Nowadays there are plenty of different cameras that can fit any needs and any budget starting from easy-to-use compact cameras that you can toss into your bag and carry around anywhere you go to fancy and bulky professional DSLRs that can get you incredible high- quality images. However, with such a wide range of options, it is so easy to get lost and frustrated, if you decided to buy a new camera to dive in the world of photography or replace your old camera. Don’t worry! We’ve got you covered. Our 25 tips on how to buy a digital camera will help you narrow down your choices and find the best option for you and your budget.
#1. Set a Budget Before Buying
SUMMARY: Set a budget first when purchasing a digital camera.
Did you decide to buy a DSLR camera for yourself? Remember, before you even go to a nearby shop or search for some options online, you should set a budget first. When you’re about to purchase any other big-ticket item like a computer, for instance, a car or a house, you look throoough tons and tons of options, but what you don’t want is to spend your time looking at a camera that you can’t afford. Obviously, expensive professional cameras can offer you a wide set of functions and more megapixels than low-budget cameras (which don’t always mean better photos!), but they can also take a huge bite out of your wallet if you are not careful.
When you’re just starting out in the world of digital photography, you shouldn’t necessarily spend a huge amount of money on a high-end camera. Instead you should opt for a cheaper, yet powerful, compact digital camera that is easy to hold in your hands and won’t add too much weight, when you’re traveling. With the help of this camera you can learn the basics and find out if you actually have passion and love for photography, before you splurge on something more professional and high-end.
If you happen to have an old camera, note that there are many uses for it, so don’t throw it away just yet.
#2. Think About Other Options
SUMMARY: If you decided to buy a camera with an interchangeable lens, consider getting an additional lens or two.
DSLRs and even some of the compact cameras nowadays offer you an option of switching up lenses. You can buy just a DSLR’s body alone or you can get it along with a kit lens. It can be good for those, who just want to get nice pictures, without diving into the vast world of photography. Unfortunately, if you want to eventually grow as a photographer and try some techniques, you might need something better, than a kit lens.
Lenses can be as expensive as a camera body itself or cost you even more. But don’t worry, you can always try to buy a second-hand lens (check if it’s in good condition first). There are also some relatively cheaper options available. For example, the famous Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens, also known as the nifty-fifty. It’s by far the cheapest lens Canon has, so it’s going to give you good-quality pictures without breaking your bank. There are some drawbacks - for instance, the lens is mostly made out of plastic, so it’s not extremely durable - but it is still worth your investment as it’s a great value for money.
Consult with local camera shops or online stores for more information.
#3. Prime Lens vs Zoom Lens
SUMMARY: What are the difference between a prime lens and a zoom lens?
Do you want to invest some of your money into a lens along with a new camera? You need to think about what challenges you may face as a photographer and what kind of pictures do you want to take. Basically there are two types of lenses - a prime lens and a zoom lens.
Prime lens or fixed lens, as some may call them, is a lens with a fixed focal length. It means that if you want to make an image appear larger, you need to actually come close to your subject. Likewise, if you need to fit in more objects into your frame, then you need to step back. The prime lenses are mostly cheaper and lighter, than zoom lenses, while they can also provide great quality images. However, the fixed focal length can be an issue if don’t have a lot of space to move around.
Zoom lens is, as you may guessed it, is a lens with a variable focal length. By adjusting the zoom ring, you can zoom in to a subject or zoom out; in other words, make the subject appear bigger or smaller without moving your body. Zoom lenses are great because they will result in sharp, high-quality images, while allowing you many different “looks” - you can take pictures of the whole scenery or get closer to the very details of your subject. Unfortunately, these lenses tend to cost more. They are also bulkier, heavier and more noticeable.
#4. Memory Cards For Your Shoots
SUMMARY: Consider this before buying a new digital camera.
Are you planning on buying a new digital camera? You have to take into account a lot of things - megapixel range, image quality, zoom capability. But here is one more thing you should consider.
It’s a type of a memory card. Cameras usually need a memory card to record shoots and there are several types of them. Let’s say that you already have a camera and it requires a CompactFlash card, so you own one or two of those. If you’re thinking about upgrading to a new camera, you should find the one that is going to be compatible with the memory card that you already have. Of course, if the camera is much better and well worth its purchase, despite the fact that it requires a different type of memory card, then you should buy it. Prices for memory cards are not so high, but they are still not so cheap and you wouldn’t want to ‘throw away’ the investment, that you had already made.
Luckily, more and more cameras nowadays are able to work with different kinds of memory cards, which is good news for you!
