Photography 101 – What kind of camera should I buy?

Photography 101- What kind of camera should I buy?


  • What kind of camera should I buy?
  • I have a really nice film camera already.  What kind of camera should I buy?

Both versions of this question are the same except that the individual with a good single lens reflex (SLR) camera might desire the features offered by a digital single lens reflex camera (DSLR) and might have some lenses that can be used with the new camera body.


  • What do you want to photograph?

If you want to shoot general scenery and outdoor family shots in good lighting, then most current digital cameras will produce good to very good results if used as directed.

However, if you want to zoom in on the closer picture of the bee rather than just the flower bed, you have to consider the macro- photography capabilities of your equipment.

Similarly, if you want to shoot a son or daughter’s basketball game in a dimly lit gymnasium, you will need to look for a camera that handles both low light conditions and fast action.  Gymnasiums can be tough to photograph in even with top notch equipment!

If you want to photograph sailboat races from on board, or want to photograph fish or coral while snorkeling or scuba diving, you will have to either purchase a camera with its own waterproof casing or purchase a third-party casing into which to put your camera.

  • How much do you want to spend?

The price of digital cameras is decreasing rapidly and with each new model, the manufacturers are adding more and more features. The $100 point and shoot  (P&S) camera can not be expected to compete fairly with the $8,000 to $10,000 professional model DSLR but might be be just fine for recording the flower garden or some family gathering every so often. The lower priced camera may not have the resolution or precision to produce wall-sized enlargements but might look just fine if all that you intend to do is share photos on your Facebook account.

Update 2012: Prices for top of the line Nikon and Canon DSLRs are now down to the $3,000 – $7,000 and cell phones take pretty good photos under ideal conditions.

  • Who will be using the camera?

If you have a young family and hope to have them using the camera consider the following:

  1. Will they be able to master the controls?
  2. Will they be able to handle the weight of the equipment?
  3. Most importantly, how will you feel about handing them the camera.  It won’t be a great experience for anyone if you hand an expensive camera to your child and then continue to visibly fret that they might damage it. You might worry less handing over a $100 model!
  • How much experience do you have with cameras?

The modern P&S camera can take marvelous photos in its automatic mode.  The photographer points the camera at the subject, depresses the shutter and the camera takes over and tries its best to capture an image with the right exposure, the correct white balance and a desirable depth of field and automatically focuses on what it thinks that you want to focus on.  Works pretty good in theory but, with more and more experience, many photographers tend to want to experiment and change some of the parameters.  A camera that doesn’t allow for such adjustments, might simply become a frustration rather than a magical piece of equipment.

At the other end of the price scale, the modern professional DSLR allows for fine tuning of just about any feature imaginable but the photographer has to have the knowledge and experience to get the most out of all of those potential adjustments. If an individual hasn’t the time or the interest in learning how to use the camera, then it can become an expensive paper weight.

  • How strong are you?

Digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras with telephoto lenses can feel pretty heavy after carrying them through the woods for a while. A number of my friends have had heart attacks or other medical conditions which affect their ability to continue photographing with heavy cameras.

Weight of the camera and the ergonomics of the camera play an important role in the enjoyment of the equipment, so it is very important to handle various cameras before making a final decision.  If you don’t like the ‘feel’ of the camera in your hand, it might become difficult to become comfortable and happy using it.

Camera phones: Great for making calls and getting better at taking photos. The many camera phone options tend to offer the same advantages as many P&S models.  They offer great portability and take pretty good images when lighting is good.  Their limitations begin to show as the amount of available light diminishes or when action is fast and furious. Many have built-in software to adjust for high dynamic range (HDR) situations and also add ‘fun’ to the photography process with interesting image manipulation software applications available to add creative options.

Camera Reviews:

At Megapixel Travel, we don’t offer reviews of camera models and don’t try to keep up to date on the specs of all of the many models that manufacturers are producing. Manufacturers will unveil close to 100 new camera/lens models at the International Consumer Electronics show (CES 2011) in Las Vegas, January 6-9th, 2011. There are many reviewers on-line. To find a few just conduct a Google search by entering the model number of the camera you are considering along with the word ‘review’ and presto you will find more information than you will ever really want to read. Keeping in mind the above 5 questions will hopefully help with your decision. We use Nikon DSLRs and a few of the more prolific on-line review sites that we refer to from time to time for our own interest are:

Steve’s Digicams
Rob Galbraith
Nærfoto Bjørn Rørslett

The following site offers a useful starting point for price comparisons for Canadian buyers:

There are many more on-line review sites than we have listed and many opinions voiced on-line but, as with any buying decision, it is always useful to look at the manufacturer’s specs and then look at more than one review to see if the product you are looking at will meet your own personal needs and budget.

It is probably safe to say, though, that for the new camera buyer, any camera purchased today will likely cost more and have fewer features than a similar camera purchased a year from now. Offsetting that observation, though, is the equally important consideration that not buying a camera today will mean that you can’t take a photo that you might want to take tomorrow.  Of course, for the person on the upgrade path, the question of whether to consider a newer model is almost always about features, features, features and the consideration of whether the new features are worth the cost of upgrading.

The legal bit: These tutorials are presented here for educational purposes only. No guarantees or warranties of any kind are implied or intended. Copyright is retained by the authors at Megapixel Travel. Any commercial use or distribution of these tutorials in whole or in part is prohibited unless specifically authorized by the authors or their copyright agents.

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