Monday, June 30, 2014

Choosing a camera

Of all the things that have never been discussed on this - a photography blog - is how to choose a camera. That's going to be rectified right now!

Just how do you choose a camera with so many out there and so many different varieties of camera available? What is your aim in getting a camera? Why do you need or want a camera?

Let's begin by breaking down the market available to see just what kinds of camera are available:

  • The cellphone camera. This is supplied as standard on most cellphones. This is pretty much all that's needed for Facebook, Instagram etc. The pictures are not of great quality but are generally acceptable for most online use and many family scrapbooks. They're OK for online auctions too, where professional quality really isn't required.
  • The digital compact camera. This is a dying breed. Cellphones with climbing quality have pretty much taken over from digital compacts. Thus, the few surviving digital compacts have to offer something unique so most are either superzooms with incredible zoom range or are ruggedized so that they can survive any brutal treatment or being submerged in water.
  • Interchangeable lens compacts. These are the new kids on the block. They range from truly horrendous to quite good. Some have the same size sensor that many of the digital SLRs have and some have smaller sensors. Generally though smaller and lighter, the better models currently aren't so much smaller and lighter that they're greatly advantageous - particularly for the models with larger sensors.
  • Digital SLRs. These are the big cameras so often used by professionals. They come in a range of sensor sizes and are generally about the best for image quality without stepping up to larger sensor cameras.
Sensor size does tie in with image quality. The bigger the sensor, the better the image quality. Having said that, the quality of images from smaller sensors is climbing greatly. The current crop of digital sensors of about 14 megapixels is probably going to yield better results than the images produced by 35mm film cameras. Having said that, the range of light to dark for digital sensors is smaller than that of film. It's possible to get even more latitude out of film than from any digital sensor, even using the RAW format.

It may be important to choose a camera that has a RAW format - this allows for greater post-exposure adjustment and correction of an image. Most cellphones and superzooms do not allow for usage of a RAW format, with the manufacturers supplying solely JPEG images.

There are many factors involved in choosing a camera. One of the things that would steer me away from the Interchangeable Lens Compacts is that the lenses are crudely made and aberrations are fixed using software rather than by making a good lens to start with. That combined with the price of the lenses and bodies which in many cases are more than the price of a digital SLR really does put me off them.

I'll be honest - my camera gear is years old. I still use an 8 megapixel camera. I can't afford to go buying new (or even secondhand) equipment. I really don't see any purpose in high megapixel counts either. 8 megapixels will print to 16x24 quite easily and without showing any pixelation. 90% of the time I use my smartphone though as it's just so much more convenient.

To choose a camera, the things to bear in mind are:
  • Size/weight
  • Image quality
  • Price
  • How often you'll use it
For me - I have a digital SLR because I like taking photos. I don't take photos every day or every week. I take my camera out on occasion. I go for photo trips a few times a year. I'm always open for people to pay me to take pictures though this happens so rarely that it's not worth having a business license. Possibly the best advice is just to get a basic digital SLR or ILC and just stick with a standard lens. The real dog lenses have gone off the market so any lens will produce decent quality. Most often my preferred lens range is between 17 and 85mm though on occasion I have used solely a 17-35. 

Fools rush in and buy everything under the sun - usually the top of the range gear. Buy one body and one lens and learn to make the most of it. Sure - you can buy more lenses and so on but then you have to carry them. The fear of missing out is why so many people spend way too much on camera gear.

A point to bear in mind is that the value of modern camera gear rockets downwards. A digital camera that cost $1,000 is a $1,000 thrown away because even selling the camera after just 6 months the most you'll get is $750. Wait 2 years and it drops to $400. Wait longer and it drops below $100. Brand is immaterial.

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