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Buying a Digital Camera? Avoid a Mistake with 7 Insider Tips

by: Robert Bezman

Buying a digital camera? Avoid a Mistake with 7 Insider Tips

So, you’re ready to buy a digital camera, huh? Maybe it’s your first, maybe it’s your fourth. It can still be an overwhelming and confusing venture. With so many digital cameras on the market today ranging in price from under $100 to over $7,000, it may feel like there are TOO MANY CHOICES!

Many people begin the buying process by investigating all the features and functions of 10 – 20 cameras in “their price range,” however that is determined. Some people find that process too frustrating and buy the first digital camera that “looks” right.

Personally, I’m an analyzer. As a professional photographer, when I start analyzing digital cameras, it’s like unleashing a sumo wrestler at an all-you-can-eat buffet… there’s no stopping me.

But, for the typical consumer, knowing the digital camera’s features and functions alone just doesn’t cut it. People want to know WHAT THE FEATURE DOES FOR ME!

Whether you go the feature/function route or not, there are 7 insider tips that can help save you money and avoid buying the wrong digital camera for your purposes.

Tip #1: How to Get the Best Prices on Digital Cameras

Wherever you are in the investigation/buying process, eventually you get to this step. If you want to buy a digital camera, the best prices are on the internet. Whether you’ve purchased anything on the internet or not, there are certain INTERNET BUYING STRATEGIES that will save you money, time, and aggravation.

1. When purchasing ANYTHING through the internet, only consider the ENTIRE cost of the “digital camera + tax + shipping,” NOT just the price of the digital camera. This is the only way to compare “apples to apples.”

2. Once you find the best ENTIRE cost, do not immediately buy it from that vendor! There are key INTERNET questions to answer…

3. Is the digital camera in stock? There is often a mysterious correlation between the cheapest digital camera prices and cameras being OUT OF STOCK. You don't want to order your digital camera and then have it sit on backorder for 3 months, do you?

4. Does your Nikon (Minolta, Canon, etc.) come with a USA warranty or is it what's called "grey goods?" You want to verify it's a USA warranty, unless you don't mind having to service it internationally. If it's grey goods, you WILL NOT be able to service it in the US.

5. When ordering your digital baby, beware of costly add-on accessories that may be needed eventually, but are suggested during this “special order promotion time” at 200% of the normal price.

Tip #2: Professional or Prosumer… Which is Right For You?

Let's begin by clarifying our terms. A professional digital camera is a digital SLR, while a prosumer is basically everything else. In that context, as of the end of 2005, digital SLRs could be purchased for $600 - $8,000 (Canon and Nikon, at least). The key points to consider are:

1. If you plan on shooting night photos or other pictures in low-light situations, many prosumer digital cameras take good quality photographs at ISO 100 or 200. However, to take good pictures in lower light at ISO 400 or 800 will typically require a digital SLR. Otherwise, digital “noise” will probably have too large an impact on picture quality.

2. If you plan on taking flash photographs at distances greater than 10-12 feet from your subject, an external flash unit needs to be used. And the only way an external flash unit can be used with your digital camera is to attach it to your camera's hot shoe. Every professional digital camera has a hot shoe. Many prosumers also do, but NOT ALL OF THEM.

3. Salespeople often try to sway consumers away from professional digital cameras into prosumer models, saying that the digital SLRs have so many complicated features that they are difficult to use. That is only half correct. Digital SLRs are typically designed to allow consumers to take pictures easily using the more automatic settings OR to use the advanced features when they are comfortable doing so.

Tip #3: What Exactly IS an Affordable Digital Camera?

“Affordable” digital cameras have a tendency of making your budget happy, but disappointing the photographer in you.

1. Don't overlook the ergonomics of the camera. Are the controls easy? Comfortable? How many buttons or levers need to be simultaneously set before getting the result you want?

2. If you're upgrading from a less expensive digital camera, don't assume that spending more or having more features will automatically make you happy. Always test out the camera. An affordable digital camera isn't affordable if you wind up not using it!

