How To Choose

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.

Relevant Features:

Size:

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.

Compact

Slightly larger cameras, which could fit in your shirt or jacket pocket. Up to about 300 grams.

DSLR-Like

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.

Price:

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.

Pixel Density:

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.

40’s-50’s

Today’s highest densities, with 12-14 megapixels and the smallest imaging sensors.

30’s

This density means fewer megapixels (around 10) or a larger sensor. In each case, it’s better.

20’s –

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.

Zoom:

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.

Wide Angle:

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.

28mm

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.

HD Video:

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.

Image Stabilization:

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:

Megapixels:

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.

FPS:

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.

 

-eyalg

12 thoughts on “How To Choose

  1. Please compare and chosse for me the best option to go for between Nikon Coolpix L810 and Sony Cybershot DSC H-200.The best value for money is always welcomed.Please suggest any other suggestions if any in the price range and mention about the editor’s pick!

    1. Dear Soumalya Sinha,

      In the comparison of the Coolpix L810 and Cyber-shot H200,
      I would recommend taking a look at the Coolpix L820, which is the L810’s replacement.
      It has a more advanced CMOS imaging sensor and therefore slightly better low-light support, faster response times and higher video resolution.

      -eyalg

  2. Dear Eyalg,
    I want to buy a digital camera, but my budget is low. I want a perfect camera within only 200$. Which one will be the best for me? Please suggest me. Already I have seen some cameras, but i am confused which brand should i buy & which model will be perfect in my price. I am interested in landscape photography, low light supporting, faster response times. Suggest me some model soon, so that i can pick one easily.
    Thank you.
    -Nafi

    1. Hi Nafi,

      As cameras get better and better, you can get much more for your money.
      $200 is not a low budget anymore – true, you can’t but high-end cameras,
      but can definitely get a pretty good one. The obvious choice when considering
      your requirements, is the Nikon Coolpix P310. An excellent model from last year,
      with pretty good low light support thanks to its f/1.8 max aperture, a wide 24mm lens,
      sweep panorama for extra wide shots, and adequately quick response times.

      Good luck,
      -eyalg

      1. Thank you for your kind suggestion. But your recommended Nikon Coolpix P310 is now replaced by P330, but that’s quite expensive to buy P330, So if there is any other camera that’s better than P310 ,but the price range is in 200$, please let me know.
        And another thing, Is there any SLR/Semi SLR camera available in 200$ , let me know if any.
        Thanks

        -Nafi

        1. Nafi,

          You are right about the P310 being replaced by the new P330.
          However, the P330 is on a different class, as it gained a larger 1/1.7″ sensor
          and is considered a high-end compact camera, competing with the best of them,
          like the Canon PowerShot S110 and others.

          I hold on to my recommendation for the P310 as it is still a great camera,
          now on sale at B&H for $169, which also makes it an amazing bargain in my opinion.

          DSLR-like cameras in general, and specifically at around $200 are larger in size and in zoom range,
          but definitely not better in image quality or in low light support. Unless you must have a very large
          zoom, to a degree that it’s more important than image quality, I would go with the P310.

          Another option could be a compact camera with a large zoom (like the Canon PowerShot SX260).

          -eyalg

  3. Thanks again…Now I understand totally & I will go only for the Nikon Coolpix P310. I don’t need any large zoom for my camera.

    Thank you so much, Eyalg 🙂

    -Nafi

  4. Hello Eyalg,

    I have been looking for a new camera as I will be traveling to Europe this summer. I definitely want something compact, with image stabilization, and good picture quality. From what I can tell, it looks like the contenders are the Canon Powershot SX280, the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-HX9V, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ40, and I have also been looking at the Sony DSC-HX50V. I love color, and want to be able to take beautiful landscape shots as well as have a camera that has the capability to take decent shots of structures/buildings at night. I also would love to be able to take beautiful sunset pictures. What do you think would be my best bet?

    Thank you,
    Holly

    1. Hi Ina,
      Both the G15 and S110 use a larger imaging sensor than the SX280 and deliver superior image quality all in all, and especially in low light situations.
      The SX280’s main advantage is its large zoom range, if that’s high on your priority list then it’s a perfectly viable option.
      Otherwise, the S110 is a perfect camera that combines quality and compactness. The G15 is the best choice if you prefer to control its settings manually.
      Hope this helps,
      -eyalg

  5. Hi-
    Found your site and think it’s pretty useful.
    1. I’m curious as to how you determine the “Rank” field in comparisons. All the ones I’ve looked at have a middle rank (ASSuming it’s based on a scale of 100) and would like to know what the number means. Is there a listing of all cameras sorted by rank?
    2. On your comparison chart (3 or more cameras) you indicate green is middle and gray is best. It would seem these are actually reversed?
    Thanks,
    -Mark

    1. Hi Mark,

      Thanks for your comments.
      You were right on – I fixed the colors on the comparison page.

      Regarding the rank, it’s an automatic calculation of the cameras’ features compared to other cameras in it’s class, and normalized according to all existing values.
      This means, for example, that a DSLR-like camera with a x12 zoom will get a low score for zoom since the largest zoom range available in its class is x60.

      You can find all single-lens cameras (compacts & DSLR-likes, but not mirrorless or DSLR’s) sorted by rank on the Feature Finder page.

      Thanks again!
      -eyalg

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