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Digital Camera Buying Guide to Help You Purchase

Updated on November 25, 2015

Tips for Buying a Digital Camera

Digital camera buying guide is must if you're in the market of buying a digital camera first. It can be overwhelming to buy a digital camera. Prices of digital cameras range from $75 to thousands of dollars, and there are hundreds of models on the market today, sold online and in brick-and-mortar stores. Some models are tiny enough to fit into a shirt pocket while others are larger and weigh up to two pounds. For every easy to use camera there is another that has an instruction manual that resembles War and Peace. Almost all of them are described using abbreviations that can be difficult for newcomers to digital photography to understand. We hope to cure you of some of this confusion in this digital camera buying guide for how to buy a camera.

What Does Digital Camera Mean?

First, we have to know how a digital camera works, and how it differs from a traditional film camera to buy a digital camera. A film camera works by forming an image of light collected from a scene or subject and focusing the light onto film. The film chemically reacts and “captures” the image with this process. With digital cameras, an image sensor reacts to light by sending electronic signals. There is no film in a digital camera.

The information from the sensor and processed and stored by the camera as a collection of so-called pixels. These are stored in the form of a digital file, normally on a memory card in the camera. This is a basic version of the process of creating a digital photo; of course the entire process is more complex than we have described. A photo is made up of many thousands of tiny dots: the aforementioned pixels.

Digital Camera Buying Guide for Beginners

What Does Megapixels Mean?

This digital camera buying guide also helps you to know about megapixel. A megapixel contains one million pixels. The megapixel count is an indication of the number of pixels in an image file. For instance, an 8-megapixel camera can capture 8 million pixels. The megapixel-count of a camera can let you know the amount of photo cropping that you will be able to do, or the size of photos that can be printed. Say you only want to take snapshots. In that case, a 6-megapixel camera should be fine for the job. However, if you are going to do a great deal of cropping or print poster-size photos, a camera of 8-megapixels or greater is more appropriate.

It may be that a 6-megapixel camera will suit your needs, because higher resolution doesn’t always equal better pictures: other factors such as lenses also determine print quality. Most cameras on the market today carry at least 10-megapixel sensors. Photo quality can also be influenced by the size of the sensor and the size of individual sensor elements, which correspond to number of pixels. The takeaway from all this is that the sheer number of megapixels by itself does not determine the image quality you will get from a camera.

Kinds of Digital Cameras

In our digital camera buying guide, we have divided digital cameras into two main groups to remove the confusion about how to buy the best digital camera. By “basic cameras” we mean simple point-and-shoots with simple features useful for taking routine photos, and “advanced cameras” which boast advanced features. This group includes more sophisticated point-and-shoot cameras as well as models with changeable lenses. All of the basic and advanced point-and-shoots are cameras with built-in, non-removable lenses.

The category of basic cameras is further broken down into four subcategories and you should know them first to buy a digital camera subcompacts, rugged and waterproof models, compacts, and superzooms.

Subcompact and Compact Camera

Subcompacts are very lightweight models that you can put into a pocket but that have few controls. A handful of these feature non-telescoping zoom lenses and other models can zoom as much as 14x. Compacts are of course a bit larger than subcompacts and can often come with more manual controls.

Compacts are often the most inexpensive digital cameras on the market.

Rugged and waterproof cameras are designed to withstand falls and resist moisture. All of these cameras feature non-telescoping zoom lenses.

SuperZoom Camera

Superzooms are so named because they feature 15x or greater zoom capabilities, and some recent models include optical zooms as great as 50x. Superzooms’ manual controls often resemble compact cameras’ controls. These are among the priciest of the basic camera models.

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Next Steps to Buy a Digital Camera

The type of camera you want and the numbers of megapixels you need are your first decisions. After those decisions are made and before you buy a digital camera, check out our reviews of models that boast the best image quality and performance. The reviews include the details on models’ ability to take regular and flash photos. If you plan to use your camera to capture video, make sure you think about the video quality. The ease of use measures overall speed of the cameras, such as start-up time and shutter delay for the first and subsequent shots in a series of photos. Our reviews found that, for the most part, point-and-shoot cameras take satisfactory snapshots. Decide which features are important to you, and consider these features when reading the reviews. Say you are looking for a point-and-shoot that surpasses competitors with its LCD – look for a model with a Very Good score in LCD quality. Likewise if you are concerned about other features such as a touch-screen LCD.

What You Can Expect to Spend

Digital Camera Price is a major factor for many purchasers. This is a general guideline of cost ranges for the camera types:

  • Basic point-and-shoots (including subcompacts, compacts, rugged and waterproof models, and superzooms): $75-$500.
  • Advanced point-and-shoots: $350-$600.
  • SLR-likes: $450-$1,200.
  • SLRs: $500-$2,000.

After you make your decision to buy a camera, you need to decide what sort of store you will buy it from. It’s true that some brick-and-mortar stores, such as specialty camera shops, might have knowledgeable salespeople, but you can’t rely solely on the opinion of these salespeople for a purchase than can be quite expensive. It’s incumbent upon you to use the internet and our ratings so that you can go into your purchase armed with information. If you decide to make your purchase at a walk-in store, skip the extended warranty. We have found digital cameras to be among the most reliable products that we survey, so a purchased warranty would likely be a waste of money.

Our surveys show that many respondents prefer the online shopping experience to shopping in a brick-and-mortar store. Most walk-in retailers can give you either wide selection or low prices, but many online retailers offer both. Be cautious, however, of too-good-to-be true prices and make sure the camera isn’t refurbished or gray market. Gray market cameras are not meant for sale in the U.S., or are diverted from other retailers. So now your decision after reading this digital camera buying guide - which camera should you buy, how to buy a camera, how to buy a digital camera and so on?


© 2014 mjkamrul

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