One of the things that changes rapidly is just the types or categories of cameras available--while you once only had to choose between a point-and-shoot or a DSLR (digital single-lens-reflex), now there are new categories like advanced zoom cameras, mirrorless DSLR cameras and, of course, some very sophisticated cell-phone cameras. While my buying guide doesn't make specific camera suggestions, it does provide an overview of camera types/categories and what you should for and what you can expect from each type of camera.
- How much do you want to spend on a camera?
- Is the camera for you or is it a gift?
- Is size and weight a big consideration?
- Do you want to carry this camera in a purse or pocket or are you willing to carry a shoulder bag just for your camera?
- How long have you been taking pictures?
- Do you have a passion for photography? (Or does the person you're giving it to?)
- What subjects do you want to photograph?
- Do you mainly want to shoot snapshots of the family, or are you hoping to photograph specialty subjects like sports, wildlife, birds, etc.?
- Do you want to add more lenses at some future date?
- Do you want the power of an accessory flash or is a built-in flash powerful enough (keeping in mind the range of a built-in flash is probably limited to 12' or so)?
- Does a camera that's waterproof matter? (If you live near the beach, that might be a consideration.)
- What brands do you feel comfortable with? Generally people feel more confident buying a brand that they already own or use--or that a friend suggests. Most of us are very brand loyal. I use Nikon DSLR cameras, for example, but own Canon, Olympus and Kodak point-and-shoot and zoom cameras. I like them all.
- Does image-stabilization (anti-camera-shake technology) mean a lot to you? If your hands aren't steady or if you shoot in low light a lot, that might be a big consideration.
- Do you want to download photos via wireless technology? (A growing trend.)
- Does the color of the camera matter? (What?!)
- Finally, are you going to replace this camera a year from now when something new comes out?
One other question I get asked a lot is whether it's better to buy a camera locally or online. Good question! If you have a good local camera shop, I strongly suggest you go see them (and go on a weekday morning and you'll get a lot more personal attention) because nothing beats good advice from an experienced camera salesperson. I don't like big box stores or electronic stores--the people there have to know too much about too many products to keep up--and lots of them are on commission. But I also buy a lot of gear online and I find it very helpful to read others' reviews on sites like Amazon Search Amazon.com for digital cameras because you get to read honest reviews based on personal experiences. Yes, some reviews are stupid and talk more about shipping experiences than the cameras, but most are about the product and are very useful.
Also, places like B&H (highly recommended--see ad in the side margin) and Amazon (highly recommended) have the best prices you'll find. Personally, I'm often willing to pay a little more for in-person service, but for speed and cheap prices, you can't be a good online site. But know the site before you buy--never buy online strictly by price. There are a lot of scam sites out there. Stick with Amazon or B&H.
Feel free to print this article or email it to friends. Email me if you have questions.