How to: Buy The Right Camera

How to: Buy The Right Camera

1. Size

Go to a camera store for a personal touch. Ideally, check for local shops that sell only cameras versus a national electronics chain where cameras are an afterthought. Lift, aim, and fire as many cameras as you can. We recommend smaller stores because you’ll get better service, but especially because those cameras won’t be tethered to a kiosk. If you can only pivot the camera on a theft-proof table mount, you haven’t really gauged its size. Look for a model that’s comfortable, with buttons you can easily reach. Shoot actual pictures, adjusting the zoom, exposure, or any other settings you might alter. Bring along a memory card to take sample shots home to evaluate for color, focus, and detail.

 

2. Lens

The camera’s optics are more important than its resolution, especially with megapixels being shoved in like a cereal-box prize. Telephotos are useful for close-up details, but a wide angle will often be most useful in day-to-day shooting. Zoom measurements show a different perspective depending on the size of the camera sensor, but many companies convert them to 35mm-film equivalents for comparison. With that adjustment, zoom ranges are expressed in two numbers, such as 28-300mm. The smaller number shows how wide the lens can be; 28mm handles both indoor and landscape photos well. The larger number indicates how close-in the lens can go; 300mm or higher gives you tight sports and wildlife shots. Pay no attention to digital zoom ratings; you’re better off cropping and blowing up photos on your Mac, since that’s approximately what these do. And stabilizers can be useful to keep telephoto and long-exposure photos sharp.

 

3. Speed
DSLRs mechanically shoot pictures by flipping a mirror or prism when you push the shutter button. But any other camera uses a virtual shutter, which usually exhibit a delay between your finger tap and the photo snap. This doesn’t matter for unmoving subjects, but it can ruin photos of kids, sports, and even posing groups. Bring along a stopwatch that measures hundredths of seconds to test store cameras. Push the shutter and the stopwatch at the same time, and see what time the camera actually records. (Be sure there’s a lot of light.) Averages of about a tenth of a second or less are sufficient, with several hundredths exceptional. (All of our tested cameras reached this level.) If you get times greater than a twentieth of a second, anticipate lots of missed shots.

 

4. Manual Controls
Any camera will shoot in an auto-mode, setting exposure and focus for you. But you’ll snap better, more unique pictures with manual overrides. Beginners should look first for manual focus. This setting is crucial for photos taken through glass, in dark rooms, or with subjects at varying distances. Intermediate photographers should add an exposure compensation to their wish list; this setting shifts the brightness up or down in case the camera is confused by silhouetted subjects near a light. Complete exposure settings—shutter speed and aperture size—give experts the most control over pictures. Intermediate and advanced photographers can manipulate these to freeze or blur moving objects, adjust how much depth of a photo is in focus, compensate for difficult lighting conditions, and more.

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