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2007.12.29

Recent statistics suggest that most digital camera buyers bought their second or third camera this year. Choosing an extra camera is somewhat different than buying a replacement camera. While a replacement camera is chosen as the best match to your photographic needs, a second camera can be chosen to complement another digital camera.

Previous digital camera buyers have an advantage over first-time buyers, because they usually already know what they like and do not like about their previous camera. How to choose a complementary camera mostly depends on the already owned cameras and its inconveniences.

Digital SLR CompanionsSony Alpha A700

Digital SLR owners probably have it the easiest: They already have one of the highest quality cameras available, one that is fast and flexible. This can be complemented by a lightweight and portable camera or by a backup DSLR.

There are 3 options for a backup DSLR: One that is identical to the primary, one of the same brand, or a completely different one. These options are typically used by professional photographers who rely on having a high-quality backup with them. In such case, it is important for them to continue with their assignment as quickly as possible and with the same quality as they intended.

  • The most sensible choice is to buy an identical one. After all, you already know how to use it well, have compatible lenses, extra batteries and other accessories. Familiarity with your camera is a great asset, so keeping an identical backup means that as soon as your primary camera is broken/lost/stolen, you can pick up the backup and be just as proficient with it.
  • Buying a digital SLR from the same brand is also a great option. Chances are that ergonomics are quite similar, plus you can usually reuse all your lenses which is normally the most (or second most) expensive part of a DSLR system. At the same time, you can upgrade to newer capabilities such as faster-shooting, deeper buffering, weather-proofing, etc. Alternately, the can get a lower-cost and lighter version. For example, a Pentax K100D Super is an excellent complement to a Pentax K10D and vice-versa. The same goes for a Nikon D80 and Nikon D300.
  • A completely different DSLR is also a possibility, but it can get both costly and cumbersome. The primary reason to consider this is to get access to some capability that is not offered by any camera similar to your current DSLR. For example, only Canon and Nikon have full-frame sensor cameras and there are certain lenses which are only available for a particular lens mount. If portability is an issue, the Olympus Evolt E410 is currently, by a good margin, the smallest DSLR available. Olympus lenses are also generally smaller because their cameras use smaller sensors with a crop factor of 2X.

Fixed-Lens Companions

Fuji Finepix F40A more common complement for a DSLR is a compact digital camera. This is often purchased to overcome DSLR cameras’ biggest problem, their size. Basically, a person got a DSLR to get high quality images, speed or versatility but ends up leaving it often at home because it is too cumbersome to carry. Or perhaps one person in a family enjoys the DSLR, but another family member takes too few pictures because they find it too big or too complicated.

For the ultimate in portability, ultra-compact cameras are small enough to fit in a pocket. Image quality and features are obviously compromised. For image quality, DSLR owners should not worry because they can bring their DSLR camera as often as they choose. Features are rather limited with very few ultra-compacts having manual controls. Some exceptions are the HP Photosmart R967 with its full-manual controls and the Fujifilm Finepix F50fd with semi-automatic exposure. For those who do not use their DSLR’s manual controls, this will not be an issue though..

Still easy to carry are compact cameras. They will not fit in typical pant pockets but maybe in cargos or large jackets. Many compact cameras have full-manual controls, a decent hand-grip and long battery life. There are also more lens choices here with between 3X and 10X zooms currently available. One of the best values compact is the Canon PowerShot A570 IS with full manual controls and a stabilized 4X optical zoom lens. There is also the 6X optical zoom version , the Canon PowerShot A720 IS. Because of their small sensors, higher megapixels compact cameras generally produce less usable images than their lower-resolution counterparts. Nevertheless, there are compact cameras up to 12 megapixels in resolution. Most importantly, small cameras get slower as their resolution is increased because they have bigger files to write using relatively slow processors.

The final type of fixed-lens camera to consider as a companion to a digital SLR is the ultra-zoom camera. These cameras are usually very sophisticated with quite a few features and lenses which up to 18X optical zoom. Considering that some ultra-zooms are larger than some DSLR cameras, space-saving is not necessarily the primary concern anymore. Well, if the zoom-range is important, that could be an issue but most DSLR manufacturers have a compact 18-250mm lens which is equivalent to a 14X optical zoom. Because of their larger feature set and more capable lenses, ultra-zoom cameras can be more easily used as a backup to a DSLR than ultra-compact cameras. The difference between a backup and a companion camera lies in its intended usage. The former is only used when the DSLR fails, while the latter is intended to be used when it is more convenient than a DSLR.

To be continued…

In part 2, we will cover what to consider when choosing a second camera to complement a fixed-lens one, be it an ultra-compact, compact or an ultra-zoom.

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