Buying your first Digital Camera

November 25, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

A question I am asked frequently is: "What camera should I buy?".

So I have decided to write this blog in order to address this question and try to help many who are struggling to find a suitable camera to buy in what has become a truly diverse and extensive market out there. I will try to make it short and more to the point without making it too technical as I am aware many just want something that will give them the means to snap a good image without having to master a cobweb of technical stuff.

Unless you are going into one of the specialist outlets that their sales representatives are fairly knowledgeable about photography and can truly help you with your requirements you are bound to be confronted by sales people who will try to flog you cameras with features that they will overstate or stress that this camera or that has certain so and so feature and that makes it a great value for money. This in my view is totally the wrong approach.

The analogy I find when someone asks me what camera to buy without specifying what they want the camera for is like asking someone what car to buy. You would need to provide a lot more information such as what's the purpose that you are most likely to use the car for, where will you drive off road or city or both, what do you want to carry in the car, is it just for leisure or are you going to clock a huge number of miles daily. Its no use buying a Ferrari if where you are likely to drive have no roads to take full advantage of it, or why should you buy a 4 wheel drive if all you need to do is just do school runs. But also if the budget allows and you want to buy a car that although at the time of buying is a big surplus in features but that provides you with the ability to explore further and eventually making full use of it then why not?

So now having exemplified all the above with the analogy of a car buying I am assuming you are starting to get an idea of what buying a camera involves. Let's then focus on the few things that should immediately give you a solid footage on the aspects and features of what you need to be aware of when shopping for a camera and these very features should help you confront the salesman when trying to flog you a camera on the basis simply of it having some extraordinary number of megapixels or some fantastic zoom etc.

Its very typical of sellers the first thing that try to stress about a camera most times is one having a huge resolution (MP, Megapixels). Now while MP is important doesn't always mean that you should get a camera with a huge MP. Just like with a car, again I keep coming back, you cannot buy a car that has everything as the best in the field, not even a Ferrari. Try taking a Ferrari and drive in the Sahara Desert and see what happens. Yup, my point precisely. You need a 4 wheel drive for a Desert adapted with the ability to withstand sand storms and not clog the engine. Perhaps a Camel would even be better and save you a lot of dosh, but that's a totally different blog. For now let's look into the MP in the camera. Yes its great to have a big number of MP as it controls the cropping factor amongst other things but I can assure you unless you are looking to print your images in a huge size or need to sell them to agencies a camera with 5MP is already fantastic. And nowadays you get them well over this, so do not fall for the MP pitch. What you really need to be asking is am I going to be taking photos in locations where lighting is a problem? Or mostly indoors where artificial light is common? Then look at two things, ISO performance and the aperture of the lens that it has. Check what is the widest aperture that lens has, they are also called f/stop. Grab any camera and look at the rim around the lens or anywhere around it and they will have some markings and numbers on it, read the numbers following "F" if it says 2.8 it means that it has a good capability of opening the diaphragm wide enough during shutter release and allow more light in and capturing those moments that can be tricky with low lighting. That, coupled with a great ISO performance makes it a very good camera for someone who predicts taking a lot of pictures indoors or in low lighting. The smaller the numbers in front of "F" the better performance it has. And I would strongly advise you here if you are not very familiar with technical aspects of photography to really grill the salesman so they can help you read what features make this or that camera great. Manufacturers always make a big deal of these features when they launch a product. You will see for example a camera being marketed and a feature such as a zoom of 18mm to 200mm etc which means the lens has a good reach. If the model has an extra impact on the low lighting they really will stress that. So all in all I would advise you to make a list and prioritise what your requirements are, so in order to make this simple below is a list of things you need to assess and then put them in the right order and choose the camera that falls within your budget.

For capturing images where light can be a problem including artificial light, look for good ISO and widest aperture (F/stop)

For longer reach to take shots of birds or candid portraits from far a longer zoom lens is a priority. This will translate into xx mm to yy mm. Anything over 200 mm is considered a pretty good zoom reach. Note here sometimes you will have 250 mm but then the first set of numbers will have shifted to higher, this means you lose the ability to have a wider angle. For example you rarely find 12 mm to 250 mm (This is just an example please disregard the figures), typically you will find 22mm to 250 mm or 18mm to 200mm. In the second set you gain a wider angle sacrificing the longer reach, which has the advantage as explained in the photography of tight spaces or indoors etc (See below).

For taking photos of big groups or landscape photography, architecture etc then a long zoom is wasted, get one which is touted for having a lens with great wider angle (low numbers on the zoom) and here the higher resolution makes sense

For very small subjects including Macro get a camera that has IS (Image Stabilisation) sometimes they call SR (Shake Reduction) incorporated in the camera. Helps during those jittery shaking hands while taking the picture.

Then if budget allows look for a camera that allows you to attach an external flash. This is one very important aspect to consider if you can have it as a big bonus.

All the above are true for non interchangeable lens cameras. But if you are ready to go for an interchangeable lens camera and have a budget for it then fantastic, there is a wide range of choices out there from Bridge Cameras to fully featured DSLRs and go ahead please grab one and get ready to start getting addicted to buying lenses, as interchangeable lens cameras are all dependent on lenses that you attach to it. So my advice is that if you are looking to buy one of these cameras (Interchangeable lens camera or DSLRs) then please do not fall for the idea that its a cheap promotional offer camera with one lens being offered. You will be fairly limited with just one lens with that camera you most certainly will need one or more lenses in the near future. And trust me its a slippery slope to walk into, there is always one more lens that you will want to get then another, the market for DSLR lenses is huge and each for a very specific purpose. In the photography world, both amateur and professional there is a very well known symptom called LBA (Lens Buying Addiction) that proliferates amongst us. But if you have a budget for it then fantastic and welcome to the world of DSLR. And no, I won't go into details about DSLRs for now because that is a totally different ball game.

I will leave you with a link where they frequently review cameras and I often visit and find it very good and simple to follow the pros and cons of cameras they review. Apart from that please feel free to ask me anything on a comment below and I will be very happy to help you with anything I can.

Hope this has been a helpful read for you and happy clicking,


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