How to Choose a Digital Camera

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The gift-giving season is upon us. Chances are you’re one of the millions of people shopping for a new digital camera this year. Whether for a friend, a loved one, or you’re simply spoiling yourself, tackling the ever-changing and expanding market can be daunting.

So where to start? There’s no overly specific technical formula for buying a camera. Be sure to do thorough research and ensure that your purchase offers the specs you need. Is built-in Wi-Fi important? What about internal memory, or the ability to shoot video in Full HD 1080p? Pay attention to details, and figure out what it is that will best suit you, or whoever will receive your gift. In the meantime, here are a few general pointers to get you started.

Compact Digital Cameras

Compact cameras are everywhere. Deciding exactly what type to bring home can be overwhelming without knowing how to break down the market. Basic point-and-shoots are essentially, in today’s age, a step above a smartphone camera. They’re ideal for someone looking for grab-and-go accessibility with mostly automatic operation, not for those interested in manually adjusting settings. Image quality with these cameras is perfect for social media sharing and quick snapshots, such as during family vacations or other activities. Many also shoot HD video, and come with a host of creative filters and shooting modes to really make the process as effortless as possible. The Nikon COOLPIX L28, Olympus VG-160, Fujifilm FinePix AX650, and Canon PowerShot A2500 are all great basic options. Anyone with a penchant for the outdoors may enjoy a compact with waterproof, freeze-proof, and/or shockproof capabilities. Check out the Olympus TG-830 iHS, Canon PowerShot D20, Nikon COOLPIX AW110, or Fujifilm FinePix XP200, too. The COOLPIX AW110 and FinePix XP200 also include built-in Wi-Fi for instant connectivity.

Megazoom compacts offer a much longer zoom range, hence the name, for easier access to far-away subject matter. These are handy for anyone who regularly takes photos at concerts or sporting events, for example, and wants to capture shots from a distant viewpoint. They also include a few more options for manual operation, though image quality is relatively consistent with the basic point-and-shoots with which they share the spotlight. The Canon PowerShot SX50 HS is hefty, which may be a draw to those looking for an impressive-looking device. It has 50x optical zoom and a swivel LCD screen. In a similar light, the Nikon COOLPIX P520 has a 42x zoom and swivel, vari-angle LCD screen. The Pentax X-5 offers a 26x zoom lens and tilting LCD screen.

Advanced compacts are perfect for anyone looking to upgrade to a more advanced system that still remains sleek and comfortable in size. These cameras tend to have larger image sensors and faster processors, which yield higher picture quality and better low-light performance. They offer more options for manual control, and many today are fully capable of shooting in RAW format. One of these would be an excellent gift for enthusiasts who enjoy photography with purpose, and might later want to make adjustments in post-processing. The Canon PowerShot G16, which has built-in Wi-Fi, employs Canon’s Intelligent IS system for sharper images taken in low-light environments. The Nikon COOLPIX A comes with a dedicated 18.5mm wide-angle Nikkor lens that packs superior optics into a small package. The Leica C’s beauty matches its performance in eye-catching dark red and light gold.

DSLR Cameras

Advanced hobbyists or aspiring/working professionals may have their eyes on a new DSLR this season. These are ideal for someone who understands, wants to learn, or wants the option of total manual camera operation. Someone new to DSLR systems entirely may appreciate an entry-level camera body sold with a kit lens, such as a Nikon D3100 with 18-55mm Nikkor VR lens. This would be a great way to get them started with the essentials. A mid-range, “pro-sumer” DSLR may be better suited for those upgrading or expanding into more serious applications. They’re also popular as secondary or backup cameras among professionals looking for a cost-efficient but still high-quality system. Check out the Canon 60D, the Nikon D7000, or the Pentak K-5 IIs to start.

