Buying A Camera Camera Buying Guide To Finding The Best Digital Camera

These days, buying a camera can be an overwhelming experience. Stores stock hundreds of digital cameras ranging from under $100 to several thousands of dollars and it can be difficult to find the best digital camera to suit your needs. This camera buying guide can help you identify which features of the camera you’ll need, and turn buying a camera into an enjoyable experience.

Buying a Camera: What Do You Really Need?

The first step in finding the best digital camera is to gauge the importance of some of the most basic camera features, such as:

  • Control. Do you want to simply pull out your camera, take a picture and put it away? If so, you should consider a simple point-and-shoot variety. If you’d rather have complete control over the camera settings, you’ll want to consider a more expensive digital SLR (single lens reflex) camera with full manual control.
  • Cost. Buying a camera can run you up into the thousands of dollars. Decide how much you’re able to spend so you can narrow your search to the best digital camera within your price range.
  • Picture quality. Even if you buy the best camera brand available, smaller and less expensive cameras sacrifice some picture quality. How important is picture quality to you?
  • Portability. Do you want an easy-to-tote camera or a camera bag for all your extra camera equipment? The answer will depend on whether you want to make a serious hobby out of photography, or simply snap a few shots with friends.

Basic Camera Buying Guide

ConsumerReports.org® places all cameras on the market into one of two categories: basic and advanced.

Basic cameras are generally simple point-and-shoot cameras that are easy to use, but offer little else in the way of manual controls, zoom capabilities or lens options. Basic cameras are great for casual photographers interested in buying a camera they can carry in a pocket or purse. They range from less than $100 to $500 and are arranged into three categories:

  • Compacts. Compacts are relatively small cameras, but they’re often equipped with photography options, including some manual control and zoom capabilities. Since most people prefer the smaller subcompact, compacts tend to be cheaper, and are an affordable option for people willing to carry a slightly bulkier camera.
  • Subcompacts. These lightweight cameras are smaller than compacts and can easily fit in your pocket. As a tradeoff, subcompacts offer fewer photography options, although many still have video capabilities. A good quality subcompact camera can still take great pictures, and this camera is perfect for the person who wants to have something on hand to quickly capture impromptu moments.
  • Superzooms. These are still considered basic cameras, but are more of a bridge between basic and advanced cameras. Superzooms are a little larger than other basic cameras, but offer better zoom capabilities–great for sports or wildlife photography. Many also offer full manual control.

Advanced Camera Buying Guide

Advanced cameras are appropriate for people who take photography seriously and are willing to sacrifice the convenience of a small camera in order to shoot better photos. Advanced camera categories include:

  • Advanced point-and-shoots. These cameras have non-detachable lenses, but offer better manual controls, zoom capabilities and allow for an external flash for better indoor shooting. These are a good economical choice for those who want higher-quality photos and don’t mind carrying around a bigger camera. Advanced point-and-shoots range from $350 to $600.
  • Digital SLR. SLR cameras are the most expensive on the market because they offer the most options and the best photo quality. They have interchangeable lenses, large light sensors for high-quality images, complete manual options and the ability to shoot photos in a wide variety of formats. SLR cameras are larger than other camera types and range from $500 to several thousand dollars. These cameras are most appropriate for those for whom photography is either a serious hobby or a professional enterprise.
  • SLR-Like. These are similar to SLR cameras in that they have interchangeable lenses, but they lack the through-the-lens viewfinder of an SLR. SLR-like cameras are great for people who want the diversity of different lenses but don’t care about the viewfinder option. These cameras generally range from $450 to $1,200.

Features of Your Camera

Digital cameras offer a dizzying array of features. Some may matter to you, while others won’t. Some key features of a camera you’ll want to consider are:

  • Megapixels. Digital cameras store images as pixels, and one million pixels equals a megapixel. The more megapixels, the more detail a camera can capture. This translates to better picture quality and the ability to make larger prints. Most cameras today have at least 10-megapixel sensors, which is sufficient for high-quality prints or creating poster-size photos.
  • Memory cards. Memory cards store photographic images and the larger the card, the more photos you can take. Higher-quality memory cards also upload faster to your computer.
  • Rechargeable batteries. These are more expensive upfront, but will save you money in the end.
  • Zoom. Two kinds of zoom are available: optical and digital. In optical zoom, the lens brings the image closer prior to the picture being taken. Digital zoom enlarges a portion of an existing photo. However, because digital zoom can result in blurry photos, this shouldn’t be a high-priority selling feature when you’re buying a camera.

Which is the Best Camera Brand?

Very often, choosing the best camera brand comes down to a matter of personal preference and price point. Nevertheless, it’s good to know what the best digital camera brands do best:

  • Canon: Canon is top of the market in terms of point-and-shoot cameras, and its Rebel series is a leader in affordable SLR cameras.
  • Casio: Casio offers a wide variety of super-slim subcompact cameras.
  • Fujifilm: Fujifilm has some of the lowest priced point-and-shoot cameras.
  • Kodak: Kodak offers some of the easiest to use point-and-shoot cameras.
  • Nikon: Nikon offers extensive lines of point-and-shoot cameras and SLR varieties. Its top-of-the-line digital SLR cameras typically offer the best picture quality in low-light situations.
  • Olympus: Olympus has a series of compact cameras with built-in help guides for easy use. Olympus has some great SLR/point-and-shoot hybrids.
  • Panasonic: Panasonic also offers SLR/point-and-shoot hybrids and has some of the best values on the market.
  • Pentax: Pentax is known for its innovative point-and-shoot cameras as well as some of the best high-end SLR cameras available.
  • Samsung: Samsung offers some very inexpensive compact digital cameras, including the inventive dual-view cameras with LCD viewing screens on both sides of the camera.
  • Sony: Sony cameras are innovative but tend to be more expensive. It’s a good brand to explore if you want the newest camera features available.