How To Choose a Digital Camera.
Below is a long list of important and non important parameters to consider when buying a camera. When you’re done reading, you can use the feature finder, the compare tool or the slider to find the right camera for you.
It might not be obvious to you that it’s clear in your mind what size camera you’re looking for. At first you might say it doesn’t really matter, but when you come to choose, things start to look different. Take a moment to think what it is that would best suit your needs. There’s no better or worse. Just decide.
Ultra Compact –
Cameras which should fit in your pants pocket, even if it’s a jeans. I would draw the line at around a maximum of 4” long and 1” thick, and at about 180 grams or less. Maybe 200 grams if your pants are not tight jeans.
Slightly larger cameras, which could fit in your shirt or jacket pocket. Up to about 300 grams.
The name might be somewhat confusing. Most of them are not much like DSLR’s at all. They are also called ‘bridge’ cameras, filling the gap between compacts and DSLR’s, at 300-600 grams. They are indeed bigger and would probably require a separate bag with a neck or shoulder strap.
Crucial to your choice of camera, this should be your first decision. Your ability to choose a single model to buy will vastly improve after you decide how much you are willing to spend on a new camera. Too little could end up costing more, and too much is, well, too much.
Under $130 –
Simply put: unless your expectations are way low, you will end up with a low-grade camera and will most probably need to replace it, ending up with a higher total cost.
$130 – $180 –
Bare minimum. There are some models at this price point able to deliver decent results. You will definitely not be overwhelmed by them. Go ahead only if really can’t afford to pay more, or you really don’t care about the joy of photography and the quality of its results.
$180 – $230 –
At this price range you may find pretty good cameras. Since it’s necessary to squeeze everything in at a low budget, some models are better than others, so you must be picky with what you buy.
$230 – $330 –
Although price alone does not assure higher quality, there are some cameras within this price range which are really good. If you can afford it, you’re in luck. Chances are you won’t be disappointed.
$330 – $430 –
At this price range you may find some of the best compact cameras out there. Their output is better than the others, their handling is probably easier and more intuitive and their features are endless.
More than $430 –
Only a handful of cameras occupy this price range. At the price of an entry-level DSLR, you should either be really rich or really know what you’re buying and how to make use of its values.
As opposed to the sheer megapixel count of the camera, the pixel density could be an important factor in the image quality of the camera. Measured in megapixels/cm², it could also indicate the sensor’s capabilities to deliver high quality images in low light conditions. However, in most cases and unless you must have a lower value for better colors and better quality in low light, it shouldn’t be critical for your choice. If you still think more megapixels is better – read my article about megapixels.
Today’s highest densities, with 12-14 megapixels and the smallest imaging sensors.
This density means fewer megapixels (around 10) or a larger sensor. In each case, it’s better.
This is high-end compacts territory. Should give really good quality in low light.
Under 10 –
Imaging sensors with such low density exist only in mirror-less cameras and in DSLR’s with much, much larger sensors.
Cameras have come a long way since the digital age started. In the film days, a x8 zoom lens was considered the ultimate possible coverage. Today, a x4 zoom is the absolute minimum, x8 to x12 becoming the standard and super zoom cameras showing off with x20 to x30 zooms (Nikon’s new P500 leading the pack with an imaginary x36).
It must be noted that the ‘x’ factor means that the lens’ longest focal length is ‘x’ times longer than its shortest. A lens with the same ‘x’ zoom as another lens, but starting at a wider focal length will have a shorter maximum zoom.
Another important note is that it’s extremely difficult (up to impossible or very expensive) to create a high quality lens with a large zoom factor. As a thumb rule, you might say – the larger the zoom, the lower the quality (or higher the price).
x4 – x6 –
Minimal zoom in current cameras. Enough for most day-to-day needs.
x8 – x14 –
Many of the better compact cameras. A high zoom is a must on a company’s rich feature list.
x15 – x35 –
Zoom monsters. Every zoom position you may need and much, much more.
You can use the Long-Zoom focal length simulator to visualize effect of the different zooms.
Becoming more and more common (much more than a couple of years ago), the lens of most cameras today feature a wide-angle lens. This means that their shortest focal length (widest position) is capable of capturing more of the scene in front of you.
See the Wide-Angle focal length simulator to see what effect different lenses have.
36mm and higher –
A deal breaker for some, a non-issue for others. Not wide at all, but subjected to personal taste.
30mm – 35mm –
This is grey territory. Not really wide, most cameras have a wider lens. Good only if you really don’t care.
Classic wide focal length. This is wide enough in most cases. It isn’t necessary to go wider except for special needs.
24mm – 27mm –
The widest lens on current compact cameras (with one, 22.5mm exception). Excellent for wide indoors or landscape photography.
If video is high on your feature priority list, you need a camera with high-resolution (HD – high-definition) video.
640 x 480 –
Lowest resolution available. This is not considered HD.
1280 x 720 –
The lower HD resolution – found on most cameras out there.
1920 x 1080 –
The higher HD resolution and the highest video resolution on compact cameras today.
In order to prevent images taken in low light situations from turning out blurry, two types of image stabilization are available – in the lens or on the sensor. Regardless of how they operate, they both do a good job, but only to a limit. It is still not possible to take photos in the dark. Not even with Image stabilization.
Fortunately, most cameras above a minimal price point, employ image stabilization.
Non Relevant Features:
Totally irrelevant to your choice. You are urged to ignore the number of megapixels of a camera, especially if you’re assuming it’s any kind of indicator of the camera’s quality. Please read my summary about megapixels.
LCD Size / Resolution: the quality of the lcd screen may be fun when taking photos, but has no influence
on the output of the camera. I don’t underestimate the importance of the joy of the photo-taking process itself, but this is no crucial parameter for choosing a camera.
Don’t confuse fps with shutter lag. What’s important is how long it takes the camera to actually take a picture. That’s the delay between your pressing the shutter, the camera focusing, etc, and the picture finally being taken. FPS is something different – it’s the maximum number of photos the camera can take in one second. It usually involves selecting a dedicated multiple exposure mode, which cancels refocusing between photos. That’s not what you usually do – spot a picture worthy scene, aim the camera, shoot, and so forth.