DIGITAL AND ANALOG? THE CONFUSING CAMERA WORLD
Welcome to my guide on how to choose a digital camera. Before we start, you should be aware that there is something called “digital camera” and “analog camera” these days. Just what are those!? Well, it’s all a part of history.
“Analog cameras” simply mean the traditional film and mechanical cameras, while “digital cameras” are the more modern electronic cameras that use memory cards instead.
So please take note – This guide is about helping you to choose a digital camera.
Not that analog cameras are bad, they still have their own charm. But as this world is moving towards digital, it only makes more sense for this guide to focus on the digital cameras.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Yes, you can just ask someone else for opinions, and I do recommend asking someone more experienced with camera gear. But the choice is still yours in the end.
How do we choose the perfect camera? These are the usual factors that I will usually consider while choosing a new camera.
Always start with your own thoughts.
What are your needs? What do you want to do next? Because this is all about you, this is your photography.
A1) WHAT KIND OF PHOTOGRAPHY?
This is the easiest and hardest question for yourself. What do you want to do with photography?
Take some landscape photos? Portraits? Pets? Travel? Casual or professional? For some other people, it may be “I don’t know, I want to try everything”.
By all means, that is fine as long as you have a baseline on what you need.
A2) WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS THAT YOU NEED?
Well, now that you know what you are going to do with the camera, it’s time to establish for yourself what you need exactly.
For example :
- I am into underwater photography, so waterproofing is a must.
- Just for some casual shots, a simple camera will do.
- I travel quite a lot, so the camera must not be too heavy but still decent.
- Going to study photography and go professional. Need some heavy guns.
- I want to shoot some videos too, a video function is a must.
A3) WHAT KIND OF BUDGET DO YOU HAVE?
I understand, you may not know the market very well yet, but you still need to set aside some money for the camera.
My recommendation, set aside US$500 to $800 if you are going for simple gear. Casual shooters who want a decently good camera should spend about US$1000 to $1500.
For those of you who are going “heavy guns”… prepare to burn a hole in your pockets.
THE CAMERA & SPECS
Big gun or small portable one?
Which camera suits your needs? What kind of specs do you need? What functions?
B1) THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF DIGITAL CAMERA
Once you have a general idea on what you need, you have to choose a “type” of digital camera.
Digital cameras these days come in all shapes and sizes, but in general there are only a few “kinds”. So go choose your weapon – big gun or small and portable?
Size and weight : Small size, light weight. Some may even fit into your pocket.
Capability : The lens for compact cameras are typically fixed and cannot be changed. Generally does not have a “manual mode” either, just full auto, point-and-shoot.
Not really fantastic in terms of performance. Decent image quality, decent lens, just something better than your camera phone.
For : Those of you who want to have a better camera than your phone, not too much weight to carry around, and don’t care about the technical bits. Not much of a performer, but good for casual photos.
MIRRORLESS MICRO 4/3
Size and weight : Decent size, not too heavy, not light either.
Capability : The next “big thing” in the photography world. These babies are what I call “very big smartphone cameras with interchangeable lens but you cannot make calls nor access the Internet with it”.
Full manual controls, and the performance ranges from decent to excellent (depending on which model you buy).
For : Those of you who wants a good capable camera without all the weight. Lens can be changed, so you can try out a bunch of different things. Be warned though, these are not cheap toys.
Size and weight : Ranging from not-too-heavy for the starters, to heavy and bulky for the professional series.
Capability : Performance ranges from “decent” to “excellent” again, depending on which model you buy… along with the lens you chose.
Capable of shooting almost anything, DSLRs are the good old workhorse in the photography industry.
For : People who are serious about photography, don’t quite mind the weight. Wants the flexibility to go into different fields and good performance.
Size and weight : Small and very lightweight, fits into your pocket.
Capability : Don’t let these tiny boxes fool you. Check out “Go-Pro” and these cameras have been used in live shows, underwater, mounted on drones and some rather extreme cases.
Given it’s size, it still produces decent images and videos.
For : More video than still camera, for those of you who are adventurous. If diving and sky diving sounds good to you, this is made for you.
B2) THE BRAND
Now that you have a generic camera type in mind, it’s time to choose a brand.
Is the brand really that important?
Well, the debate between Nikon vs Canon has now evolved into Nikon vs Canon vs Sony. My take is that the argument will never end. Each company has produced some excellent products and some pretty lousy ones.
