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2013.06.24

Deciding which digital camera to buy, even for veterans of photography, often seems like a daunting task with endless variations and compromises on offer between models. A digital camera buying guide helps set broad lines based on photographic needs which usually leaves potential buyers with a number of relatively similar cameras to choose from.

Deciding between similar models, presumably all suitable for your photography, involves a closer look and attention to minor differences: The first step is to compare specifications side-by-side. The result of such a comparison is a set of  specification differences. Then, one must divide those differences into two groups: Ones that matter to you and ones that do not.

Note the emphasis on you. That is right, each difference may or may not have an impact on your photography. For example:

  • Some DSLRs have a Sync-Port which lets them connect to studio lighting. If you never use such lighting, it will not matter at all. Even if you do, most modern photographers prefer to work wirelessly now and not be connecting the lights directly to the camera anyway.
  • A top shutter-speed of 1/8000 vs 1/4000s represents a single stop to freeze extremely fast action which also requires very bright light. For many people, the additional shutter-speeds will never be used.
  • A weather-sealed body is great but if you have no weather-proof lenses and do not plan to buy any, it makes virtually no difference and you still have to protect your camera from the elements.

Digital Cameras

There are plenty of differences you can encounter. For each of them, it is important to understand its impact and evaluate how that relates to your photographic needs:

  • Sensor size: Affects image quality, depth-of-field, field-of-view of lenses.
  • Lens mount: Decides which lenses are compatible with the camera and which ones will autofocus.
  • Stabilization: Determines if all lenses get stabilized or not for an ILC. For a fixed lens camera, determines how fast a shutter-speed is needed to be able to get a sharp hand-held photograph of a still subject.
  • Maximum ISO: This one is tricky since not all ISOs show the same image quality. Between similar models, it can serve as an indication of low-light performance. A better evaluation is to read digital camera reviews that offer sample 100% crops at different ISO levels.
  • Maximum Shutter-Speed: Determines how fast you can freeze motion without using a flash as primary light source.
  • Viewfinder coverage: This is a big one. Anything less than 100% means you cannot precisely frame in-camera. If you cannot, be prepared to check your images often and crop them one-by-one.
  • Viewfinder Size: Affects comfort, perception of focus and fine-details. If you shoot for hours at a time, a small viewfinder quickly becomes tiring to the eye.
  • Number of control-dials: Impacts efficiency. The more control-dials and buttons, the less you can do without entering the camera’s menu system.
  • Weather sealing: Determines if the camera is usable in rain, snow, sandstorms, etc. As mentioned already, for a DSLR or mirrorless, this  requires a weather-sealed lens too.
  • Metering modes: Look for the ones you use. Every camera has multi-segment now but a few lack Spot metering which is essential if you expose from a target. Some cameras have more helpful modes like Highlight and Shadow Spot which offer convenience but can be emulated when not available.
  • Depth-of-field preview: This function allows the camera to show an approximation of depth-of-field in the viewfinder or in Live-View.
  • Continuous Drive: Determines how fast and for how long the camera can shoot. Faster rates and deeper buffers are sought after by action photographers who aim to capture action at its height. Note that on fixed-lens camera a high-speed burst may not be usable for moving subjects as the preview of most such camera severely lags the action.
  • Size & Weight: Portability is often a critical issue. A cameras need to be comfortable in use and be transported to where it will be used!
  • Price: Unfortunately, most people have a limited budget. When buying an ILC, be sure to have enough for the camera and lens(es). Crucially, a poor lens can easily cripple the image-quality of a modern digital camera and one needs to save for a sufficiently good lens.
  • Much much more… The are over 180 data points per camera in our database of which 50 or so are exposed in the Camera Finder which you can use to find cameras that match specifications you need.

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