How to choose a digital camera (critiques welcome)

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by wmmk, Dec 28, 2006.

  1. wmmk macrumors 68020


    Mar 28, 2006
    The Library.
    Hello digital photographers and soon to be digital photographers!

    We've had a lot of "help me chose an SLR," "help me choose a P&S," and "do I want a DLSR or P&S?" threads lately, and although a lot of the regulars to this forum love answering every single one and quickly becoming 601s, these threads to clutter up the DP forum. So, I will attempt to create a guide to buying a digital camera. Without further adieu, here I go:

    Do you want to have your camera with you at all times and shot ready to print images? Do you not mind having shutter lag, or waiting a few seconds between pressing the shutter open button and the exposure actually taking place?
    get a Point and Shoot

    Do you want to be able to take artistic images, have very much flexibility in post processing (and need for post processing just to get saturated images), have lots of upgrade paths, and never be able to change brands unless a merger occurs or you have a money tree? Are you shooting subjects that move fast such as athletes, small children, wild animals, or birds?
    get a DSLR

    Are you in the middle?
    Get an advanced, SLR-like camera that has live preview, but not interchangeable lenses

    Also, remember that you may end up with better images on a top of the line P&S than a bargain SLR that is a few years old. Most importantly, remember that it is the photographer, not the camera that matters! Lots of people think buying a D200 will make them great. It won't, but it will leave them less money for photography books and classes.

    Of course, there are a few terms you should know when looking at reviews and asking for advce:
    Exposure: the amount of light let into the shutter to capture a photograph
    Depth of field: the range of distance from the camera that is in clear focus in a picture
    White balance: the color that is used as "white," which affects the general tint and tone of the image
    RAW: the file format used by most DSLRs which allows correction of exposure, white balance, and more during post processing
    Noise: undesired specks of color found in images taken in low light scenes
    IS, SR, VR, in other words, image stabilization: the process of the sensor being able to rotate while a photo is being exposed so that shaky hands don't take away from the sharpness of a photo with a long exposure time

    Once you've decided what kind of camera you'll be buying, you need to choose a brand and model. This is a personal decision, but I'll try to help you.

    Canon and Nikon are de facto standards, and frankly, you can't go wrong with either. Currently, many users would say that Canons have better imaging sensors, whereas Nikons are better values in the DSLR market. Canon does have somewhat of an edge in the point and shoot market.

    Of course, there is life beyond these two big brands. Olympus, Pentax, Panasonic, and Sony also make very nice cameras.

    If you're getting a P&S, the key factors are optical (not digital) zoom, image stabilization, sensor noise (you'll have to find out about this at, the manufacturers won't tell if their cameras are really grainy), lens/optics quality (again, look at dpreview), and number of megapixels.

    With a DSLR, you should have an idea of what kind of things you want to shoot, find lenses that will make it possible to do that, then find a brand compatible with those lenses, and buy a camera made by that brand that's in your price range. In many cases, there will be more than one brand that has lenses that can do what you want. In these situations, just go for what feels right. Trust me, when you pick up cameras, you will get what I mean.

    Finally, with an advanced or SLR-like camera, you don't have many choices. Panasonic's models take great images but have rather noisy sensors. BEWARE OF THIS! Personally, I'd recommend the Canon G7. It's the only camera I'd consider a downright winner in any category.

    Once you get the camera, make sure to participate in our monthly assignments and picture of the day threads.

    Happy shooting!

    If there's any way this guide could be improved, please let me know in this thread, and I'll edit the post. Thanks in advance for the input and I hope this can benefit any potential buyers!:)
  2. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California
    Maybe you could explain some of the features can confuse people. Most everyone understands zoom ratio, MP and LCD size because these are "marketing numbers" but other features that matter more need some explanation.

    I'll need to replace a P&S in a while. While I like the Canons one thing pretty much eliminates all Canon P&S camera from consideration - They don't save to RAW format. Most people will not even know what RAW is but if you shoot in tricky lighting it's an important must-have feature.

