Terry posted about a digital camera article today. He gave his thoughts on the 10 items mentioned. I thought it was a good article and Terry had some good comments. I wanted to follow that up with some comments of my own. These are the guidelines I give to most people when being asked for camera advice.
These comments assume one thing, that you are not a professional seeking large format Leica quality pictures. I worked in the photo retail business long before the digital age hit. Usually if someone is asking for advice it is because they don’t know what they want or need. So if you disagree with me on some of these points, that is perfectly fine. You are not the kind of person that is coming to me asking for my advice or pointers on buying a new camera.
1. “Resolution is less important than you think”
I totally agree with this. Obviously if you can afford the high end machine with all the bells and whistles and lots of megapixels, then have at it. But, my advice is to look for a 4 or 5 MP camera with lots of extra features. Buy features not megapixels. On the other hand, don’t settle for a 2 MP camera these days.
Most people will never print an 8X10 picture. Much less a 20X30. Did you know that a 3.2 MP camera can print a good 8X10? If you were using a plastic point and shoot film camera before, then you probably will get a better 8X10 out of a 2 MP digital than you got out of your old camera.
I would say 5 MP (more if you can afford it) will give you great pictures for 95%, or more, of what you will be shooting. What kind of features should you be looking for to spend money on? Read on.
2. “Zoom is more important than you think”
Zoom is definitely one of the features to buy. Even if you have to drop back on pixels, buy more zoom. But only look at optical zoom. Digital zoom is worthless and means nothing. What you can accomplish in the camera with digital zoom can be done (better) on the computer after the picture is taken. Optical zoom is real live magnification and will render the full resolution that the camera is capable of.
3. “Travelers should use cameras with AA batteries”
I agree. Keep it simple. If you have to buy batteries in a foreign country from a street market when no one speaks your language, you will be thankful for AA batteries.
Proprietary battery packs are death to the traveler. There are some standard camera battery packs, but you will never go wrong with AA.
4. “Small cameras get shots that big cameras don’t”
Great point. If you want to buy the 11 MP SLR with 6 extra lenses, that is wonderful. But don’t forget to pick up a 5 MP camera as a companion. You can’t take a picture if you don’t have a camera.
As awful as most camera phones are, there are bizillions of pictures taken with them every day. That is because they are handy and people always have their phone. Get you a camera that you will carry. No pictures are taken with the camera that sits in the trunk of the car. It has to be pulled out and used.
I am not saying that an SLR is not important or admirable. It is just good to have a secondary camera that is easy to carry.
5. “Canon makes great cameras”
I agree. I have been mostly pleased with mine. My first one anyway. My second one is the exact same model, but has been a bit flaky. I think it was mistreated before I got it. It was a used replacement for my stolen Canon.
6. “Kodak makes great, easy-to-use cameras”
Based on my research, I recommended a Kodak for my mother. I have not at all regretted that decision. She certainly has used it over the last 4 years. I would think she agrees with that statement as well.
7. “Digital cameras can and will break”
They certainly seem to be more fragile. Funny that we have always been told that fewer moving parts means longer lasting products. The amazing circuitry packed into the small body of a camera probably leads to failure. I have torn a few cameras apart and must admit that trying to repair a film camera is actually possible. Digital cameras are a disposable item unless you take it to a professional.
8. “Don’t put all your pictures on one card”
Oh, how many times have I said this? It is amazing to me to see people want to buy the 2 and 4 GB memory cards and ignore the 256 ones. Just because the price of the upper end cards are coming down, does not mean that it is a smart thing to do.
I would never recommend a card bigger than 512 and would prefer to have no larger than 256. I have several cards. None of them are bigger than 128 MB. If I lose all my pictures on a 128 card, I will cry a lot less than if I lost 1 GB worth of pictures.
9. “Find & use a simple photo editing program”
Picasa. Just get it and use it. It works in Linux too.
If you know how to use Photoshop (or better yet the GIMP) then you can ignore this advice. But the vast majority of people don’t know how. Picasa is amazing. I use it for 90% of my photo work. The GIMP gets the rest.
10. “Print and display your pictures”
I really enjoy printing out some pictures. I often take pictures of group activities. It is fun to show up the next day with a few photos in hand. I don’t have to print them all.
You can take your memory card to many drug stores or department stores. Pop the card into the machine and have them print. I do all my editing on the computer before heading to the store. I put just the pictures I want on the card (a great use for a second smaller card) and when I get to the store, I don’t have to dig through 200 pictures. The 13 that I want printed are already chosen and ready to print.
You can even upload your pics to Wal-Mart and have them printed. The next time you go to the store, just pop back to the photo department and grab your pictures.
I have uploaded some pictures to the web and told people where to go to have them printed and shipped directly to them. This allows them to have a print if they want and I didn’t have to pay for it or ship it. Sneaky. Sometimes I have uploaded pictures and then had a bunch of them printed and sent to my grandparents. They get the pictures in the mail and it did not cost me any more than it would have if I had them sent to me first. In fact, it saves me from doing the work of mailing them back out.
I have a photo printer that I use when I need to print pictures on site. But having my pictures printed at Costco costs less than I can print them on my photo printer. Plus they are on better paper and will last much longer.
If I added an 11 and 12 they would be:
11. Digital cameras are slower than you think
This is getting better, but they are still slow. There is no such thing as pulling the lens cap off and shooting a shot in 3 seconds. My first digital camera took 18 seconds from the time you turned it on until you could take the first picture. It was 12 seconds between pictures. Yikes!
My current camera is much faster. I think it is in the 8 second range from power up to snapping the first picture. But there are still a couple of seconds between shots. Think that is not a long time? Watch your baby do something cute. Run to get the camera and wait 10 seconds and see if the photo opp is still available. Sorry, out of luck.
12. Play with the camera before buying it
This will help you see how fast or slow the camera is. Also, do you understand the controls? Obviously you will be able to read the owner’s manual once you buy the camera, but if you cannot take a picture without reading the manual, then you may want to look at a different model. This should not be rocket science just to take a snapshot in the store.
I like the list. Thanks Terry for pointing it out. Be sure to read the original article to see what this all stems from.
If you are prone to read way too much when looking for comparisons of cameras, I have always enjoyed reading Imaging Resource. They seem to have lots of detailed, yet important information.