I purchases a camera today (for the record it is a Canon Powershot S3 IS, but I will review that another time). So what is the big deal about that right? I mean hundreds if not thousands of people buy a new digital camera every day, so why should anybody care? Well, I am glad you asked that. Pull up a chair and let me tell you what it took for me to lay out the money for a camera this time.
Now I am an admitted gadget freak, mostly computers, but if it is an electronic gadget, I am interested. One area that I have had a bit of a hard time in this area is with digital photography. When it comes to computers, PDAs, phones, I have always been quick to lay down good money to be on the front edge of technology, though admittedly that has slowed a bit since LatteGirl was born, and now I try to be a bit more economical, and try to choose what will give me the most bang for my buck. In other words, be good enough to satisfy me in the short term, but also be good enough at least in the mid-term that I am not already itching to replace it quickly.
I have done well in this department with laptops, building my own desktop computers, and fortunately rarely have ever had to live with a phone for more than two years, so even a mistake was relatively short lived. But with cameras, I seemed to fail in this respect. Sure, I would love to go out and buy a Canon Rebel XTi or Nikon D2x. But first of all, I don’t have the kind of time or attention span necessary to learn how to use on of these cameras well enough to justify the expense. But on the other hand, I have been quite dissatisfied with my past couple of purchases (Kodak Z series), so I knew I had some work to do. I started to do my research, and by the time I finally settled on the camera I wanted, a year had passed. That’s right a full year. 12 months, 52 weeks. To pick out a camera. Some call that kind of research and time to make a decision insane (That would be TheWife), but I call it smart. But fortunately, much of what I learned can be boiled down and some shortcuts taken to finding what is right for you without having to spend so much time.
Again, much of this is intended with certain factors in mind, so if you don’t fit into this criteria, it may affect your choices. The criteria I have set forth here. 1. This is geared for parents. I say this because as a parent (whether you know it or not yet), you are going to have some difficult shots that you are going to try and take. Xmas pageants, recitals, sporting events, etc. Many times, no matter how early you think you are for an event, you will find there are other parents that have gotten there even earlier, thus leaving you a good distance away from your child that you want to photograph. Throw in some lousy auditorium or gymnasium lighting, and you now know what I mean by challenging. 2. You are at least somewhat budget conscience. If you wouldn’t think anything of dropping $600 or more on the latest and greatest. More power to you. I don’t, and I know many other parents that don’t have, or wouldn’t consider that kind of outlay for a camera. This is for those people, not the person that buys the model right off the floor of the CES Floor in Vegas (Consumer Electronics Show).
Megapixels.Â Back in the day, when digital camera were sporting resolutions like, VGA, 1.3 Mega Pixels or 2 Mega Pixels, the amount of pixels really mattered.Â You could find a 1.3 MP camera that would take a nice picture, but if you wanted a print that was bigger than 4×6Â or you took pictures with the intention of zooming in and cropping a lot, you were simply out of luck. Today you can find cameras at the consumer level as high as 12 MP.Â Unless you plan on making a Warhol like mural of your child, the size of your living room wallÂ you really do not need a 12 MP camera.Â Especially if you are going to forgo other important features for it.
Zoom.Â When you were out on the town with your friends and wanted a little camera you could slip into your blazer, leather jacket or purse and not be obtrusive, then those super slim camera were perfectly adequate for mediocre pictures taken at the bar, nightclub, etc.Â After all, many times, you were probably had one or two too many drinks by the time the camera came out to take a decent picture anyway.Â This won’t cut it when you are trying to capture those once in a lifetime moments.Â The biggest problem with these small cameras is the fact that if you have one when you find yourself on the wrong side or too far back in a poorly lit auditorium or gymnasium,Â you will be cursing that puny little 3x optical zoom.Â Quick note for those that don’t already know this… forget about the “digital zoom” that you camera brags about having.Â It is a worthless measure. In short digital zoom works by enlarging a certain part of a picture to simulate optical zoom, to the detriment of clarity).
The answer, is the class of cameras that are known as “Super Zoom Cameras.” These cameras generally sport Zooms of 8, 10 or 12 times optical zoom. The side benefit of this is also that because of the need for clarity, camera makers generally put better glass (lenses) in theirÂ Super Zooms than they do in their regular consumer cameras.Â This will enable you to get a nice shot of your child, and not just a shot of 1/2 the class in a picture where you have to point out to people, “see, right there… no over to the right, that is little Suzy over there.”Â When in doubt, sacrifice pixels for zoom.