Professional DSLRs, such as the Canon 5D Mark III, Sony Alpha A99, or Nikon D800, are for photographers who need cameras that can stand up to the rigors of daily use and are durable and efficient, consistently capturing images of professional quality. They maintain excellent processing speed, quick autofocusing, and optimal low-light performance. Full-frame image sensors, while not as critically important to some people as others, do tend to respond better to higher ISO settings and boost overall image quality. Full-frame cameras also enable photographers to use a variety of lenses without needing to account for a crop factor; something especially important to anyone regularly shooting wide-angle images.

If you’re shopping for lenses instead, take the same factors into account that you would for choosing a camera. Fixed focal length, or prime lenses, are generally less expensive than zooms, but can also be somewhat limiting depending on how they are being used. Heavy-duty, weatherproof lenses, such as those in the esteemed Canon L-series lineup, will bear a price tag that reflects their higher quality. Dedicated lens manufacturers such as Tamron or Sigma also offer a huge selection of great “off-brand” glass that can end up saving money on a purchase. Once you factor in budget, you can further narrow your choices. Assuming that you or whomever you’re shopping for do not already own an extensive lens collection, there are several things you can keep in mind to help expedite the process. For shooting insects, flowers, and other tiny details, a dedicated macro is a fantastic choice. Every photographer who loves broad landscapes or architecture needs a decent wide-angle lens. When shooting a distant subject, such as wildlife or sports, a sharp, fast telephoto is second to none. Lastly, standard- and medium-length telephotos make fantastic “walk-around” lenses for everyday applications and portraiture. Additional things to consider include maximum aperture (the wider, the faster), image stabilization technology, and autofocus motor.

Mirrorless Digital Cameras

Mirrorless cameras are more popular now than ever. Like DSLRs, they consist of an interchangeable-lens system each with its own network of dedicated accessories and accompaniments. As their name would suggest, they do not house a mirror to divert light into a viewfinder. Instead, they operate similarly to a point-and-shoot, with light falling directly onto the image sensor. This allows shots to be “previewed” on the camera’s LCD screen before each click. Eliminating the bulky mirror and shutter components makes their bodies much smaller and lighter than their DSLR contemporaries. With mirrorless systems, photo enthusiasts and professionals are given the freedom to shoot RAW and capture high-resolution images without toting bags of heavy gear.

The Pentax Q10 has a relatively small 1/2.3” image sensor, and is compatible with all Pentax Q-Mount lenses, as well as K-Mount lenses with the proper adapter. The Olympus OM-DE M1 is an indication of mirrorless cameras’ rapid improvement in technology and design. Whereas many mirrorless cameras face slower autofocusing (especially in low light), the OM-DE M1 rivals the speed of a DSLR by employing both contrast and phase detection AF. It accepts lenses designed for the Micro Four Thirds System.  

Sony garnered the attention of the photography community when it released the full-frame  a7 and a7R this fall. The a7R omits the optical low-pass filter of the a7. This increases resolution, enabling superb sharpness in even the finest details. Both cameras are compatible with Sony E-Mount lenses. Much like DSLRs, mirrorless cameras can range in cost, and lens expenses must be factored in separately.

It easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of cameras on the market, but have no fear: with some basic research, you can easily analyze your budget and needs to score the perfect gift. If you need more guidance, contact B&H for advice.

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very useful information. I have been considering buying a camera and this is exactly the type of information i was looking for.

The SX50 is mentioned but not as mirrorless.
Does it use mirror?
If it is mirrorless it does not has interchangeable lenses as you said mirrorless cameras have.
Is the SX50 and most mirrorless cameras very close in picture quality for the cost as DSLR's?

Ill definitely be sharing this with friends and clients! Great info. Thank you!

I cannot understand why you have chosen to ignore Panasonic cameras!

I want to buy my daughter a mirrorless camera for her 18th birthday. She wants a Canon but I don't know which one to buy her. She has some experience with photography but wants to learn more and definitely wants to view photos before shooting and have the ability to change lenses. What do you suggest in the $400 to $700 range?