    One other thing to add about P&S camera is "shutter lag" or lack of it. This is an important feature to many people.

    Maybe you need to explain about sensor size, not MP but physical size and how the size effects noise and more importantly the lens focal length you will be using and therefore the depth of field. Bigger sensors have a different "look" many because of the DOF and also because of the improved noise at same ISO.
  3. DocJim macrumors newbie

    Dec 28, 2006
    Wash, DC suburb
    Olympus in the middle ground

    Wife urged me to get a digital camera about 2 years ago. Because of price constraints and some concern about size, I bought an Olympus C-7000 which has optical zoom of 8:1. It is truly pocket sized. I have printed one 11 x 14 and hung it on my office wall. I was bowled over by the definition in a 7 Mp picture. However, in low light, I get a picture but it has "grain" (lower pixels to gain sensitivity) and does not play as nice with blowups.
    My big problem with this camera has been to figure some kind of monopod to take night pictures. I can brace, stop breathing and handhold, but few come out without some blur.

    I would like to add a Canon DSLR with an IS long lens. My wife has Canon IS binoculars and they are wonderful. The long lens would allow some nature photography that I can't quite reach now.
  4. Aperture macrumors 68000


    Mar 19, 2006
    Maybe PM a mod. and see if we can get this posted as a sticky.
  5. Irish Dave macrumors regular

    Nov 20, 2006
    The Emerald Isle
    A monopod is not a good choice for night photography ....... go for it's three leg relative, the Tripod.

    Dave :)
  6. aj98 macrumors member

    Nov 16, 2006
    Here's a couple of things you might consider adding:

    1. Perhaps a bit about the difference between digital zoom and optical zoom rates and the benefits of higher optical zoom rates. That even though both 6x5 and 10x3 = 30 there *is* a difference between 6x opt/5x digital and 10x optical/3x digital.

    2. Convenience features like weight, size, battery type(s).
    For example, my old Olympus C700-UZ uses 4xAAs, but it eats a set of standard batteries in about 20 shots, vs about 120 shots before NiMH batteries need to be changed, vs. L-Ion in my Kodak 7590, which lasts 300+ shots, and holds it's charge for extended lengths of time (2 months or more).
    OTOH, out and about, if the batteries do die, a new set for the Olympus is easily obtained, not so with the Kodak.

    Weight/size: also related to size. Neither of my cams can be dropped in a shirt pocket. The Kodak is heavier than the Olympus, but both are way lighter than my Nikon film SLR.
  7. gwuMACaddict macrumors 68040


    Apr 21, 2003
    washington dc

    Eh, I'd stay away from sweeping brand generalizations or recommendations. If this is supposed to be a guide, then give people the information about basics- and let them make up their own minds.
  8. -hh macrumors 68020


    Jul 17, 2001
    NJ Highlands, Earth

    IIRC, Canon uses CMOS chips, whereas most others use CCD's.

    My general recollections are that from a technology standpoint, CMOS is considered to be superior. Nevertheless, the fact is that 'everyone' does pretty well with whatever technology they happen to be using, so it might be a "splitting hairs" sort of debate.

    I don't have a strong opinion on the matter (I bought Canon because of legacy EF mount lenses/cameras), but I would be somewhat interested to find out if there is a clearcut answer here or not. Best saved for a new thread, after doing some background research.

  9. cube macrumors G5

    May 10, 2004
    Foveon is CMOS, Kodak makes both CCD and CMOS sensors.

    Super CCD SR can also be considered superior in some sense.