#5. Small Doesn’t Mean Underpowered
SUMMARY: Small digital cameras may be exactly what you need.
Buying a small digital camera may actually have some advantages. They are easier to transport, less conspicuous and not so heavy, so you won’t think twice before taking it on your next trip. Besides, nowadays you shouldn’t think that all small digital cameras are underpowered toys!
Small cameras may not have as many features as DSLRs and high-end prosumer cameras, but their megapixel resolutions can match and sometimes even beat their higher-priced alternatives! Plus, nowadays there are a lot of small cameras with great optical zoom and interchangeable lenses.
A large high-end digital camera may look impressive and have a wide variety of different features, but don’t think that small cameras are of no value. If you want a digital camera to take pictures of your friends and family, capture your adventures, while traveling without taking up a lot of space, or if you just don’t want to deal with a bulky large DSLR, consider the lighter alternatives.
#6. Be Careful When Buying Package Deals
SUMMARY: Package deals on cameras may be too good to be true - or a real bargain!
A digital camera with a memory card, a tripod, a backup battery, an extra lens and more… for hundreds of dollars off the original price because it is a package deal! It almost sounds too good to be true.
When you’re on a hunt for a new camera, you’re probably going to be overwhelmed with a lot of special offers - “Power Buys”, “Closeout Package Specials” and so on. Sometimes, these deals can really save up some of your money, especially if you need a camera bag, another memory card or a battery, etc.
However, be careful before you spend your hard-earned money. These deals may save you some money, but maybe not as much as retail prices tell you. Sometimes these deals are just a way for opportunistic dealers to make a few extra dollars on the side by selling substandard or closeout equipment in combos that seem like huge bargains for the unwary.
Before you buy into a package deal, examine the contents. You should check what the prices of the individual items REALLY cost by visiting online stores or price comparing websites. Only then you should make a decision. Do you really need these products? Will the package deal save you some money, even if it’s not as much as the seller claims?
I’ve saved money with package deals when I really needed all the included items, but some people end up spending way more than they had intended on equipment that they don’t actually need or going to use. Don’t let the same happen to you.
#7. Get a Camera with Magnified Photo Previews
SUMMARY: Magnified photo previews can help you determine the sharpness of a digital photo.
Digital cameras have the amazing ability to preview pictures that you’ve just taken. This is a huge advantage over film cameras! Now you can see what images look like and make sure they are good before you develop or print them!
However, even if you had the largest of LCD preview screens, you wouldn’t be able to see all the details in a photo. It’s not necessary to have pin-sharp photos if they are for personal use, but professionals and amateurs, who do photography for commercial reasons, may need to ensure their photos are of the highest quality. Especially if they bracket their photos, take several identical shots of the same subject with slightly modified settings.
If this sounds like what you need to do, make sure your new digital camera has magnified preview mode, before you purchase it . With this feature you can zoom in on your photos and check if they are of utmost quality. Digital cameras with this feature may have a button or dial next to a magnifying glass, signifying a zoom-in capability.
#8. Is There a Built-In Microphone?
SUMMARY: A digital camera with a microphone can add some benefits to your photography.
One often overlooked feature of a camera is a microphone. You may want to consider purchasing a digital camera with a microphone, because there might be either of these interesting features or both:
Voice Memo or Voice Annotation. Some digital cameras let you describe your photographs either right before or after the shoot, allowing you to describe the location, environment, weather and so on. When you’re going to organize your images, this can be very useful, especially if you’re like me and take hundreds of them on trips.
Movie Mode with Sound. Some digital cameras let you videos. They usually have AVI or QT (QuickTime) format. I’ve shot small videos of waterfalls, animals, fountains (Buckingham Fountain), downtown skylines, fireworks, and more. These aren’t as impressive as movies that you see in the cinema, but they are still good. Besides, many YouTubers began their careers with low-budget cameras, which have a video mode.
#9. Effective Pixels and Foveon X3
SUMMARY: Sometimes pixel counts of a digital camera can be deceiving.
If you want to compare megapixel counts of two or more cameras, check if these cameras have the Foveon X3 three-layer sensor first. You may think the final photos will come out larger in resolution than what the camera provides.
Most digital camera sensors can detect only red, blue, or green per pixel, using what is called the Bayer filter. Sometimes cameras try to accurately reproduce colors via dithering effects which can result in moiré pattern appearing in photos. To reduce the moire effect, digital cameras may use demosaicing effects, which can lead to “smearing” of details in a photo and some loss of sharpness.
