Once upon a time, the only thing you needed to worry about when choosing a camera was money – could you afford it? These days, that’s not usually the case.
There are a thousand different brands, each with different features and capabilities. Here are some of the questions you need to ask yourself when you’re choosing a camera.
Why not a smartphone?
Today’s smartphones mostly come with a camera built in. Some of these are quite good, so what’s wrong with using a smartphone camera to take your snaps? If all you’re looking for is to take a picture if you happen to save something photo-worthy, there’s nothing wrong with a smartphone.
But smartphone batteries don’t last long, and if your battery happens to be flat when you pass something you want to take a picture of, you’re pretty much out of luck, and their picture quality is honestly nothing to write home about. If you’re planning to take lots of pictures, you’re almost always better off with a dedicated camera of some kind.
What do I want?
By which we mean, what do you want to do with the camera? Are you looking for something to snap family pictures at the beach, or do you want to take up photography for a hobby?
In the first case, you will need something sturdy, with a lot of battery power. You want something with a fast shutter speed so that you can take action photographs. You don’t want the most expensive camera out there – you’d be better served with one of the well-known brands’ beginner options than something with six different lenses that needs a tripod to get anything that looks good.
The well-known camera brands – Kodak, Fujifilm, Nikon, and the like have decades of experience in making cameras. Their high-end cameras are debatable quality-for-price.
If you are taking up photography as a hobby, you’re looking for something a bit more impressive than a point-and-shoot. You need something that has excellent image quality without the learning cliff of a professional camera. You may be looking for something like an EVIL camera. Besides having the best name – it stands for Electronic Viewfinder with Interchangeable Lenses – this kind of camera offers many of the benefits of a professional camera without the enormous price tag and in a (usually) more compact package.
These cameras feature a range of lenses that can be switched around depending on what you are trying to capture at that moment. They’re handy for hobbyists who want something that takes excellent photographs but doesn’t need a specialized backpack to carry it and all its accessories, but a good film developing kit is sometimes a must-have. EVIL cameras are also known as mirror-less or MFT cameras.
DSLR cameras are pricey, bulky, and have a steep learning curve, but once you’ve got the hang of them they can take some of the most amazing photographs you have ever seen. Unfortunately, the price tag and the learning curve means that these cameras are out of reach of most casual photographers and even all but the most dedicated hobbyists.
What factors should I consider?
The shutter speed is one of the top three most important things you need to consider about your camera. At high shutter speeds, you can freeze objects in motion – such as when sports photographers get that perfect image of a football kick with the dust in the air and the player frozen in the middle of a motion that took a fraction of a second to complete. At low shutter speeds, you get motion blur – which can be bad or good, depending on what you are going for. If you are planning to take a lot of photographs of people moving quickly – such as sport photographs or children playing – look for a higher shutter speed. Most point-and-shoot cameras don’t allow you to manually set the shutter speed, while most EVIL and DSLR cameras do.
The second factor to consider is ISO. The ISO is basically light sensitivity. You can set your ISO higher in order to take better pictures in low light, at the cost of adding “noise” to the picture. You can set it lower in normal or very bright lighting to get the effect you want. Most cameras have a base ISO setting, which is usually the highest ISO setting that doesn’t create noise on the picture.
Most of the time, you will be able to take pictures comfortably at the base ISO, but you need to be able to set the ISO manually, or at the very least adjust it somehow, even on the most basic of cameras. Higher ISO also decreases the time your camera’s sensor needs to register the image, so setting your ISO higher may improve results when photographing moving objects. Most point-and-shoot cameras allow you to set the ISO. Don’t buy one that doesn’t. All EVIL and DSLR cameras allow you to set the ISO. If you are offered a camera that doesn’t allow you to set the ISO, don’t buy the camera.
The third thing you need to consider is aperture. Aperture describes the hole through which light reaches your camera’s sensor, and is expressed in f-numbers (like f/1.4 and f/2.0). The thing to remember is that the smaller the number, the larger the aperture, and vice versa. F/1.4, for example, is larger than f/20. Aperture directly affects depth of field, which can be simply explained as the area of the image that is in focus.
If you want a clear foreground image over a blurred background, you want a large aperture, while smaller apertures will make the background progressively more clear. Unless you are planning to be more narrowly focused than most photographers, you want to be able to change your aperture. Ideally, no matter what kind of camera you have, you should be able to change the aperture at least slightly, in some way – whether that is automatic or manual.
Now you know which factors you need to consider when looking for a camera, so you can start your search from a position of some knowledge – always the best position to be in.