. If you just want a snapshot, you can probably get away with a small megapixel camera. If you want huge photos, you surely will need at least 8 pixels.
Types of Digital Cameras
There are 2 main types of cameras in the market. The first is your basic point and shoot cameras. The second are advanced cameras that are more sophisticated. If your budget is below $300, I suggest you look for the best point and shoot, and forget about the advanced cameras, because they usually have prices of $400 and upward.
Within point and shoot digital cameras, there are 3 main subcategories: compacts, subcompacts and superzooms.
Subcompacts are really lightweight and small, and fit easily into any pocket. You can generally carry them everywhere you go. Generally, they have very few manual controls, and lack viewfinders.
Compacts, on the other hand are larger and have more controls. They're too big to fit in pockets, but should fit in any purse. They're simple to use, and great for everyday occasions. Like subcompacts, compact digital cameras lack manual controls, so you have to use the camera's preset modes. Both of them are in the low end of the price range.
Superzooms are capable of greater zooms. Some of them, these days offer optical zooms 30X. They're ideal for sports photography, traveling and shooting nature. Needless to say, they won't fit in your pocket as they're very bulky. Among point and shoots, superzooms are pretty expensive.
The advanced cameras are divded into these 3 main subategories: advanced point and shoots, SLRs, and SLR-like.
Advanced point and shoots look and feel like a regular point and shoot camera. They're different in that they are a lot more manual controls and support RAW files. Their lens can't be detached though. They're ideal for casual users, and budget buyers
SLR-like cameras contain interchangeable lenses. However, unlike SLRs, SLR-like cameras are missing a through the lens viewfinder. In terms of size, they're larger than point and shoots, but smaller than a regular SLR camera. They're best for casual users with a flexible budget, and trendsetters.
SLRs have the most features out of all the camera types, with huge sensors, and interchangeable lenses. Their huge sensors enable you to capture high quality images in low light conditions. A lot of SLRs these days also enable you to capture HD video. Every SLR is bulky, and heavy. Best for the serious hobbyists/amateur or the professional photographer.
For all point and shoot cameras, the prices range from $80 to $410 or so.
For advanced point and shoots, you should spend anywhere from $340 to $650.
For SLR-like cameras, the usual price range is $500 - $1300.
For SLR cameras, the usual price range is $500 to $3000.
1) Exposure Modes
A lot of cameras (actually most of them) are automated. Exposure control, which controls the apeture as well as the shutter speed are both controlled automatically. But there are other cameras that enable you to control settings such as the shutter priority, and special scene modes. Other cameras even let you control the shutter speed and aperture. If you're a professional photographer, or want to learn the craft, you should look for a camera that lets you adjust these settings.
2) Zoom Lenses
These lens let you adjust the focal length of your camera. If you want to shoot a very close shot, you can zoom in. Most cameras have 3X zoom, but you can easily find digital cameras that have between 5 - 30 X zoom. Point and shoot zoom lenses can retract into the camera when it's off and extend out when you turn it on. Fixed zoom lenses, like those in DSLRs are fixed to the camera, and don't retract into the camera when you turn it off.
3) Image stabilization
Image stabilizers are becoming increasingly popular these days. These are devices that compensates for shaking when holding a camera. The image stabilizers allows you to shoot with a slower shutter speed w/o producing any blur because of your hand shaking.
4) Face Detection
The name suggests it all. This features lets you find a face to set focus to. We found that some cameras have this feature turned on by default, but others you need to enable it. Some types of face detection lets you shoot whenever someone smiles. Others sends you an alert when the person is blinking. Pretty convenient.
Most cameras nowadays automatically adjusts the camera's focus with autofocus. Some cameras, particularly DSLRS have manual focus.
6) Shooting Modes
There are usually 3 mode for shooting images: single image, burst mode and self-timer. With burst mode, you basically fire a series of shots very fast, producing many scores of shots. Self-time of course gives a delay between the time you press the buttom to the time the picture is actually image. Very convenient when you want to take a picture of everyone including the photographer.
7) Playback Modes
For all digital cameras, you can view the images on the camera screen to see what it looks like. You can delete it on the camera if it doesn't look good to you. The screen is where the menu is located, and where you can change the default settings, and enable certain features. Some cameras have touch screen LCDs.
The ISO settings determines how sensitive to light the camera's sensor is. This setting can be configurable in most cameras. Why would you want to set a high ISO? When you want to increase the shutter speed. Be careful, high ISO settings, especially on point and shoots usually lead to more image noise. This can make your pictures look kind of grainy, and the quality will suffer.
