Soul Searching for the Best Camera For You
When first approaching those black little boxes, you and your pocketbook will be best off if you first do some soul searching and answer the following questions:
- What do you intend to use the camera for? Every camera works best in a certain niche. Do not make the mistake of kissing a few Franklins goodbye by going for "what all the pros are using." If you just want a small, lightweight little friend to take in your bag as you walk around Paris, you will be much better off with an Olympus Stylus or similar point and shoot. If you want the absolute best results from a compact, simple point and shoot camera (and have a lot of money), look at one of the sleek Contax cameras or popular Rollei cameras.
- What kind of camera equipment have you used in the past? It is important to know where you have been as well as where you want to go. If you have been getting the itch to go out and buy a large format camera but have only worked with a single-use camera, take some time to think about it. You may have more fun learning the basics of photography on a simpler camera before you get into all the tilts and film plates of an 8 X 10.
- What do you like and dislike about these past cameras? At the same time, think about the degrees to which you have worked with autofocus and autoexposure in the past and how you responded. Did you often miss that great shot because you were trying to focus? Or were you more often frustrated most by the poor results you got back from the lab with your fully automatic point and shoot?
- What are your interests? If you want to be under water with your camera, you should by all means take this into consideration when shopping around. Even if your needs are not so clear, you will benefit from a close study of what you like to do. If you love backpacking, I would recommend looking for versatility, whether that be a complete point and shoot or a medium format camera that can take various lens. When you are up in the peaks, you want to be able to have everything you need on you at most times.
- Do you plan on taking pictures or making photographs? Being honest with yourself and clear about your needs will make you most happy. If you want to produce art, you will probably be most frustrated with a point and shoot. If you want to be sure to get a shot of yourself and your loved one in every little village you visit in Europe, you are more likely to have success with a camera you find easy and convenient.
- Where do you envision using the camera the most?
- At weddings and special events? Be sure to get a camera that focuses fast and handles low light very well (has a flash).
- In the mountains? Look for versatile and lightweight systems.
- Abroad? Be sure to get one you find light, easy, and convenient, and dependable.
- At the beach? Look for something cheap or be extremely careful about sand and saltwater - nothing has killed more good cameras than these two elements.
- Underwater? Look at waterproof, recyclable cameras for surface snorkeling and the expensive, impregnable Nikonos (or a camera housing) for serious scuba diving.
Where is the best place to buy cameras?
If you don't know exactly what you want, read up at BetterPhoto first to figure it out as much as possible. Arm yourself by studying our Buyer's Guide and checking out our Q&A.
Once know what you want, find a good online reseller or go to your nearest camera store... with your guard up.
Talk to friends about the camera stores they use. Ask people at the lab if they know of any good, honest camera stores in the area. You can usually find such a store in the more well-populated areas; these pro stores can offer some serious, honest help with the deciding process.
In you live out in the middle of nowhere, find an online or mail-order firm that offers US warranties (if you are in the States). Read this online survey of mail-order resellers and be sure you order exactly what you think you are paying for.