3. The new digital camera is more than likely to operate differently than your older model. Does the new camera have controls that are counter-intuitive? Things like that can frustrate a person enough to not use their digital camera. Better to find out details like these before rather than after the purchase.

Tip #4: Don’t be Tricked by Digital and Optical Zoom. Only One Matters.

Here’s the bottom line: Optical Zoom is the only thing that's important. Although some salespeople might argue with this, when buying a digital camera, my suggestion is to COMPLETELY IGNORE ALL DIGITAL ZOOM FIGURES.

Digital zoom has absolutely no impact on being able to take a photograph of a distant subject by zooming in on it.

The main reason salespeople like to include optical zoom in the equation is because advertising loves to give you the digital camera's "zoom factor." Multiply a 3X Digital Zoom by a 5X Optical Zoom, and you have a 15X Zoom factor... a completely worthless and MISLEADING number!!

Tip #5: Is the Discount Digital Camera a Good or Bad Idea?

The most important consideration when considering a discount digital camera (or any other electronic device, for that matter) is to ask yourself: "WHAT IS MY GOAL?"

Many consumers start by first falling in love with a digital camera and then become pleased or disappointed with its capabilities (usually after they buy it). I'm proposing something outlandishly radical... go through the process the OPPOSITE WAY. First, ask yourself some basic questions:

1. What do I plan to do with the digital camera (and don't say "take pictures")? What are you most interested in - the occasional family snapshot, landscapes, macro work, heavy flash use, all of the above?

2. How much use will it get? (Twice a year, or once a week?)

3. What is most important to me: picture quality, camera size, camera weight, durability, telephotos/wide angle lens, etc.?

Based on your responses to these questions, a discount digital camera can be your best choice or a complete waste of money.

A "no-name" discount digital camera can be a logical choice, based on what your photographic goals are. But don't think a $49.95 Brand X camera is going to cost you $49.95! You also have to add in the cost for at least some accessories, such as memory, batteries, bag, and lens protector.

Tip #6: When are Small Digital Cameras the Perfect Choice?

Despite impressions to the contrary, small digital cameras (also referred to as compact digital cameras) are quite popular. They're easy to carry, usually loaded with features, and take respectable photographs.

We need to remember that SMALL DOESN'T MEAN UNDERPOWERED. Some advantages of going tiny are: less bulky, easier to transport, less conspicuous (less likely to “walk off”), and they often compare favorably with larger cameras in the feature and price categories.

Some of the pitfalls of going small include: possible trouble physically operating some of the camera's controls, less likely to support an external flash, and the physical size can limit some of the available features, such as image manipulation.

Tip #7: Megapixels – What’s Fact; What’s Fiction?

Megapixels is one of the most talked about (and misunderstood) terms in the world of digital cameras. Let's sort through some facts and misperceptions, so you can make a more informed buying decision.

Taking better digital photography involves more than just having a camera with a bunch of megapixels, although you wouldn't know that listening to digital camera salespeople. Megapixels is just one factor in creating better digital photography. And, you can't look at it alone. You should consider other digital camera features.

How fast or slow the camera's shutter speed can be set is key. Using a tripod, being able to manually set the white-balance control, and having pre-programmed modes to aid in tricky lighting situations are all important factors in achieving better digital photography.

Don't get the idea that megapixels are bad, or irrelevant. This is NOT TRUE. There is one specific area where more megapixels will create better digital photography results. If everything else is the same, more megapixels will provide GREATER FLEXIBILITY TO CROP A PHOTOGRAPH and still wind up with a sharp clear photo. And, cropping photographs can make a world of difference. Cropping is the eraser on your digital pencil.


People can make buying a digital camera a snap decision or a life-long project. Because there are so many models, brands, and features; it can get pretty confusing. You will never know ALL THE FACTS to make the “best decision.” But, by using these 7 tips, you will know what really matters to YOU.

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