    If Foveon can be considered superior too, it's not because of it being CMOS.
  10. Doctor Q Administrator

    Doctor Q

    Staff Member

    Sep 19, 2002
    Los Angeles
    I suggest that you (collectively) create a Guide about choosing a camera, rather than having people make suggestions for one member to edit one post.
  11. wmmk thread starter macrumors 68020


    Mar 28, 2006
    The Library.
    good plan, although I think people tend to notice stickied threads more prominently than guides, but maybe that's just me.
  12. Irish Dave macrumors regular

    Nov 20, 2006
    The Emerald Isle

    Dave :)
  13. BigPrince macrumors 68020

    Dec 27, 2006
    What do you mean by noisy sensors?

    Do you mean in low light conditions there are alot of white spots


    Do you actually mean that the camera itself is noisy?

    The camera I about about thinking about purchasing is the:

    Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2

    but now I am a little concerned about what you meant about noisy sensors.

    Thanks for your help and guide.

    PS. The reason I like this camera is because I can shoot in standard or wide screen.
  14. Irish Dave macrumors regular

    Nov 20, 2006
    The Emerald Isle
    Although I am a Canon man, a friend has the Lumix LX2 ...... the results are first class.

    Dave :)
  15. dollystereo macrumors 6502a


    Oct 6, 2004
    Get away from de Lumix Series, the photos are very granny, nad in low light condition, UFF!. Most of the lumix dont have a viewfinder, what is crucial in low lights. I recently got the Canon PS 850 is is an excelent little camera, really am impressed. (it has grand angle).
    Do a search, and reads the amazon and cnet reviews, I think this is the best little camera around there.
    Good luck
  16. BryanP macrumors member


    Dec 12, 2006
    But also remember that you WILL be limited by P&S cameras, period.

    The point of a digital SLR is to be able to control your shots.

    Not EVERYONE needs an SLR however.

    What you have to factor in the choice depends on what you want out of photography.

    If you want to develop in photography and make it a serious hobby, then it'd be great to START with a digital SLR so you don't have to shell out any extra cash when you start understanding the fundamentals.

    In just choosing lenses, or even choosing a DSLR within a class of DSLRs, if one needs something durable, then that person may want to look into DSLRs built with a magnesium body for example. If one needs to shoot sports, then he/she may want a body that has a fast auto-focus system and fast framerate (such as a 1D series).

    It all really depends on what the use will be for.

    An SLR isn't necessary if you just want to take snap shots and don't want to take out the camera all that often.

    If you want to make it a hobby, I recommend getting a DSLR. There's tons of books out there that pertains to someone ALREADY owning an SLR in the first place so by having the proper tools, you may save yourself cash in the long run. You just have to question what KIND of DSLR you want, as in, do you want an amateur one, or a more professional oriented one.

    Obviously it doesn't hurt to have a better camera in that case, but it may be better for someone to look into amateur cameras to start off with.

    I personally work part-time with a newspaper and I choose my equipment based on what I want to do. It's no different for someone trying to choose their first camera.

    USAGE is the most important question.

    There's tons of factors in choosing a camera. One really needs to state what he/she will use it for, and how much they really want to put into the hobby (if they decide to make it a hobby).

    Once we know what they want to do, then it's easy to suggest cameras since many here already have experience with either amateur line SLRS or professional.

    A more informative thread would be to list cameras and the type of crowd they're suitable for.


    Nikon D50: Amateur photographer oriented (possibly one entering the hobby). Can shoot up to 3 frames per second, suitable for general photography (5fps and up is recommended for more fast paced action). Composite plastic body that will withstand general usage...


    Yes, it's information that can easily be found if one really did put research into the equipment, but finding the /sources/ is generally the hard part so it doesn't hurt to just re-state the info.
  17. wmmk thread starter macrumors 68020


    Mar 28, 2006
    The Library.
    thought about it, and you're idea is probably best. wasn't there some feature that turned a thread into a guide?
  18. Doctor Q Administrator

    Doctor Q

    Staff Member

    Sep 19, 2002
    Los Angeles
    Yes, once upon a time. However, copy-and-paste should take care of the text since it's not full of tags and structure.

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