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How to choose a compact digital camera

Compact digital camera

This post is for those who are buy­ing their first or sec­ond com­pact dig­i­tal cam­era. If you already own a DSLR con­sider skip­ping this arti­cle and read­ing some­thing else.

Buying  a  com­pact dig­i­tal cam­era is often con­fus­ing because of the vari­ety of choices avail­able. The var­i­ous per­mu­ta­tions and com­bi­na­tions avail­able are mind­bog­gling for a per­son just start­ing off with pho­tog­ra­phy. By shar­ing with you this sim­ple think-flow, I aim to make it eas­ier for you to choose a cam­era that best suits your needs. Fol­low these steps to their log­i­cal con­clu­sion and if you are still unde­cided or unclear about any­thing, you can always email me your query or write it at the end of the arti­cle in the com­ments box.

Step 1: Fix your budget

Digi­tal cam­eras are avail­able at all price tags. If you don’t check your wal­let and decide how much you want to spend, it will be extremely dif­fi­cult to decide on a model. Your bud­get has to be a fig­ure, not words. Don’t say ‘inex­pen­sive’ or ‘not too expen­sive’ or ‘mid-range’. Con­vert words to num­bers, say ‘less than Rs. 10,000′ or ‘not more than Rs. 15,000′ or ‘max Rs. 12,000′. Don’t set unre­al­is­tic bud­gets like ‘around Rs. 4000′, the idea is to buy a cam­era, not not buy one. Always choose a bud­get that will allow you to buy a qual­ity prod­uct that will last you at least 2 years (I usu­ally aim for 3 years) before it finds its place in the tech grave­yard. Hav­ing arrived at a bud­get, move on to Step 2.

Step 2: Deter­mine the type of use

What do you want to pho­to­graph? It is impor­tant to know the pri­mary use that your cam­era will be put to. Each type of pho­tog­ra­phy has at least one spe­cific fea­ture require­ment. You should buy a cam­era that has the feature(s) your pho­tog­ra­phy requires. Like, if you do a lot of close-ups of small objects like flow­ers etc. then your cam­era should be able to focus real close. (i.e. have a small min­i­mum focus­ing dis­tance). If you do a lot of action pho­tog­ra­phy your cam­era should be able to take many pic­tures in a short dura­tion (i.e. have a high ‘frames per sec­ond’) to ensure you don’t miss any action.

When tak­ing fam­ily pics indoors you will need a cam­era with a good wide-angle lens (ide­ally 24mm or at least 28mm). But when you are on a nature safari your cam­era needs to have a good tele­photo lens (ide­ally 400mm), here its OK to have a wide-angle lens of 28mm or 35mm.

Sim­i­larly, a good flash­light is a boon if you are shoot­ing in low light or indoors, but if you are pri­mar­ily shoot­ing out­doors, in good light, a flash­light is of lit­tle use, but the pos­si­bil­ity of using a lower ISO is a boon.

Don’t stretch the scale too much, if you want a cam­era that takes good indoor shots of your kid’s birth­day party and also of the small bird sit­ting high up on the tree you will do good by buy­ing a top-of-the-line com­pact dig­i­tal cam­era (they are not so com­pact in size though).

You don’t have to restrict your­self to only any one type of pho­tog­ra­phy, you can short-list a few but keep in mind the most fre­quent use your cam­era will be going through. Hav­ing done this, move on to Step 3.

Step 3: Con­sider the fre­quency of  use

It’s time to be hon­est to your­self. How often will you be using your cam­era? Are you going to remem­ber your cam­era once in two months, or will you be click­ing every week­end? Your fre­quency of use will be a fac­tor in decid­ing which model you should consider.

If you are going to shoot only a few pic­tures now and then, (like: an occa­sional get-together, annual vaca­tion and birth­day par­ties) then you need a cam­era which is light, sim­ple to use, and uncom­pli­cated. So that when you see it after a month you don’t have to won­der where the con­trols are.
It is not going to be dif­fi­cult to find a cam­era for such use within your budget.

