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New Year, New Camera

What is the best digital camera? What camera should I buy? I am asked these questions all the time. While there is no simple answer, I will try to clarify a few things and hopefully make your decision easier.

Before I get into camera types, I’d like to make sure you understand the importance of two things: the size of the image sensor and the number of megapixels.

Image sensor

The image sensor is the digital equivalent of film we used back in the day (not that long ago for many of us). The size determines how much light the camera uses to create an image. The bigger the sensor, the more information is retained and the better the images. The size on a full frame camera measures 36 x 24 mm.

Megapixels

More megapixels don’t necessarily mean more value. In my opinion, you do not need more than 16 megapixels unless you plan to heavily crop your photos or create very large prints. If you just share your pictures online or print small to medium photos (up to 16 x 24), you will not benefit from a large number of megapixels.

To simplify things, if you are in the market for a new camera, you basically have 3 options:

Option 1: Buy a point-and-shoot camera

These cameras are also known as “compact” cameras. They are small, light, sleek looking and easy to carry. They don’t take much space and they produce decent pictures. Their sensor size varies from 5.37 x 4.04 mm to 12.8 X 9.6 mm for higher-end compacts like Sony DSC-RX100. Point-and-shoot cameras have evolved significantly in the past few years, and it’s common to find over 20 megapixels in a small, compact camera. They take nice pictures, some even allow you to shoot raw photos, not just JPEG. If you are not familiar with raw photos and you need to convert them to JPEG, check out one of my blogs here.

In my opinion, point-and-shoot cameras are suffering from an identity crisis. Smart phones have sensors comparable in size with them. If you own a smart phone, I think a compact camera would be redundant. The iPhone 5 for example produces great quality photos (read my review here ). In fact, some of my previous blog pictures are taken with an iPhone. The new Nokia Lumia 1020 has a mind blowing 41 megapixel sensor. Again, I am not sure how you’ll benefit from this but that’s just impressive.  In fact, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, in 2013 the US sales of compact digital camera was down by 44% and are expected to drop even further in the next couple of years.

Buy a point-and-shoot if:

  • You don’t have a smart phone
  • You are not interested in learning more about photography and are happy with just capturing snapshots and sharing them online

Option 2: Buy a DSLR

Until recently, these cameras have been used mostly by professional or semi-professional photographers. Not anymore; many consumer-focused models such as Canon EOS Rebel T3i and Nikon 1532 D3300 are now available. There are a few major advantages. The sensor size is considerably larger than compact cameras. Most DSLRs use either an APS-C sensor (22.2 x 14.8 mm for Canon) or full frame (36 x  24 mm). These cameras also have an optical viewfinder. I personally love being able to see the shot I am taking. You can also take advantage of interchangeable lenses. Yes, they can be expensive, but as you become a more seasoned photographer, you will appreciate them more and more. Make sure to check one of my older blogs.

Buy a DSLR if:

  • You want to learn more about photography and take better pictures
  • You don’t mind carrying a heavier, bulkier camera with you
  • You want to see the shot clearly before you take it

Option 3: Buy a mirrorless camera

These cameras are fairly new on the market and I have not played with one yet. They are similar to DSLRs but without the mirror and optical viewfinder. By removing these systems, the manufacturers are able to make the cameras smaller and more compact while minimizing the impact on performance and image quality. The sensor size is larger; Canon even uses an APS-C sensor in their Canon EOS M Cameras. There is however a major drawback. You have to compose your shot by looking at the LCD screen (or electronic viewfinder) since the cameras, just like the point- and-shoot, do not have a viewfinder.

Buy a mirrorless camera if:

  • You already have a DSLR and would like to have a lighter second camera
  • You must have the latest gadgets

If you are looking to get more into photography, I strongly recommend buying a DSLR. This is the best digital camera for you. You will not be disappointed. It may be a little intimidating at first, but once you learn how to use it properly, I guarantee you’ll love it. In fact, if you follow my blog, you will see a series of photography lessons in the coming weeks meant to help you get the most out of your DSLR. And if you have any questions, be sure to submit them here.

Happy camera shopping!

For more photography tips and ideas, check out my latest photography book, Picture (Im)perfect Photographynow available at Amazon.

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One Response to “New Year, New Camera”

  1. connie | January 23, 2014 at 6:26 PM #

    Looking forward for more info on cameras

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