Foveon X3 digital cameras, however, have a sensor array, with three sensors for each pixel - one detecting red, one blue, and one green. The digital camera then merges everything together, supposedly resulting in sharper and more pleasing photos.
Because of the extra detectors, a Foveon X3 digital camera that has, for example, 3.3 million detectors for red, green, and blue can be advertized as being a 10 megapixel camera, because 3.3 multiplied by 3 is approximately 10, even though the final resolution of a photo will only be 3.3 megapixels. The actual quality of the photo, however, may differ depending on the digital camera’s implementation, having approximately the same quality as a 5-8 megapixel photo taken with the Bayer filter.
#10. Don’t Expect a Camera to Come with a Memory Card
SUMMARY: Buying a digital camera? Be prepared to buy some memory cards.
When you purchase a digital camera - unless it happens to be a package deal - don’t expect the camera to come with enough memory storage to handle your photography needs. Nowadays, most digital cameras, if they come with any memory card at all, will only be packaged with a 16 or 32 memory card. It used to be enough for a couple dozen pictures, but if you are taking a high-quality pictures in RAW format, they may take up your memory space pretty quickly as they tend to be large files. Prepare to spend money on at least one extra memory card.
#11. What to Look for to Do Night Photography
SUMMARY: Helpful features some digital cameras provide to take better night photos.
Are you planning on buying a digital camera for night photography, perhaps cityscapes or fireworks displays? If so, here are a few things to look for. Note that only the high-end cameras will have some of these features, so balance your desires with your budget:
- Does your camera have a special night scene mode? This can help with taking pictures in low-lit conditions.
- Higher ISO settings allow you to take properly exposed photos at the expense of overall image quality. Do you know how to adjust your ISO settings to 200, 400, or higher without causing your digital photos to become grainy?
- Does your camera allow for a shutter speed of a full second, 2 seconds, or longer? You may need this so enough light can reach your camera in low-lit conditions. However, to make this work you would require a tripod or other stabilizing device.
- Does your camera have built-in image stabilization or vibration reduction features? This can compensate for the “camera shake” effect when you try to keep your digital camera still during long exposures.
#12. Don’t Get Caught Up in Megapixels
SUMMARY: Megapixels are not everything when it comes to buying a digital camera.
It’s very easy when you’re buying a digital camera to get caught up in the megapixel race. Fast-talking salesmen won’t be of much help as they usually tout high-priced cameras by saying that more megapixels are better. Surely if a digital camera contains more megapixels, it’s supposed to take better and clearer images than other digital cameras, right?
Here are two reasons why you should not get caught up in the megapixel race:
- More megapixels do not always equal clearer photos. The quality of the megapixels matter as much the number. For example, most image sensor pixels can only detect a particular area’s redness, blueness, or greenness, but not all three. This is why you sometimes get a mosaic effect, and why you often have to adjust the warmth of a photo - maybe not enough redness was captured. However, new technologies have emerged, such as the Foveon X3 three-layer sensor array where each pixel can detect redness, blueness AND greenness, supposedly resulting in sharper, warmer, and more pleasing photos.
- You should consider other features in a camera aside from the megapixel count. How fast can you set the shutter speed? This can determine whether you can do sports and night photography. Does a camera has a manual white-balance control, which can help you in taking pictures in homes, offices, and museums? Does it have pre-programmed modes to aid in difficult lighting situations?
If you are interested in the Foveon X3 technology, here is a link to their website:
Foveon - http://www.foveon.com/
#13. Consider the Total Cost of The Whole Package
SUMMARY: You won’t be just buying a camera - you may need to buy accessories.
When purchasing an automobile, you must consider the total cost of ownership (TCO). How much will it cost to gas up the car, if it needs higher-octane fuel? Does it require expensive tires? Does it need more maintenance than a different car?
The same should be considered when you are about to buy a camera. The camera itself costs a certain amount of money, but you should think about the accessories that you might need to buy. If you wish to enhance your photography or protect your investment, you consider buying the following:
- Memory cards to store photos
- Memory card reader to transfer files to your computer
- Extra rechargeable batteries to prolong photo shoots
- UV Filter to remove UV light and protect your lens
- Protective camera bag
- Interchangeable lenses, and if you already have a Kit-lens with your DSLR, you might want to buy another one.
- Tripod for stabilization
- Backup device
If you purchase the most expensive digital camera you can afford, you might break the budget on accessories. Instead you may want to step down a notch, buy a slightly less expensive camera and spend your extra money on needed supplies.
#14. Be Careful with Very Low Prices
SUMMARY: Beware of the camera ‘package deal’ sales technique.
