Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Good Camera for a Good Price

I used to work at a camera store, so my friends and family often ask me about cameras. Someone contacted me yesterday. They broke their camera and wanted to know which one they should buy - something low in price that would give them good quality photos. I told them I'd write up a blog post and get back to them, because this is something that might help other people too.

Please note that I'm just looking at compact cameras here. Some of this information applies to SLRs and hybrids too, but not all of it.

The first thing you need to do is figure out what features you want your new camera to have.

  1. How many megapixels do you need? The media has trained us to think that more mp makes a better camera, but this isn't true. All the megapixels control is how big you can print... so how big do you normally print? Do you like printing posters, or do you just get hundreds of 4x6 photos? Some people don't even print these days, it just all goes on Facebook (in which case you don't need to worry much about megapixels).

    A 4mp camera will give you good 8x10 photos. If the photo is amazingly clear, you might get up to 11x14, but that's pushing it... but most people never print bigger than 8x10.

    So unless you're going to be printing really large photos, look for older models with lower megapixels (the lowest you'll probably find these days is 10mp, unless it's used) - it will save you a lot of money.
  2. What settings do you need? Do you always shoot on auto, or do you like using shutter and aperture priority? If you want full manual mode, you're looking at an SLR or a hybrid these days, unfortunately. If you find a compact with manual mode, let me know!

    For the average person, I recommend looking for a camera with at least 3 modes: auto, indoor and sports. Auto is usually the word "auto" or a green box, indoor normally looks like a party hat and sports is usually a person running. I used to say that if you like shooting on auto that's all you need (and I'm sure any camera salesman will try to tell you the same thing), but lately a lot of people I know have been having trouble taking good indoor photos with auto mode, so I've been showing them how to get to indoor mode.

    If you plan on using your camera to take close up photos (maybe for insurance purposes), you should also get a macro mode. This usually looks like a little flower, but on a lot of cameras it isn't a separate mode anymore, it just comes on automatically when you try to focus on something close.
  3. Does size matter? Do you always carry your camera in a separate case or do you need it to fit in your pocket or purse?
  4. How much abuse is it going to take? This is possibly the most important, because you don't want to be replacing your camera every month. If you think that you (or your kids) are likely to drop it or bash it against things, you do not want a telescoping lens. If you hit the lens while it's out, it will most likely get bent, and it's expensive to repair.
  5. Zoom. If you need zoom, you need optical zoom, not digital zoom, especially if you're buying a low megapixel camera. Have you ever zoomed in on a picture on the computer until it got all pixelated? That's what digital zoom does. A picture that could have been a clear print at 8x10 can suddenly only be printed at 4x6 if you use digital instead of optical zoom. You can usually disable the digital zoom in the settings so you don't accidentally use it.
Once you know what you need, you can take a trip to the store or look online and compare the available cameras with what you need. I usually stick with Canon (they have yet to let me down), but Nikon, Sony and Olympus are good brands too. Kodak, in my opinion, is better at printing than they are at making cameras. There are a lot of other brands out there, but these are the ones I'm most familiar with.

Don't be fooled into buying a super-cheap camera from a company you've never heard of, especially if you're shopping at walmart or somewhere else where the sales associates don't necessarily know anything about cameras. I can't even tell you how many times someone came into the store complaining that they'd just bought a camera at some other store and couldn't figure out how to take decent photos with it. Often, we'd pass it around to all the associates who were working and end up recommending they return it.

No matter how low the price is, it's not worth it if the photos aren't good. Generally the lowest sale price you'll find for a decent camera is about $80, but even without a sale you can easily find one for under $150. The Canon (powershot A810 IS) shown in this post is currently selling for $90 and the waterproof Nikon (coolpix S30) is going for $120.

No comments:

Post a Comment