How to buy a digital camera

Every couple of weeks or so, a friend or colleague asks for camera-purchasing advice.

“What kind of camera do you use?” is usually how it starts. “That depends on what I’m shooting,” I usually answer.*

Although my answer may sound evasive, it’s actually a statement of fact: No single camera/lens can excel at everything. And because you’ll always have to make a trade-off of some sort, it’s good to know which features are critical to you—and which you can do without.

There’s a list of about 20 questions I usually ask my friends (What are you going to shoot? Which is more important: Camera size or image quality? Do you use manual focus?) … but that would make for a very long—and probably not very useful—blog post.

So instead I’ll offer some online resources that may help steer you in the right direction.

Learn the basics: The photography guides at and Digital Photography School offer some great general advice on buying a digital camera. Digital Camera Info goes one step further by recommending the “perfect” camera for a variety of situations.

Do some researchConsumer Reports offers an excellent overview, including a helpful rundown of camera types, an explanation of the most common features, and a discussion of the top brands.

Do some more research: If you already have a specific camera in mind, Digital Photography Review can probably tell you about its real-world performance. The site also offers a handy “comparison” feature, if you’re on the fence between two or three models.

I’ll close by offering my personal caveat: Remember that more megapixels isn’t necessarily better. Squeezing more megapixels onto a compact camera’s tiny sensor actually increases image noise (and thus, reduces image quality). Plus, more megapixels also mean a larger file size—which will fill up your memory card faster. Anything between 6 and 10 megapixels is fine for most folks. And anything above 14 megapixels is probably overkill, unless you’re buying a big ol’ SLR and you need the resolution.

Well, that’s all I’ve got. Have some camera-shopping tips of your own? Please send them along.

* These days, my walk-around camera is a Canon G11, or my trusty Canon S3. But when I travel I usually carry my Panasonic GH1 with its versatile 14-140mm lens, or—for street photography—its kid sister, the Panasonic GF1 with its prime 20mm (40mm equivalent) f/1.7 lens. I also have an old Canon 40D that I’ve dubbed “The Doberman” because of its heft—but it seldom leaves the house these days, probably because of its heft.


  1. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed! I’ve spent most of my lunch hour reading your blog. Love your photographs.

    Thanks for the post on how to buy a digital camera. I’ve been walking around for months now trying to decide. I’ve narrowed it down to the Canon T2i – I had a Canon SLR before – but just when I got ready to plunk down my $$, I noticed the T3i. Back to the drawing board!

    Thanks again,

    • I am so honored that you devoted most of your lunch hour to my blog, Marcia — and especially that you were thoughtful enough to comment. Good luck with your camera purchase … I know *exactly* what it’s like to waffle between two options. Anyway, thanks so much for your kind words. You made my day. :

  2. Oooh, I’m so glad I did! I really enjoyed reading your posts — they touch on so many of my interests – writing and photography. I also loved the rules for writers. Forgot to mention that.

    Incidentally, Unsleepable was my first template. I still love it.

Leave a reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s