The flash lets you illuminate the environment by shooting a short burst of light. Most cameras, if not all have auto-flash enabled, which means they will automatically flash when the lighting is dark. For most cameras, you can adjust the strength of the flash. There are 2 main types of flashes: built-in flashes, which are located above the lens, and external strobes, which are usually bought separately and attached to the camera. These are common in DSLR cameras.
10) Image Formats
JPEG is the usual image format for the photos you take. But advanced cameras also have another format called RAW. The RAW format is basically uncompressed, and the size is huge. If you want to edit the photos with software, you should edit the RAW format of it.
11) Memory cards.
You can choose to store your photos in a memory card. SD (SecureDigital) is the most common format for memory cards. But others include Compact Flash, xD, and Memory Stick Duo.
12) Connections to Computer
To save yout digital photos to a computer, you need a cable that connects the camera to a USB/Firewire port. Alternatively you can insert the memory card to a reader. You can also choose to connect cameras to any printer. Some cameras even let you see your images on any TV. In fact with an HDMI output, you can attach your camera to a HDTV.
Most if not all point and shoot cameras let you shoot video. DSLR cameras have only recently had this feature. Most have HD-resolution video. One thing you have to look out for is to see whether your camera can zoom while you are capturing video. Not all cameras can do this.
14) Other Cool Features
Most people buy a camera to take photos and occasionally to shoot videos. But there are other cool features you can find in cameras. For instance, some let you record your voice (look for cameras with speakers and microphone). Others even can be used as a webcam. And there are a few that even let you play MP3 players, and can serve as an alarm clock. We don't recommend you buy a camera for these features, but they are nice extras to have.
Canon is arguably the leader among digital cameras, especially point and shoots. They have a huge model line, which they dub PowerShots. If you're in a budget, check out their A and E-series, which are mostly compact cameras. Their subcompacts are dubbed SD ELPHs. Among DSLRs, the EOS Rebel series are incredibly popular. They are great for those with a tight budget, but still wanting an advanced camera.
Casio is well known for their point and shoot line Exilims. They're really slim. As for the high end cameras, Casio makes these as well - they usually have really good video capabilities. Unfortunately if you're looking for a decent DSLR, Casio doesn't make them.
We all know who GE is, but surprisingly they're still new in making cameras. They produce some compacts as well as subcompacts, but not SLRs. We don't recommend their cameras simply because we have not tried many of them.
Fuji makes decent budget point and shoots, with their FinePix J + A series. If you're looking for subcompact cameras, their Z series is worth a look. If you're a professional, they got the expensive FinePix S Pro series. Unfortunately, Fuji doesn't have any lenses, but you can buy Cann or Nikon lenses and attach them to their cameras.
Kodak cameras are known for being very easy to use and especially targeted for beginners. If you're on a very tight budget, we highly recommend their C series. Their M-series also offer decent compact and subcompacts. Kodak, like Casio doesn't make DSLR cameras.
Leica makes very high priced cameras that cater to a specific type of photographer. Their very expensive M-series of rangefinders have a cult-like following.
Nikon is perhaps the 2nd most popular brand after Canon/ They have a lot of point and shoots to choose from (Coolpix) Nikon also produces many SLR's for both the budget and high end buyer. Their top-end SLRs contain very huge, full-frame sensors, which perform great in low light conditions.
Olympus also is great for the beginner with their FE series, which feature very simple, and easy to use controls. As for their high end stuff, their SP models have very long zooms. Their Stylus models feature solid compacts and subcompacts. Some "tough" subcompacts are waterproof and water resistant as well. Olympus makes a couple of SLRS. Some of them have the ability to shoot HD resolution video.
Panasonic is well known for their Lumix FZ series, which are very popular with consumers. We think their FZ series provide tremendous value, and innovative. Their ISO is quite intelligent, as it increases the sensitivity of your sensor when it detects motion. Their G-series, that they recently produced should attract some eyebrows. It combines SLR features with a small and lightweight size.
Pentax is well known for their point and shoot line (Option). Pentax also has produced many great SLRs in the past, and still do. Their recent K series are very expensive and contain innovative features such as HDR.
Kodak also makes some reasonably user friendly cameras, especially the Kodak Easyshare line. Their C series are targetted for the budget buyer, while their M-series and Z-series are for more high end buyers. Kodak doesn't make DSLRs, unfortunately.
Samsung is also a player in the digital camera space with some relatively cheap digital cameras, but they also have a few SLRs available as well.
Sigma mainly produces lenses. They make lenses for most of the manufacturers.
Where To Go From Here:
If you decide that digital point and shoots are the best option for you, check out our list of the best compact point and shoot cameras.
If you're ready to play with the big boys, and want a SLR, check out our list of the best SLR cameras for beginners.