No matter how fun, versatile, and convenient the camera in a smartphone might become, every serious photographer still needs a collection of cameras that can handle a wide range of imaging requirements in the studio, on location, and during travel.
If you are ready to add a new digital model to your collection, here are 10 questions that can help you choose the camera that’s right for you.
How will you use the camera?
Will you be making family snaps, or 30 x 40-inch fine-art, gallery-quality prints? A 5 or 6 megapixel $150 camera can make decent 8 x 10 prints. But you need a camera with upwards of 22 megapixels to get into the 16 x 20 to 20 x 30-inch print range.
What is your budget?
Many photographers are willing to spend more money for a higher-end camera with a detachable, interchangeable lens (DSLR, or Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras). Ranging in price from $600 to $6,000, these cameras have larger feature sets and can use accessories such as detachable flash units. They produce higher image quality than all-in-one cameras, and the decreasing cost of entry-level and intermediate DSLRs has made them accessible to more photographers.
Many photographers also own an all-in-one camera. These cameras easily fit into a pocket and can be ready to shoot at a moment’s notice. While consumers may regard an iPhone camera as a suitable replacement for their “point-and-shoot” cameras, more sophisticated, all-in-one cameras offer decent zoom lenses, manual controls, higher resolutions, and other features. On the other hand, the iPhone offers superb connectivity to the web and networks.
What type of image quality do you need?
Higher-end cameras have better sensors and better-quality lenses. Buying additional lenses can stretch your budget, but you will get improved image quality and variety.
Do you need to take multiple images in close sequence?
All-in-one cameras typically can only shoot one or two shots per second. A good DSLR can shoot 5 to10 frames per second.
Does the camera shoot in RAW file format?
RAW file format is the gold standard for quality and editing. All cameras will shoot JPEGs, but these are processed and compressed in-camera. The color, sharpness, and overall image quality of JPEGs suffer during editing.
How many frames can the camera store (buffer) while you are shooting?
More expensive cameras will “buffer”, or save images to temporary memory before transferring to the memory card. This improves shooting speed.
What about video?
Many businesses expect photography pros to also produce high-quality video for websites, press releases, and marketing materials. Many smaller cameras offer video at relatively low resolution and quality. Higher-end DSLRs offer true 1080p resolution. A camera with an input jack for an external microphone is useful if you will be taping interviews.
Does the camera offer high-quality autofocus?
How many autofocus sensors are built into the camera? Some cameras have one, or three, while others have over fifty, and are faster. This can make or break image sharpness.
Does the camera fit well in your hands?
Ergonomics matter greatly when you use the camera all day. A poorly designed camera will feel heavier and heavier, and make your hands hurt, too!
How good is the LCD/preview screen?
I prefer larger, brighter screens that are easy to see in daylight. A camera with “live view” displays the scene in real time as the camera sees it. Optical viewfinders are important in nearly all cases.
What kind of battery does the camera use?
Many cameras require a battery made by the manufacturer. These batteries usually last a long time, but must be recharged. Some cameras use common AA-batteries which are very convenient.
You may find it’s best to let your camera pick you.
Once you have made a checklist of features you want in camera, try different models out. Pick them up and see how they feel. Check out the flash and screen visibility. Take along a camera card when you shop, so you can try shooting from some of the cameras using a variety of settings.
Finally, think about how you will feel using the camera every day. Because if you really like it, you will take more photos than ever!
A number of new cameras were introduced at the Photo Marketing Association show which (for the first time) was held in conjunction with the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Two cameras that caught my eye were Nikon's new flagship D4 DSLR (above) and the new Fuji X-Pro-1 (below). The Fuji has a very interesting new sensor design.