When you see that a price for a camera that you like is too good to be true, be careful. While this isn’t the case of every affordable retailer, some companies will use a low-price camera as a bait, only to tantalize you with ‘bargain’ package deals that may contain substandard or closeout memory, batteries, camera cases and so on.
Selling cheap cameras alone won’t benefit these dealers - it can even cost them some money - but they will certainly make some profit on package deals. Thus, sometimes when you try to order just a camera, they may apply a pressure sales tactic and force you to buy a package deal. If you refuse to purchase the entire package or an extended warranty, suddenly the digital camera is on backorder and will be ‘available at a later time’.
Always shop around and buy equipment only from trustworthy businesses that you know won’t betray you, in case there is a problem with your purchase. This tip does not mean that all package deals are bad. But make sure you’ll get exactly what you need.
#15. Pre-Programmed Scene Modes May Help
SUMMARY: Scene modes make it easier to take photos in difficult light conditions.
Shooting in difficult light conditions? Scene modes will certainly make it easier for you.
Especially if you are a beginner, you should check how many scene modes a digital camera has. Pre-programmed scene modes can automatically configure the settings with just a couple of button presses or knob twists. This may help you if you have to shoot in challenging light conditions. For example, some cameras have following scene modes:
- Night photography
- Sports scenes or other action sequences
- Portrait photography
- Firework displays
- and more.
While these modes won’t produce professional-quality photos every time, they can assist you in taking better unique photos until you’re brave enough to work with manual mode and master the mystery of aperture, shutter speed, white balance settings and so on.
#16. Does Flash Come With a DSLR?
SUMMARY: Consider the total cost of ownership when purchasing a DSLR.
Almost all DSLRs come with a built-in flash nowadays. But you should remember that it doesn’t have as much power as an external flash, which you might want consider buying, if you’re going to shoot a lot indoors and in low-light conditions. External flashes are also a lot more controllable than the built-in ones. This is something that you must note in the overall purchase cost.
#17. Uses For Your Old Digital Camera
SUMMARY: Don’t throw away your old digital camera - here are some ways to get some use out of it.
After you bought a new camera, you may face a dilemma: what am I going to do with my old camera that has fewer megapixels and fewer features than the current one? Here are a few suggestions:
- Give your old digital camera to your parents or friends and introduce them to the world of photography. Remember, that you might also teach them some basics and explain how everything works!
- Keep your old camera as a backup in case something happens to your new one.
- Donate your old camera to charity or a school (this may be tax deductible - contact your accountant and/or charity for information).
- If your old camera is in good condition, you should sell it on eBay, an online store dealing in second-hand equipment, etc.
- Sell your old digital camera with the help of newspaper ads.
#18. How Much Optical Zoom is Needed?
SUMMARY: Do you require a camera with 6x optical zoom, or is 2x or 3x enough?
(Note that this tip was written for users of compact, intermediate and prosumer digital cameras. DSLR users can purchase lenses with different zooming capabilities.)
With the plethora of choices available, one question you may ask is how much optical zoom do you really need for the types of photos you want to take? If you want to buy a camera with a greater optical zoom distance, it is going to cost you more money than the one with only a 2x or 3x zoom, so this decision must be made according to your budget.
While there are no hard and fast rules, you should consider these following suggestions. Realize that even if you don’t need a big zoom for the majority of your work, there will always be times where it may be useful.
- Do you mostly take pictures of your friends and family at parties or social occasions? If so, a 2x or 3x zoom should be plenty. Just be sure to get up close if you need to photograph all the details of the event.
- Do you want to photograph outdoor scenery? Are you interested in taking photos of architectural elements in a cityscape? A 5x+ zoom can help you with photographing from further away without sacrificing detail.
- Interested in taking photos of wildlife where you need to stand back to avoid scaring animals away, at sporting events where you may end up in third level seating, from atop observation decks in large metropolises, or other situations where it will be difficult to get in close to your subject? That 7x+ zoom should help you get the photos you want.
Zoom magnifications differ between cameras. This tip is written as a guide, but if you need specifics, read more about zooming capabilities of a camera’s lens. The higher the number of mm (millimeter), the greater the telephoto capabilities (zooming in) of a particular lens.
#19. Where is the Tripod Socket?
SUMMARY: When purchasing a camera, make sure that it can fit well on a tripod.
If you plan on using a tripod, check the underside of the digital camera to see where the tripod socket is located. For best balance, the socket should be in the middle of the camera, though some manufacturers put sockets on the left or right side of a camera. A poor socket placement may make it more difficult to steady the camera for crystal-clear photos, when shoot with a tripod.
