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BUYING DIGITAL CAMERAS - What to look for​​

Point & Shoot Cameras

You probably already have a point & shoot camera in your phone or tablet which can produce good photos. These devices are now good enough for snapshots and are starting to replace the cheapest point & shoot cameras. So if all you want to do is take the occasional snap shot to post to the internet or share by email you may not need a dedicated camera.

The greatest strength of point and shoot cameras is that they do all the thinking for you. You choose a scene mode (like say portrait) and the camera automatically adjusts to give you good results. This is great for casual use but will prove very limiting if you wish to pursue photography as a hobby.


Point & Shoot Pros

  • Ease of use.
  • Cost.
  • Size and Weight.
  • Available in various colors and form factors.
  • Built in zoom on some models.
  • Built in flash on most models.
  • Image stabilization on most models.
  • High pixel count on most models.
  • WI-Fi connectivity allowing quick photo upload to web sites or email on some models.
  • Movie mode on some models.
  • In camera panorama stitching mode on some models.
  • Raw file format on some models.
  • High Dynamic Range scene mode on some models.
  • CMOS sensor on some models.
  • No need to get locked into a specific manufacturer as with cameras with interchangeable lenses. 


Point & Shoot Cons

  • Few creative options available such as manual modes to manually control aperture, ISO, and shutter speed etc.
  • Little or no control over depth of field makes it very difficult or impossible to get a blurred background for portraits.
  • Many models have a slow recycle time between the time you you press the shutter and being ready to take another shot.
  • Poor battery performance.
  • Poor noise handling in low light conditions.
  • Can be difficult to get blur free photos in poor light conditions.
  • No interchangeable lens capability.
  • Small censor size allows for only minimal post cropping.
  • Image quality is good but not as good as Micro Four Thirds or DSLR cameras.
  • Captured photos are suitable for print sizes 5x7 or maybe 8x10 at the most.
  • Many models do not offer an optical viewfinder (which makes composition more difficult, and can induce camera shake causing blurry photos).
  • Cameras without Raw file formats limit the amount of post processing possible.


Recommendations

There is a large range of good point & shoot cameras available, from those with basic features only, to some high end models offering a greater range of useful features. Some high end cameras offer some manual controls which can improve your creativity. But if you think you might want to get serious about photography as a hobby or profession, you would be better served to skip this class of camera and consider Micro Four Thirds or DSLR cameras instead.

As a minimum, I would look for point & shoot cameras which offer: optical viewfinder, zoom, image stabilization, high pixel count, and movie mode. In addition, the following are nice to have: in camera panorama stitching mode, Raw file format, CMOS sensor, WI-Fi, and High Dynamic Range scene mode.

Which model you choose to purchase depends on your requirements and the amount of money you are prepared to spend. I advise that you visit some of the manufacturer's web sites and review the offerings before you buy or visit a photo store in person. 



 Micro Four Thirds (mirror-less) Cameras

An emerging new camera format being lead by Olympus and Panasonic offers a class of cameras between point & shoot and DSLR. These cameras produce image quality comparable to some DSLR cameras while using a sensor size in between that of the point & shoot and DSLR cameras. The smaller sensor size along with the lack of a mirror driven viewfinder allow the cameras to be smaller and lighter than DSLR cameras. They also utilize smaller lighter interchangeable lens.

Both amateurs and professionals have embraced this class of camera for it's image quality and small form factor. Professionals use it as a point & shoot camera when it is inconvenient or over kill to carry a large DSLR camera. These cameras are ideal for street scene shooting.


Micro Four Thirds Pros

  • Offer most of the features of point & shoot cameras.
  • Offer many of the features found in DSLR cameras.
  • Better than point & shoot cameras in every case except for ease of use, size, and cost.
  • Smaller and lighter than DSLR cameras (they allow discretion and greater portability).
  • Smaller lighter lens than DSLR cameras.
  • No mirror so there is no mirror slap before exposure to cause image degradation.
  • Viewfinder can be used to film Movies.
  • Precise manual focus because the viewfinder can be zoomed unlike mirrored viewfinders.
  • Viewfinder shows exact corner to corner view of the what the final picture will look like.
  • Large bright viewfinder view of the scene.
  • WI-Fi connectivity with some smart phones and other external devices to quickly upload photos.
  • Raw file format available.
  • Large pixel count.
  • Large LCD screen.
  • May support 3D lenses for movies or stills (not available in all models).
  • CMOS sensor.
  • High ISO range.
  • Fast shutter speeds available.
  • Movie mode.
  • GPS functionality on some models.
  • Good quality interchangeable lens available.
  • Some models may offer the Android operating system.
  • Sensor size larger than point & shoots means better image quality.
  • Some models may have the same size sensor as DSLR APC-C cameras.


