??Which Camera to Buy??

One of the most frequent questions I am asked is "Which camera should I buy?"  The simple answer is "It depends."

It depends on several factors.  There is no single correct response for everyone.  If there was a perfect digicam, there would not be so many in the marketplace.  Buying a digicam is much like buying a car.

First we need to decide what our needs are.  If we have 10 kids and frequently truck around strollers, pallets of groceries, toys, diaper bags and what not, the last car you would want to invest in would be a Ferrari.  Likewise, if we are just out to capture happy moments in our life, we do not need a $25K professional digital camera with 22mp of resolution.

On the other hand, if you live by yourself, are well-to-do, know how to drive to get the most out of every sports car and just want something to get from here to there quickly and in style, that Ferrari may be just the ticket for you (notice the pun - intended).  Similarly, if money is no option and you are willing to put up with the inconveniences, that 22mp pro digital camera might indeed work out for you.


Budget Digicams

The $99 Wal-Mart Special - These cameras have those snazzy LCD displays, offer live previews and are so easy to use even a 1 year old child can take cool photos.  When my daughter sees something she likes, she simply flicks on the camera, waits for it to startup, frames her shot and fires away.  Most of her photographs come out with decent quality, though it is nothing to write home about.


The photo to the left was taken by my daughter when she was 1½ years old.  It is unretouched, except for resizing.  Notice it has a fairly good exposure, sharpness and color to it.  Also note there is a blinding flash reflection smack in the center of the image.

Camera phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs) can also be lumped into this category as well as the digicam feature of some camcorders.  Although some high-end video cameras can take some very high quality digital images, they do not offer the flexibility and control of dedicated digital cameras.


  • Cheap - affordable.
  • Respectable pics in most instances.
  • Great for "snapshots" and no-brainer type photography.


  • Cheap - plastic fixed focus lense (although this particular camera uses a glass fixed focus lense).
  • Feature lacking - no macro, or poor quality macro performance.
  • Slow - long startup times, slow shot-to-shot times, significant shutter lag.
  • Low resolution - usually around 2mp, not enough to print larger photos, and little room to crop.
  • Limited dynamic range - parts of photos often appear too bright, where other sections of the same photo appears too dark.

Avoid them.


Entry Level

It is much better to wait and save our money for a better camera than it is to buy a budget digicam.  There is a tremendous difference in overall image quality gained by spending $100 more.  Today's entry-level cameras, which include most compact and sub-compact cameras, offer better features at affordable prices within reach of the general population.

These digicams average around $250 - $350, and some run as high as $600 or so.  These are the most popular type of digicams.  They range from 4mp to 7mp in resolution and are aptly suited for general photography, producing high quality images.  The Sony DSC-P5 I used in describing techniques is one of theses types of cameras.


  • Glass lense - good macro abilities.
  • Compact - take anywhere camera.
  • Easy to use - includes several "dummy modes."
  • High resolution - usually from 4mp to 7mp in resolution.
  • Accessories - manufacturers offer some basic accessories for these cameras, which includes lense modifiers in some cases.


  • Little to no manual control.
  • No RAW.
  • If you're an easy addict, and catch the photography bug, you'll end up wanting to upgrade your camera.

These cameras are great for most purposes.  They offer good quality images at an affordable price resulting in the best bang-for-buck ratio.



For the avid enthusiast who wants a little more creative control, yet does not want the intimidation of a more complicated DSLR system, a prosumer camera is a cost effective choice that limits the desire to go overboard with photographic equipment.

These cameras range in price from $500 to $900, offer state of the art technologies and full control over the photographic experience.


  • Fast - startup times, shot-to-shot, shutter lag, focusing are all very quick and responsive.
  • Supports RAW - take full advantage of the camera's true capabilities.
  • Manual control - PSAM (program, shutter, aperture, and manual settings).
  • Dummy modes - for those of us who still want the camera to make all the decisions.
  • Accessories - often have add-on lense attachments to increase the wide angle, telephoto range, macro focus and the like.  Off camera flashes are also offered as accessories.


  • Pricy - the cost is getting up there.
  • Confusing - more options, more buttons, more features:  you almost have to read the manual to figure out the camera.
  • Integrated lense - limits specialized optics from being used.

Great choice for the photo enthusiast.  These cameras offer creative control in a small, relatively easy to use package.  However, at the higher end of the price range, you may want to consider getting an entry-level DSLR.


Digital SLR

Digital SLRs offer the ultimate in flexibility.  Their controls allow us to choose which image parameters to use to get the best photograph out of a scene.  Their accessories allow us to choose equipment based on our shooting needs.  And RAW processing allows us control over how the image is rendered into the final photograph.


  • Performs like a film camera - instantaneous startup time, minimal shutter lag, amazing shot-to-shot times.
  • Larger sensor - less noise, finer details, greater dynamic range.
  • Ultimate in flexibility.


  • Intimidating - steep learning curve, even for professional photographers.
  • Dust on sensor - since the lense is interchangeable, dust can sneak in and create dust specks in the final image that have to be cleaned up.  Cleaning the sensor when this occurs reduces the number of specs showing up in the final image.  Since the lense is not sealed (i.e., airtight as in consumer digicams), dust will eventually find its way in even if the lense is never removed.
  • No live preview - due to the mechanism of the optical path, we cannot use the LCD to frame our shot in real-time.  The LCD is used to review the image, once the shot has been taken, and to operate menu functions.
  • Costly addiction - you will soon find you need more and more equipment much like how our reef tanks need more corals no matter how many we already have.

Well, if you can afford reef tanks…



Professional cameras tend to be extremely costly, often amounting to $3K and up.  These are highly specialized cameras optimized for specific shooting situations and built with ruggedness and durability demanded by rough handling professional photographers.  Shutter life is rated in the 100 thousands of activations and environmental seals are placed around plate intersections to help keep out the environment.  Batteries are larger allowing for extended shooting sessions and speed becomes a hair splitting specification.


  • Cutting edge technology - new and improved features.
  • Professional build - able to withstand the abuse of heavy daily usage.


  • Cutting edge technology - unproven and buggy.
  • Low cost-benefit ratio - although we get more features, it comes at a premium price.
  • Thief magnet.

If money is no option, or if you are a professional in the photography field, and are able to justify the expense, why not?