While I was on vacation this summer some fellow vacationers noticed my digital camera and started asking questions. They were folks who had not yet taken the digital plunge, and they wanted to know if they should, and how to choose an appropriate model. Here are the criteria I would recommend to a digital camera buyer just now getting into the market.
The first criteria is “Are you computer litterate?” By that I mean, most specifically, do you understand the concept of files and folders? If you write a document in a word processor, and save the document, can you find it a week later? Are you able to sort your saved files into more than one folder? If you aren’t familiar with these concepts, don’t even consider a digital camera. Stick with your 35mm camera for now. Digital cameras will spew a new file for each snap you take, and if you don’t attempt to organize the some way through folders or some other method, you’ll be lost in a sea of picture files. Also, if you don’t have a computer at home, I would not recommend a digital camera. You can get one and get prints, but the convenience factor is gone if you don’t already have a computer (any computer will do. DO NOT upgrade your computer just for a digital camera).
How much to spend?
Be prepared to spend at least $130 for the two things you absolutely need: a camera and an additional memory card. But before you walk into a store, determine your absolute maximum. Digital cameras and their memory cards start very cheap, and go up incrementally into the $1000+ range–and that’s not even for a “Pro” camera. Count on a minimum of $100 for the camera and $30 for the memory card.
The camera will probably come with a very small amount of memory in the box (8-32 MB). In nearly all cases this will not be enough. Get more memory in the flavor the camera uses. There are lots of different flavors, but the details don’t really matter for this review. Just get one that is compatible with the camera. The box will tell you which to get. If you aren’t sure, as a sales rep.
How much should you get? That depends on how long you’ll be away from your computer and how much of a shutterbug you are. If you’ll be taking a two week vacation with no access to your computer, buy more. If you only snap a few pictures during the week and on weekend jaunts, buy less. How much more or less? That will depend heavily on you. I would recommend buying a smaller (128 MB) memory card to get started, and see how quickly you fill up.
Choosing a Camera
As I mentioned before, be prepared to spend at least $100 on a camera. Anything less will get you a “toy” camera that would be suitable for a child to play with, but will not be good enough for an adult. If you are able to spend more like $500 for a camera, this article is not for you. You really should review the features and capabilities of higher end consumer cameras at a site like this: DPReview.com.
If you are still with me, here are the three criteria in order of decreasing importance that you should consider when buying an inexpensive digital camera:
- Ease of use: Spend some time at a big-box retailer and actually try out the cameras in your price range. Nothing else matters about the camera if you don’t understand how to use it. Make sure you can press the buttons and read their labels. Ask for help. Be sure you like the feel of the camera in your hands. Play with the menus and make sure they make sense to you. I cannot stress this enough: if you get home and don’t understand how to use the camera, you’ll have a very expensive paperweight.
- Optical Zoom: Optical zoom is the amount of zoom in the camera lens itself. It will determine how close you can get to your subject without having to move your body. Do not confuse this with digital zoom. Digital zoom is essentially worthless in a digital camera because you can always do the same thing with the photo on a computer afterwards. In this price range of camera, 3x optical zoom is typical. More zoom is better, but remember that ease of use is more important.
- Auto-focus: Some cameras in this price range have a “fixed” focus lens, which means everything greater than 4ish feet away will be in focus. This is fine for a camera for a kid, but you’ll want the improved results from a camera with auto-focus.
There, thats it. Three criteria after you set your budget. Don’t worry about all the thousands of other potential features. Worry about those on your second digital camera if you find yourself really intrigued. Also, don’t worry about the much touted “mega-pixels” of the camera. Seriously. The sales rep may tell you differently, but in this price range it really doesn’t matter. OK, it matters if you want prints sized 8×10 or larger, but how often did you do that with your 35mm? You, like 98% of your brethern, just get 4×6 prints, with an occasional 5×7. These cameras are fine for both.
Next time, how to get prints from your new digital camera…