Other Factors:Â These qualify as things that are important to me, but are more subjective and a matter of personal taste.Â Zoom camera are more prone to “noise” (wavy lines) when zoomed out than a normal picture.Â Most camera have some sort of image stabilization to compensate for this.Â They generally break down into two types, Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) and Digital Image Stabilization(DIS).Â OIS is far superior and worth it for better pictures… for me.Â Fuji sells a line of super zooms with NO Image Stabilization at all, going rather with its “face detection” technology, and they sell very well.Â So some people obviously don’t find this as important as I do, but most experts will tell you to go with OIS whenever possible.Â The other thing is Scene Modes.Â Do you know a lot about Aperature Priority, Shutter Priority, etc?Â No?Â Me neither.Â That is why I depend on a camera that has a lot of presets for various settings.Â The basic “general” setting is excellent for mediocre or basic pictures, but when I want to capture a shot at a soccer game, or some other specific event, I want to be able to turn to a setting that gives me the best chance of getting the shot I want, and without having to know how to configure the camera.Â Scene Modes save you from having to know how to set up a camera for action, landscapes, night shots, etc.Â The more scene modes, the more specific setting you are ready to shoot.Â Again not a deal breaker if the camera doesn’t have many scene modes (or any) but it certainly will help.
Â Some things you can probably ignore:Â Certainly Digital or “total” Zoom should be ignored, as I already pointed out, they are useless measures.Â However, there are some other “important” measures according to many reviewers, that really aren’t a big deal to the average user.Â The ability to shoot in RAW mode.Â Most consumer camera do not shoot in raw mode, but for some reason reviewers are fixated on this feature that is usually held out for professionals.Â In order to use RAW format, you generally need to use a program such as Photoshop CS.Â If you have $700 to lay out on Photoshop however, you are probably not reading this looking for a camera.Â The other feature is an articulating LCD (the LCD panel swivels around so you can see it at various angles).Â This is certainly a nice thing to have if the camera happens to have one (my new Canon does), but lets be honest, how often do you need this feature?Â To take a picture of yourself?Â To take a picture by holding the camera over your head in a crowd?Â Do you really think you will do that often enough to make this a “must have” on your camera.
Finding your camera.Â Ok, so now you know what you like and don’t like.Â You have an idea of what kind of camera you want.Â How do you go about finding the best value for your dollar?Â Well, for me, the answer came in the way of a year old copy of PC Magazine that I had laying around.Â A year ago, the camera I ultimately selected had just come out.Â The only knock against the camera (and the primary reason, I would not have bought it a year ago) was the price.Â With a retail tag around $500 it was a lot more than I really cared to spend.Â Fast forward a year, the S3 has been replaced with the S5.Â 6 Megapixels have given way to 8 – 12 MP camera.Â That top of the line camera was now forgotten.Â In the meantime, plenty of new Super Zooms have come out at lower prices (for this example I will uses Canons new SX100).Â At first glance the new low priced super zooms seemed like a great deal.Â The SX100 was retailing at $249, the same price I was able find the S3 selling at.Â It also had more mega pixels.Â But in a quick comparison, it quickly became obvious that in order to get the price down there with the higher pixel count, that lots of features had to be removed.Â In this case, last years “winner” didn’t change, and more than met my needs, but at a far more friendly price.Â Sometimes last years model, if you are careful is still better than this years new model.Â Now granted, you may not have a year old copy of a magazine laying around (certainly if TheWife had her way, I wouldn’t), but thanks to the Internet, most of these reviews are still around to be perused.Â Just bypass the latest editions for those 6 or 12 months ago, and you can find a camera that “back then” would probably be too much money, but now fits inside your budget.
One word of caution using this method though.Â There is a point of diminishing returns for the camera manufacturers, that when the camera crosses over from profitable to no longer worth their time.Â At that point, the price will not drop any lower, and instead the camera will just disappear.Â In other words, no matter how long you wait, you will not find a new Canon Rebel XTi for $100.Â No matter how long you wait.
And of course, one final note.Â I have given a lot of credit and used the name Canon here quite a bit.Â But that is predominantly because that is the camera that I recently purchased.Â This is in no way meant to imply that I recommend Canon over any other particular camera.Â Olympus, Nikon, Panasonic, Fuji and others all certainly have their benefits and highlights, and if the timing was different, I may have gone a different route.Â The only way I was almost certain I wasn’t going again, was back to Kodak, which has disappointed me twice in a row.