I need a new camera! Now what?!
No, I’m not the one who needs a new camera. However, with summer holidays fast approaching, I have friends and family who come to me for advice on the best gear to get before they head out for their vacations. It’s no surprise that people wonder which camera will be best for whatever situation comes along. Whether it be a smiling child, roaring lion, or creepy alien visitor. There must be a camera for every scenario, right?
The cliche is that the best camera is the one you have with you. And I’ll add something extra to that: The best camera is the one you have with you AND know how to use. And let’s not forget the best photos aren’t taken magically…they’re taken when you actually USE your camera! So I’m going to break this down into two posts. I’ll tackle the equipment part of the puzzle right now. In the next post, I’ll tackle what I believe is the more important part: Learning to take family/vacation photos without worrying about your camera (or should I say, without obsessing about your camera?!)
The reality is that most “cheap” $200 point-and-shoot cameras can take great photos. The flip side of that is that really expensive cameras can take really bad photos too, especially if you don’t take the time to learn how best to use the features! And let’s face it, most people just want the most gadgetry for their money. The problem with this thinking is that the most feature-laden, high tech camera may not be the right one for you.
So here are some questions to ask yourself:
- What type of photos do you want to take? And I don’t mean things you might conceive of photographing in some ideal world like a wild man-eating tiger in the swamps of India. Seriously, what do you want to take photos of in the next 3, 6, 9 months? Your kids? Your vacation? Nights out with friends?
- Do you know how to use most of the settings on your current camera? If you don’t know how to make the most of your current toy, you should know that it can probably do a lot more than you think it can.
To be totally frank, simply getting a new camera definitely will NOT improve your photography if you can’t talk to the above questions. I can’t answer the above questions for you, so think it through. I’ve actually written a bit about this before on a digital photography wiki so have a look at an extended discussion about this matter here: Starting Out
In the meantime, let me jump forward to a summary of what you should realistically consider.
Don’t Buy an SLR unless you really love to learn & tinker…and lug weight around!
If you just want to pick up a camera and take decent photos, then an SLR is most probably not for you. And to be honest, no matter what my friends and family may tell me about how they want to take awesome pictures most people I’ve heard from really just want to turn the camera on and click away. It really is as simple as that. So why make things hard on yourself and buy a more expensive camera that requires more thought than you want to put in? Don’t get me wrong, if you want to spend time figuring things out, it’s really not that difficult to learn some important things quickly (and my next post will get to some key tips), but please, don’t kid yourself into thinking that spending $600 or more is going to be the motivation you need to start learning. Remember…that’s what you said the LAST time you got a nice camera
By the way, if you’ve thought things through seriously and really want to get an SLR but have more questions, please, leave a comment below and I’m more than happy to answer your questions!
All-In-One Consumer Cameras are probably the best value for your money
I’m always surprised at how well today’s mid-range “all in one’s” perform. They’re not too big, not too expensive, and you don’t need to keep spending more money on lenses, flashes, and other accessories like you might need to with SLRs. This class of camera provides manual settings, better quality of lens, and more responsiveness than pocket digi-cams without having to lug around a camera bag with lots of heavy lenses or having to fiddle with accessories. Plus, most of them do pretty good video too. So you can knock off a lot of needs in a single device:
- Easy to take on vacation
- Nice zoom range to take photos at the zoo, on a cruise, at the beach, or indoors
- Pretty quick shutter release to snap a photo before your kid runs away
- A good range of manual settings to let you learn and try new things
- Pretty smart “creative” settings which will do a good job with specific photo situations when you’re not sure what (semi)manual settings to use.
Here are some examples of the type of camera I’m talking about:
- True consumer all-in-ones where you don’t need to buy anything else:
- Other mid-size cameras which may require you to spend more on accessories, but are a step up from the previous three. These may seem more expensive than SLR kits at Costco, but they’re actually great value because of the quality of lenses, sensors, and features you get:
This is just a short list of cameras which I think are good options. I don’t have them personally, but I’ve fiddled with similar cameras and I think they meet more of my friends’ needs than they realize. Seriously, get over the need to brag about how much you spent on your camera or how big your lens is and start to think about how much fun and how useful these smaller cameras are going to be!
As you make your decision about which camera to buy, make sure and try them out in person. While you may order from Amazon.com, I think it’s a good idea to drop by Best Buy or a local camera store to check these cameras out. The specs may look great on a webpage, but the menu system or ergonomics of that camera may not be so hot once you hold it in your hands. So save yourself the trouble of a return and try things out in person.
Now…about those creative settings…a lot of pro’s abhor the idea of creative settings like “Portrait”, “Landscape”, “Night”, and the like. But you know what? I think they’re actually pretty useful especially when you know what they do. The reality is, camera manufacturers have put a lot of time & effort into the brains of these cameras. So why not use the smarts of the camera?! Even before you buy your next camera, take your current camera and switch it out of the “green box” mode and onto those creative settings. I’ll get more into camera settings & actually taking family photos in the next post. In the meantime, keep these things in mind:
- Your next camera should be one that you will realistically carry with you
- You should be honest with yourself (and your wallet) about what you want to photograph and how much time you’re going to spend learning the craft of photography
- You should try all the settings on your camera, whether it’s new or old
More to come in the next couple of days! Please leave me any more detailed questions or comments you have below. Thanks!