Micro Four Thirds Cons

  • My have a smaller sensor size compared to DSLR cameras: (50 % smaller than a DSLR APC-C camera and 75% smaller than a Full-frame DSLR). If so, image quality is not quite as good as DSLR APC-C and noticeably poorer than DSLR Full-Frame cameras.
  • Auto-focus may be slower than DSLR cameras.
  • Achieving an out of focus background may be more difficult than a DSLR camera.
  • Macro focusing can be difficult.
  • Cost is more than point & shoot cameras and about the same for entry level APC-C DSLR cameras.
  • Larger and heavier than point & shoot cameras.
  • More complicate to operate than point & shoot cameras.


Recommendations

With this class of camera you are faced with the prospect of buying interchangeable lens for greater flexibility and creativity. It's time to think long term if you want to take more than the standard snap shot photos. Do you what to grow into the hobby or profession of photography?

It's time to think about becoming locked into one camera manufacturer. Once you start to obtain a set of interchangeable lens, at some point it becomes impractical and expensive to change brands. This may not be much of an issue with Micro Four Thirds cameras at this point, but will be, if you move up to DSLR cameras.

You should compare the differences between Micro Four Thirds and DSLR and decide if it would be better to go directly to the larger camera format or if Micro Four Thirds will fill your needs for the foreseeable future.

Which Micro Four Thirds model you choose to purchase depends on your requirements and the amount of money you are prepared to spend. I advise that you visit some of the manufacturer's web sites and review the offerings before you buy or visit a photo store in person.



DSLR (Digital single-lens reflex) - APC-C and Full-Frame

Full-Frame DSLR cameras have sensors the same size as 35mm film cameras, and therefore are at the top of the digital camera world (except for a few very expensive medium and large format camera). They are used by professionals and advanced amateurs who want the best image quality. These cameras and their large family of dedicated lenses, are weather resistant and build to take a lot of abuse.

 APC-C DSLR camera sensors are smaller in size than Full-Frame. The so called crop factor have advantages and disadvantages.
These cameras produce great images and under the right conditions, can match the quality of Full-Frame cameras. The camera body and dedicated lens are smaller, lighter, and cost less than Full-Frame cameras. 

Due to the crop factor, these cameras have an advantage in the telephoto lens range and a disadvantage in the wide-angle range. For example if you apply the Canon 1.6 crop factor to a 200mm lens the lens provides an actual zoom length of 320mm. On the other hand, a 35mm lens will actually be 56mm taking it out of the wide angle range.


DSLR APC-C Pros

  • Lighter smaller camera body and lenses than Full-Frame.
  • Body and lenses cost less than Full-Frame.
  • Crop factor addes to actual reach of telephoto lenses.
  • Full-Frame camera lenses can be used on these cameras.
  • An extensive range of quality dedicated lens are available.
  • Much better image quality than point & shoot cameras.
  • Better or equal image quality to Micro Four Thirds cameras.
  • Slightly less or equil image quality to Full-Frame cameras.
  • Good quality prints can be made larger than 8x10.
  • Fully manual control options allow for greater creativity.
  • Image stabilization available in a few camera bodies and in many lenses.
  • Files can be saved as both Raw and JPEG at the same time.
  • Movie mode available.
  • GPS functionality in some models.
  • WI-Fi connectivity in some models.
  • In camera HDR in some models.
  • Live view mode.
  • CMOS sensor.
  • Good depth of field control due to a very wide range of apertures to choose from. This allows you to get everything in focus or greatly restrict focus and get soft backgrounds.
  • Good action freezing capabilities due to a large range of available faster shutter speeds.
  • Good blurring capabilities (ie. waterfalls) due to a large range of slower shutter speeds.
  • Fast and responsive performance in the areas of image capture time, autofocus, and high frame rates.
  • Good digital noise control under low light situations or high ISO settings.
  • Good range of usable ISO (sensor sensitivity) settings.
  • Large pixel count.
  • Larger rechargeable battries and battery grip option allows for longer uninterupted shoots.
  • Depth of field button.
  • Built in flash.