#20. Use Comparative Shopping Search Engines
SUMMARY: Looking for the best price for a camera or camera accessories? Search many offers at once.
If you’re looking for the best price for a digital camera or high-end camera accessory, instead of manually going to several online vendor websites, you may try using comparative shopping search engines. These websites allow you to browse for a particular product, then show you prices listed on a variety of online stores.
Depending on the shopping search engine, other items can be listed along with the product’s price at each store:
- Shipping price
- If the item is “in stock” (you may still want to check the online store just in case)
- Does the vendor charge sales tax
- A “rating” of the vendor by the shopping engine’s users - whether or not they deliver as promised
Use shopping search engines as a starting point. Listed prices may not tally with the actual prices on a vendor’s website (they may be higher OR lower). Be sure to read other peoples’ opinions and be careful when purchasing items from a brand you have never heard of before. Plus, be careful with prices that seem too low to be true - some vendors try to aggressively sell “package deals” that may or not be a good deal for you.
Here is a list of just a few comparative shopping search engines, provided for informational purposes only:
- BizRate - http://www.bizrate.com
- Google Shopping - https://www.google.com/shopping
- PriceGrabber - http://www.pricegrabber.com
- Shopzilla - http://www.shopzilla.com
- Pronto - https://www.pronto.com
- NextTag - http://www.nextag.com
#21. Digital Camera Reviews
SUMMARY: Links to websites offering reviews of specific digital cameras
Even after watching or reading lots of tips on how to buy a camera, you may wish to visit some websites offering reviews on certain cameras on the market.
Well, you’re in luck. Here are five websites with a variety of digital camera reviews, some of them even have sample photos taken from different cameras:
- Digital Photography Review - https://www.dpreview.com/
- Imaging Resource - https://www.imaging-resource.com/
- The Digital Picture - https://www.the-digital-picture.com
- Cameralabs - https://www.cameralabs.com
- Steve’s Digicams - http://www.steves-digicams.com/
#22. More Megapixels Means Greater Cropping Ability
SUMMARY: Cameras with a higher number of megapixels allow you to crop more.
Although you shouldn’t get caught up in megapixels race, a digital camera with 5+ or more megapixels do offer advantages over smaller-megapixel cameras, including the ability to crop out information.
Not every photo will come out perfect. Someone will get in the way, or a sign can be placed right next to a monument or a landmark. There will be times that no matter how well you compose your image, elements need to be removed before printing.
If you have a 5+ megapixel camera, you will be able to remove small elements from the picture with the right image editing software. Assuming you don’t have to crop out too much, you can still print out 8x10 prints without seeing a degradation of quality. 3 megapixel cameras barely have enough information for 8x10 prints; if you crop photos taken by such cameras and try to blow them up to 8x10 size, most likely you will see some pixilation as a result.
#23. More Control May Cost You
SUMMARY: Cameras with a manual mode might be more expensive.
While less-expensive digital cameras are great for beginners and even for experienced users, you may have to pay a little more to get full control. By “full control”, I mean the ability to set both your shutter speed and aperture at the same time as well as being able to adjust ISO.
Cheaper digital cameras may only allow you to set the shutter speed or aperture, but not both at once. In many cases these priority modes should work fine, but in very difficult lighting conditions you may need the ability to override your digital camera’s calculations.
#24. Consider a Waterproof Camera
SUMMARY: Some digital cameras are made to withstand moisture.
Will your need to often take photos out in the rain, snow or inclement weather? Lens shades and rain/snow covers may help, but if you have the money, you may wish to invest in an extra waterproof camera just for such occasions.
Several camera manufacturers make waterproof (sometimes called underwater) cameras. Some of those devices can withstand being dunked in 100 feet or more into the water without getting a short-circuiting. There are also waterproof cases you can buy that are going to protect your current investment.
Your local camera store or online shop should have information about waterproof cameras and cases, so check them out for more information.
#25. Look for ISO 50
SUMMARY: Look for cameras that support ISO 50 for crisper, cleaner images.
Most cameras have ISO 100 as their lowest ISO setting. However, if you are looking for even crisper, clearer photos, when you have lots of outdoor or artificial light, consider purchasing a camera that supports ISO 50.
ISO 50 gives you less grainy pictures than ISO 100, but you will need lots of light otherwise your images will be underexposed. Also, due to the lower shutter speed, you will mostly likely need to use a tripod or any other stabilizing device.