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.
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.