I need to photograph closeup details on coins and jewelry to sell. It has to have a sharing program with it and has to be easy and automatic
and not too expensive. Give me some choices. Thanks

I need to buy a point & shoot camera plus a separate housing for underwater photography. would go around 30 meters deep and do some macros as well. Budget is maximum 800 USD in total. Any recommendations bloggers.

Thanks,
IO 85

I would like to purchase a simple digital camera that will allow me to take video clips of about 60 or more minutes in duration. I have a Canon PowerShot A1400 which has a video clip limit of 4GB (28 plus minutes in HD) at which point it shuts down and ***** to be restarted to continue. I previously used a Kodak EasyShare C813 which allowed me to take video clips without this constraint - the audio failed.

Please advise.

Unfortunately by design the vast majority of digital still cameras which capture video are limited to 29 minutes 59 seconds of recording.  If the need is to record video for long periods then an actual video camera/camcorder would be the proper tool for the task.  Unfortunately I was not able to find any models that can record beyond 29m 59s.  If you would like recommendations for video cameras, please send us an email to askbh@bhphoto.com and our agents there can assist you further.

* Please note this reply is an edited version of a previous reply.  My previous reply was not accurate and this one has been corrected since realizing the error.

I am a novice and don't like complex settings and adjustments in my camera. My ***** are as follows. Please help me select the right one.

1) I want a camera which is light. Say 150gms or max 200

2) I like shooting small(5 to 10 min videos) of family gatherings....in low light, impromptu without much preparation

3) I want WiFi connectivity preferably directly whattsapp  loading?

4) Budget prefer $150-300

Dear Sir or Madam,

I need to buy a camera with 2 very different capabilities.

My primary use will be for photographing the jewelry I make, so I need a camera that will take close-up pictures with good detail.

 I will also being taking a trip to New Zealand at Christmas time, so I need a camera that will allow me to capture the landscape as well as pictures of friends.

I have been borrowing the camera of a friend, but it does not allow the close-up capabilities I require to capture jewelry images for my web site.  I can take the pictures, but they do not have the close-up detail I would prefer.  Obviously, I need a camera that will allow me to download the images to my computer.

My budget is limited, and I would prefer to spend no more than $200, $250 max.  Less would be even better.  If a kit included a tripod, etc., that would be a bonus.

My photography skills are strictly "old school" using film, a Nikon and several lenses.  If it would be helpful for you to see the type of images that will be my primary requirement, you may visit my website at  www.kittuckart.com .

What can you suggest ?  Your assistance would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you in advance.       Kit Tuck

Hello,

Shooting jewelry can be tricky and will depend on a good macro lens and lighting to illuminate the fine detail. Today, most digital cameras are capable of capturing more then enough detail, especially for web posting.

The Fujifilm FinePix S4800 Digital Camera features a 16 megapixel 1/2.3" CCD sensor that is able to produce high quality imagery and HD 1280 x 720 video at 30fps. A Fujinon 30x optical zoom lens is also built into the S4800's design, giving a 35mm-equivalent focal length range of 24-720mm. This range can effectively be lengthened to a combined 216x zoom through the use of digital zoom, and a sensor-shift image stabilization system benefits shooting at such magnifications by reducing the appearance of camera shake. Additionally, super macro mode is available for taking close-up imagery from distances as near as 0.8" / 2cm.

The Magnus PV-3310 Photo Tripod With 3-Way Pan and Tilt Head is a stable photo tripod made from anodized aluminum that can support loads up to 3.3 lb (1.5 kg), and is ideal for mirrorless, 4/3, and small DSLR cameras. The three-way pan and tilt head has a quick-release plate and a bubble level to keep your camera properly aligned to the horizon. The PV-3310 tripod system weighs 2.25 lb (1.02 kg).

The Photo Studio Kit is ideal for ecommerce, insurance or appraisal shots or jewelry and other objects.