So my take is, to look at what each brand has to offer instead. Because once you are stuck to a certain brand, it will be hard to make a switch.
Decide, after you look at the products line-up and lenses available. Look at their build, quality, and performance history. Listen to the feedback of photographers who have already used the camera for years… Not some random ramblings of a fanboy.
B3) THE BUILD
Now you have a camera type and brand in mind, what’s next? The exact camera model. Start looking at cameras for their build quality… and what your budget allows you to get.
Size : Don’t buy a huge DSLR and expect it to fit into your pocket… unless you are a kangaroo or something.
Weight : How heavy is that camera plus the lens, plus any stuff you might be carrying around? If it is going to hurt you, then no.
Quality : Most beginner DSLRs these days are made of cheap plastics, which is why they cost a lot lesser than the professional ones.
That aside, listen to feedback, has anyone else had trouble with the camera you are looking at? Any mechanical failures? Software failure? Any particular quirks?
Design : Well, some people go for a particular camera because it looks good. Can’t stop them.
But what makes more sense for me is the ergonomics, and how the menu is designed. Shooting with a camera that does not look good, but easy to use is more important.
Weather Sealing : If you shoot outdoors a lot, make sure that the camera is weather sealed. Or you are going to have a hard time maintaining your camera when dust and water gets in.
Waterproof : If you are planning to shoot underwater, look for cameras that are waterproof. Or look for cameras that have an underwater housing.
B4) THE SPECS
Next, we need to look at what is inside the camera.
Megapixels : How many megapixels do you need? At the time of writing, July 2016, most cameras are at least 10 megapixels or more.
Some may think that is not enough, but think again… even at 5 megapixels, the image size is 2560 x 1920 pixels. That is close to a 2K screen, way better than full HD.
A small reminder that more megapixels does not equate to better image quality anyway.
Image Quality : The image quality mainly depends on 3 things in a digital camera – Sensor, image processor and lens. Learn to read some of the numbers.
- Firstly, the sensor size. Technically, the larger the sensor, the better. A “full frame” camera is probably one of the best you can get, but it costs a lot.
- The dynamic range. Technically again, larger the range, the better (but more expensive).
- Sensitivity and SNR. This will measure how good the camera is in low light.
Lastly, when in doubt, use your own eyes to determine if you like the image quality.
Storage : Which card formats do the camera support? Does the camera have built-in memory and how large is it?
Battery Life : How long will the battery last and can the battery be replaced?
Frames per second : Not really that important, but if you are shooting action and fast moving things, you will need a decent frame rate.
Auto-focus : How many auto-focus points are there? How fast and how accurate is the auto focus system?
Video and sound : Do you Vlog? Take short videos? Then look out for video features in the camera.
Wireless and GPS : This is a small plus. Some of those cameras that directly link to your smartphone and allow you to instantly post online just saves you a lot of trouble these days.
What are the other people saying about your chosen cameras?
What do the online reviews say? How about hands on, try it for yourself first?
C1) READ ONLINE REVIEWS
When you are too lazy or confused, go online. Read the reviews and watch review videos on YouTube.
Hop onto forums, and join Facebook Groups – ask. People who have used the camera are your best judges and advisers.
C2) HANDS ON
Nothing beats trying out the actual camera by yourself. If your friend has the same camera you are looking at, borrow it for a shoot to test it out, or just hop down to the store for a demo.
Just don’t be pressured to buy on the spot, give yourself time to check out a bunch of different alternatives first.
C3) THE SALESPERSON IS NOT YOUR FRIEND
Now onto the last point. Remember, the salesperson is not your friend… unless you know him/her personally.
They are often there to sell things, not to make sure that you get the best camera for your needs.
Go make some friends with experienced photographers instead. They make good recommendations and are your free coaches. 😆
C4) BUSTING THE GOOD EQUIPMENT MYTH
This is not really related to choosing a camera, but I think a necessary point to make. Buying a new camera does not make you a better photographer.
Equipment will not turn you into instant masters, only your own willingness to learn and develop your skills will get you there one day.
The camera is nothing but a tool. The man who is handling the camera is the ultimate winner.
So we have come to the end of the guide, hope it has given you some good thoughts to consider.
I have a little bit of an extra here – I have compiled all the points into a “how to choose a camera” cheat sheet.
You can click below to download, enjoy and happy shooting!