Digital Photo Management: Choosing a Digital Camera

Choosing a digital camera that is perfect for you. Photo by David Breslauer

Choosing a digital camera that is perfect for you.

As a former AP photographer, and someone who still derives income from a photo-related business (digital photo archiving at MerlinOne) I am often asked by friends and family what the best digital camera is.

Of course there is no simple answer, but generally, the best camera is the one you are carrying with you.

This is not the answer most are looking for. They want a brand and model number to make their shopping easy, as there are so many choices now.

And it is interesting as I think about this; the choices I made for myself are probably not recommendations I would make to friends and family. I have different needs and expectations. Also, as you might expect, if I recommend a camera to someone, I often end up being the one to support its use when there is a problem.

The choosing of a camera is a lot like buying a car…how do you intend to use it. Someone looking for a family “hauler” probably would not choose a MINI. On the other hand, if you wanted to go race the car on a track or through cones in a parking lot, the MINI would be a more appropriate selection.

The same thought process should apply to a camera purchase. What is the end-use? Photos to email? Make Prints? Get Published? What is the typical subject matter? Scenic Views? Vacations? People? Things that move fast?

My mother has been asking me to recommend a camera for her. This sounds easy enough. In fact, there is probably a category for “Cameras Recommended for Mothers” but it is never as easy as that. She wants to put her camera on a tripod, point it at a bird feeder outside her window, and trip it remotely. I know how I would approach that, but I don’t think she needs a camera with lens interchangeability. And of course the days of a simple, inexpensive universal remote release are long gone.

Most cameras are so good now, that the way to choose one is to decide how you want to use it. Always want to have a camera with you? My wife’s small 5-megapixel camera is just fine. The camera makes excellent prints, fits in her purse, and has a lens cover that protects the camera from other items she carries. Despite its proprietary storage media, we selected it years ago because of its robust nature and compact size. She never has the need to switch out storage media. At the time we purchased it, it had one of the shortest shutter lags for a small camera, and that was important to us as well. (Shutter lag is the time it takes for your brain to want to take a picture, and the camera actually records the scene.)

Many use the number of pixels on a camera’s recording surface as a quality gauge. This is useful to a point, but at some level, the quality of the data recorded by the chip becomes as important, or even more important, then the total number of pixels. More pixels do not always equal more quality, and many camera manufacturers have come to realize this.

I recently purchased a new digital SLR (DSLR) camera. It has 12 megapixels. The camera it replaces also had 12 megapixels, but the difference in the image quality is quite amazing. The new camera shoots in low light conditions without introducing noise, and is still able to shoot an incredible 9 frames per second when called upon to do so. But this is not a camera I carry with me every day.

Some days, when I think I may run across something worth photographing, but don’t want to carry my DSLR kit, I carry a 10 megapixel point and shoot camera. It has a modest zoom lens, and in fact some would consider it deficient in the telephoto range, but the built in lens goes wider than most—I liked that—and the image quality is superb. In fact, some pictures I made with it on holiday recently, appear as good, if not better than the DSLR I recently replaced.

On other days, the camera I have with me is the camera built into my phone.

It’s nice to know that that I can always have a camera with me whenever I leave my house.

Posted by David Breslauer
Photo by David Breslauer

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