DSLR APC-C Cons

  • Crop factor reduces the actual wide-angle reach of lenses.
  • Noiser during operation than the smaller mirror-less cameras.
  • Not quit as good at creating smooth out of focus backgrounds as Full-Frame cameras.
  • More expensive than all digital cameras except for Full-Frame cameras.
  • Larger and heavier than all digital cameras except for Full-Frame cameras.
  • Post photo cropping abilities better then all other digital cameras except for Full-Frame.
  • More features for greater creativity means that these cameras are more complicated to operate.


Full-Fame Pros

  • A Full-Frame sensor means that there is no crop factor math needed. Whatever the focal length reading shows on the lens is what you get. 
  • An extensive range of quality dedicated lens are available.
  • Much better image quality than point & shoot cameras.
  • Better image quality in most cases than Micro Four Thirds and APC-C cameras.
  • Fully manual control options allow for greater creativity.
  • Image stabilization available in a large range of lenses.
  • Files can be saved as both RAW and JPEG at the same time.
  • Movie mode available in some models.
  • GPS in some models.
  • WI-Fi connectivity in some models.
  • In camera HDR in some models.
  • Live view mode.
  • Great depth of field control due to a very wide range of apertures to choose from. This allows you to get everything in focus or greatly restrict focus and get soft backgrounds.
  • Great action freezing capabilities due to a large range of available faster shutter speeds.
  • Great blurring capabilities (ie. waterfalls) due to a large range of slower shutter speeds and the large sensor.
  • Fast and responsive performance in the areas of image capture time, autofocus, and high frame rates.
  • Great digital noise control under low light situations or high ISO settings.
  • Very good range of usable ISO (sensor sensitivity) settings.
  • Large pixel count.
  • Great post image cropping capabilities.
  • Larger rechargeable battries and battery grip option allows for longer uninterupted shoots.
  • Depth of field button.
  • Great image tones, colors, and dynamic range.
  • Larger viewfinder.
  • CMOS sensor.
  • APC-C designed lenses can be used on some Full-Frame cameras (not Canon).
  • Some models hold two memory cards so that a backup of each image can be saved.
  • Photos printed large format will be high quality with good detail.


Full-Frame Cons

  • Larger and heavier than all digital cameras.
  • Expensive.
  • Noiser during operation than the smaller mirror-less cameras.
  • More features for greater creativity means that these cameras are more complicated to operate.
  • Canon model don't have a built in flash. Pros use external flash instead.
  • Canon APC-C lenses cannot be used on Full-Frame cameras.


Recommendations

As Micro Four Thirds cameras improve over time, they will proved greater competition to APC-C cameras and may even take over that market segment. The introduction of low cost Full-Frame cameras by both Nikon and Canon will provide additional pressure on APC-C cameras.

Full-Frame cameras will continue to be the go to camera for serious amatures and professionals.

Canon and Nikon are way out in front of the pack in Full-Frame cameras, to the point that I recommend that you go with one of these manufactures and forget the rest. To a lesser extent this applies to APC-C cameras as well. Keep in mind that you will become locked into a manufacturer once you aquire a number of expensive lenses. Camera bodies will come and go but good glass will serve you well for many years. Lens are the most important part of the camera so you should do considerable research before buying any lens. Buy the best lens you can afford.

APC-C cameras are a very good option especially the top end models. They offer very good image quality in a small, light, and less expensive form factor compared to Full-Frame. The crop factor provides a longer reach in the telephoto range. You also have the option of using Full-Frame lenses on these cameras with the idea that you may upgrade to a Full-Frame camera in the future. 

Which model you choose to purchase depends on your requirements and the amount of money you are prepared to spend. I advise that you visit some of the manufacturer's web sites and review the offerings before you buy or visit a photo store in person. 

Good luck and happy shooting.


Gerry Legere   -  Photo Repair by Image master

Copyright 2012: Image Master | Old Photo Restoration | All rights reserved.
11120 McFarland Court Campbellville ON, Canada  L0P 1B0 905-854-4683 | imphotorepair@gmail.com

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There are a number of factors you should consider before you enter a store to purchase a camera. You should consider image quality, performance, ergonomics, price, and the camera features that you may actually use. Of course this depends on the amount of money you are prepared to spend and what subject matter you will most likely want to photograph.

After reading this article you should be better prepared to make an informed purchase by having a very good idea of which camera type will satisfy your needs.

The three main classes of digital cameras we will look at are Point & Shoot, Micro Four Thirds and DSLR. We will discuss the main feature sets of each, and take a look at the pros and cons of using each type of camera.