It is amazing how much the prices of digital cameras have come down recently. It is possible to find an affordable camera today that would have cost thousands of dollars just 5 – 7 years ago. The biggest challenge is not in locating a good, inexpensive camera but rather, how do you identify the right camera to meet your needs. If you are just shooting family vacations or just taking photos of your kids, you will not need all the ‘bells and whistles’ of a more expensive camera used by professional photographers. The purpose of this article is to help those interested in buying an affordable camera to know what to look for, what is important and maybe even more critical, to know what is NOT of crucial importance.
The first question is, what is an affordable camera? That is a subjective term as some people might consider a $500 camera affordable, while others likely consider it to be expensive. For most non-professionals, you can buy a decent camera for $200, or less. However, if you want more advanced features, you can easily run into the thousands of dollars. However, you do not have to spend that much. In the industry, there are 3 categories of cameras which fall into the realm of a Basic Camera and there are another 3 categories of cameras which are considered an Advanced Camera.
Basic Cameras include the following:
1. Point and Shoot – ($100 – $300) – A Point and Shoot camera is good for everyday shooting. These cameras typically are “jack of all trade cameras but master of none”. Many of the major brands such as Canon, Fujifilm, Sony and even Nikon have Point and Shoot Cameras. Most of these cameras will have Optical Zoom up to 24x, different flash settings, and LCD touch screens with the software built into the camera. In addition, these cameras are typically lightweight and easy to transport. You can typically shoot at short to medium distances with good quality but the point and shoot cameras are not very good at capturing detail at long distances or low light situations. However, I would say that most amateurs can get by and be happy with a Point and Shoot basic camera. The Point and Shoot cameras in the $300 range will typically do better with recording video and capturing sound than those in the $100 range.
2. Superzoom Point and Shoot ($200 – $600) – The biggest difference with the Superzoom Point and Shoots is that the optical zoom is much greater. These cameras will have a minimum Optical Zoom of 24x and some are as long 84x. These cameras are typically slightly larger and heavier. If you are an Amateur and want to shoot a concert for example or a sporting event where you want to get closeups, a Superzoom Point and Shoot might be what you are looking for. Many of these cameras now have features such as Dolby sound and 60 frames per second video recording. Again, most of the features of a Superzoom Point and Shoot and a regular Point and Shoot are similar with the exception of the greater optical zoom.
3. Waterproof Point and Shoot ($100 – $400) – The biggest obvious difference is the ability to shoot underwater. You will want to look for the maximum depth you can submerge your camera. Some cameras in this category can be submerged 50 feet while others are submergible only 6-12 feet. Unless you are planning on doing underwater shots, most likely you will not need this feature.
Advanced Cameras include the following:
1. Advanced Point and Shoot – $250 – $3500) – When you start getting into the Advanced category of cameras, you will start seeing manual controls and advanced features. Typically, these cameras have larger flash drive capacities and can produce RAW files. Most professionals will take photos in a RAW format which means it is a photo which is not compressed in size like a JPEG or PNG and then edit the file in Photoshop. In addition, the more expensive cameras take better pictures at distances, in low or bright light or extreme close-ups. Most hobbyists will start off with a Basic Camera and will graduate to an Advanced Point and Shoot for their second camera. The good news is that this category of cameras has become more competitive where you can purchase a good quality advanced camera less than $500.
2. Mirrorless Models – ($450 – $4000) – Mirrorless Models are more expensive cameras and this category of cameras will typically have interchangeable lenses. As you look at this category, you will see cameras are typically larger than the basic categories of cameras. In addition, for those wanting enhanced photo images, these cameras have better sensors with the more expensive models even having full-frame sensors for 35mm film. These cameras probably do much more than what a hobbyist needs but for those wanting to become a professional photographer, you will need an advanced camera.
3. SLR’s – ($400 – $4000) Single-Lens Reflex Cameras (SLR) are the cameras that most professional photographers today use. The bad news is that these cameras can get very expensive, but we have seen the price of SLR’s reduce in price where you can actually purchase a decent one in the $500 range. In addition, the number of photography accessories available for SLR’s is virtually limitless which allow for a professional photographer to shoot film in an indoor, outdoor or professional studio setting. SLR’s will have the largest sensors and its ability to film and take pictures in low light settings is the best. The biggest drawback with SLRs are they are heavier and larger. You will probably want to use a tripod for many of your shoots. Just as with other advanced cameras, you will be able to capture RAW files to edit on Photoshop.
Once you determine what type of camera you are looking for, you should then consider the following items:
1. Look at the specs as the more expensive cameras may not be the best one for you.
2. Make sure you know how you will transport the camera. If you are taking your camera outside and driving a lot to different places, you will want a camera that is easy to take with you. In addition, you want to make sure that you can hold and grip the camera comfortably so you can take steady shots if you are not using a tripod.
3. Most cameras allow you to buy accessories such as additional lenses, memory cards, batteries. Make sure to consider those costs. I definitely recommend having an additional memory card and extra charger and battery.
4. Don’t just look at Megapixels. Unless you are creating a poster, most of the cameras out there are good enough as most smaller photos, the eye cannot discern the difference.
5. Speed is important. You want to find the least amount of lag time between when you push the button and the picture is taken. Good cameras can do this within 0.2 seconds. Also, look at the continuous burst mode of the cameras to see which ones do it the fastest and best quality.
6. Memory is important. See if the camera has an internal memory feature with ideally 4 gb +. While some cameras do not have internal memory, they all have external memory. See what the maximum amount of memory is accepted by the camera. At the very least, I would recommend a 16 GB card as a minimum with 64 GB ideal. You want the ability to store at least 400 photos on the highest quality setting on the camera. Look to see what type of memory card format is accepted. The newer ones use SDHC or SDXC with standard, mini and micro sizes available depending on the camera. Compact Flash drives (CF) are used in the higher end SLR cameras.
7. Sensor Size – Look for the largest sensor size for your budget as the larger the sensor size, the better your photo will be in a low light setting.
8. Optical Zoom – Do not even consider digital zoom specs as that is not a true zoom. For most people, 3x-16x is fine unless you are filming sporting events where you need a minimum of 24x zoom.
9. Flash – Most cheaper cameras have “hot shoe” flash. Even though it works fairly well, you typically will want to get an external flash for better quality.
10. 4k Video – Only needed if you are using the camera for live filming. If you do, I recommend the 4k Video because even if most people do not have a 4K television, it is the future.
Hopefully, the information provided herein helps you as you decide on your next camera purchase. The great news is that you can buy an affordable camera today that will not “break the bank” and it will have the features of a camera that cost thousands of dollars, just a few years ago.