How to Choose a Digital Camera
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.
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.