If you are going to shoot reg­u­larly, like every week­end or more often than that, then you should con­sider choos­ing a cam­era that is built for fre­quent use – is more durable and will with­stand the tangs and bangs of reg­u­lar use. A cam­era of this type usu­ally finds itself at the top end of your bud­get. These cam­eras may have more fea­tures which in turn may give you more con­trol over your pho­tog­ra­phy. The addi­tional fea­tures and options may seem of lit­tle impor­tance in the start, but as your pho­tog­ra­phy improves, which it will if you shoot a lot, you will find use for these fea­tures too. Hav­ing decided how often and how much you will be shoot­ing move on to Step 4.

Step 4: Start doing your homework

Now that you know what you are look­ing for it’s time to find the cam­era you need. No, don’t walk into a store just yet. Go online. Visit web­sites of major cam­era man­u­fac­tur­ers (Canon, Nikon, Sony are most pop­u­lar in India) and browse through their offer­ings. You can visit an online retailer (ebay.in or jjmehta.com) to know the approx­i­mate price of the cam­era mod­els. On a piece of paper (or on your mobile phone) short­list 2–3 mod­els of each man­u­fac­turer that you can con­sider buy­ing – these cam­era mod­els should fit your require­ments almost per­fectly. Rewrite your list arrang­ing the cam­era mod­els accord­ing to your buy­ing pref­er­ence. The one you are most likely to buy should on top and the least likely option should be last.

There will always be minor sac­ri­fices that you will have to make – like buy­ing one with 3x zoom instead of 4x or 12MP instead of 14MP. These sac­ri­fices will be prompted because the cam­era has other fea­tures which you desire more.  Hav­ing pre­pared and finalised your list, move on to Step 5.

Note: Avoid buy­ing a cam­era model that is sell­ing at a huge dis­count in a num­ber of stores. Most prob­a­bly, a new model is about to be launched and the shops are dis­card­ing the cur­rent model before it loses value. This will be obvi­ous when stores adver­tise dis­counts in newspapers.

Step 5: Try and buy

Now you are going to buy your cam­era. Armed with your list walk into a cam­era store (or an elec­tron­ics super­mar­ket: eZone or Croma, in India) on a Sun­day morn­ing (or when it’s least crowded). Don’t get dis­tracted by the loads of cam­eras on dis­play, stick to your list.

Start­ing with the first cam­era you have short­listed, hold every cam­era in your hand to see how it feels. Can you work the con­trols? Are the but­tons of a con­ve­nient size and shape? Is it easy to hold and oper­ate? If you are in one of those large elec­tron­ics super­mar­kets you may not be allowed to actu­ally take pic­tures (the bat­ter­ies are removed), but you can still expe­ri­ence the camera.

When you entered the shop your aim was to buy the first cam­era on your list. Now, after expe­ri­enc­ing it, if you find it’s not con­ve­nient to use, don’t buy it. Buy it only if you can get used to it dur­ing your learn­ing curve. Choose a cam­era that feels good and which you will enjoy using. If you don’t enjoy hold­ing it, you won’t enjoy tak­ing pic­tures. If you don’t enjoy tak­ing pic­tures, there’s no point in hav­ing a camera.

Sum­mary

How to choose a com­pact dig­i­tal camera?

1. Decide how much money you want to spend on a new cam­era.
2. Spell out the kind of pho­tog­ra­phy you will be doing most of the time.
3. Short­list the fea­tures that you need for your kind of pho­tog­ra­phy
4. Admit to your­self how often you will be using the cam­era. If you are not going to use it reg­u­larly, there’s no point buy­ing an expen­sive one.
5. Go to cam­era man­u­fac­tur­ers’ web­sites and short­list mod­els that best suit your require­ments and fit into your bud­get.
6. Visit a store to expe­ri­ence the cam­eras you short­listed. Chose one which you can use con­ve­niently.
7. Buy it.

Enjoy your new camera!

Still con­fused? Or have a query? Get in touch with me through the com­ments below or email me.

Comments

  1. Shravani Karve says:

    Wow, that is really a com­pact and com­plete guide on how to get the right cam­era. Thank you very much for shar­ing this info!!

  2. heyy nice read­ing and pretty infor­ma­tive too.

    i did one too long back..
    http://geekvishal.wordpress.com/2008/05/31/buying-a-digital-camera/
    just check if its any gud’

    Cheers

  3. Moloy Baruah says:

    Quite help­ful infor­ma­tion u have pro­vided . Thanks a lot for tak­ing trou­ble to com­pile so much infor­ma­tion for the help of fresh as well as long time cam­era users.
    Regards and with best wishes.

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