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Home arrow Photography Tips arrow Camera Buying Tips
Photography Tips For Digital Camera Buying
Photography Tip Courtesy Photo Review magazine

Digital cameras and camcorders are hot products this year, but if you make the wrong purchasing choices you can end up with an expensive camera that doesn’t meet your needs. The following ‘mistake’ list outlines the most common mistakes buyers make and how to avoid them.

Mistake No. 1: Not knowing what you want
The most common mistake camera buyers make is to be unsure about exactly what they want from a camera. Regardless of whether you want a digital or film camera or a still or video camera, it’s important to research the market to home in on the type of camera that will be best for the pictures you plan to take.

Start by being quite clear about what types of shots you want - and how you plan to use your pictures. If you only want a camera for taking pictures to email, just about any digital camera will do (including a camcorder with stills capture to memory card). If you want to print your pictures, a 2-megapixel digicam is the lowest resolution you can use to obtain anything like photo quality for snapshot size prints.

Know what field of view meet your needs and make sure it’s covered by the camera at both ends of the zoom range. Check the size and performance of the LCD screen, both indoors and in bright lighting, to ensure it can provide a decent view. Assess the viewfinder’s usability: how bright it is, how much of the subject it shows and whether it provides a clear and comfortable view of the subject.

Mistake No. 2: Not doing enough research
The camera market becomes more complex every month as new models are added. While film cameras haven’t changed substantially for a decade or so, the digital camera market is evolving rapidly. Smart buyers will learn about the different types of cameras available, what their advantages and limitations are and how much they cost before stepping into a store.


There’s plenty of information available on the Internet and in magazines such as Photo Review Australia and the Photo Review pocket guides contain a useful checklist to help you home in on the features and functions you need. Learn the basic digital photo jargon so you understand what resolution and quality are and know how the number of megapixels in the sensor affects the camera’s picture quality and how large you can print your shots.

Understand the limitations of digital cameras. For some applications (such as photographing small, active children and pets), a film camera or digital camcorder can be a better option than a digital still camera . For creative photography, a film SLR gives you more versatility for your dollar than a high-resolution compact digicam or a digital SLR. The Photo Review pocket guides can help you to ‘talk the talk’ when you go to the shops to make your selection.

Mistake No. 3: Shopping around for the lowest available price
Everybody loves a bargain, but there’s more involved in the equation when buying a camera than price alone. Because the market has become so complex, it’s important to shop at a store that has staff who understand camera technology and are prepared to guide you towards products that could meet your needs. Don’t buy from a ‘box shifter’ where staff focus mainly on moving products from their shelves through the checkouts and could be working in the camera section this week and somewhere totally different next week.

A good reseller should be able to provide you with well-thought-out advice, based on knowledge and experience. He/she should also be prepared to spend time demonstrating several models and giving you hands-on experience with suitable cameras so you can decide which one feels most comfortable in your hands. This is important because if a camera isn’t comfortable to use, it will spend most of its life in storage!

Some camera stores offer post-purchase courses in using your camera effectively to customers. These are generally worthwhile as they can show you new features and give you tips that will help you to take better pictures. You can save many dollars in processing and printing costs over the life of the camera by being a more effective photographer from day one.

Mistake No. 4: Not buying essential accessories
If you’re buying a digital camera, two vital accessories should be added at the point of purchase – or very soon afterwards: a high-capacity memory card and rechargeable batteries (or an additional battery pack if your camera uses a dedicated battery system). Card capacity and compatibility are issues you should consider. When buying a card, look at the prices charged for different card capacities. You will probably find a ‘sweet spot’ somewhere in the middle of the capacity range that gives you the most megabytes for your dollar. And. Although your camera choice locks you in to a specific card type, when buying a camera it can be advantageous to buy a model that takes the same type of card as your PDA, camcorder or other personal device. The fewer cards you have, the easier it is to transfer data between devices and the less likely you are to lose cards.

Digital cameras that use AA batteries often ship with alkaline cells (although this is not a universal situation). Because they are not designed for high-drain devices, AA cells can become exhausted very quickly when used in a digital camera. We recommend at least two sets of NiMH rechargeables plus a charger (an investment of well under $100) to keep your camera powered up and ready to use whenever you need it.

If you are buying a film camera, make sure you purchase sufficient film to enable you to get to know your camera’s many features and functions. SLR buyers should invest in at least one lens plus a UV or ‘daylight’ filter to ensure correct colour reproduction in outdoor shots.

If you’re a black and white photographer, a series of colour filters (red, orange, yellow and green) plus one or more neutral density filters and a polariser will provide all the options you need for full control of tonal reproduction. Colour photographers will find a polariser gives an added richness to hues and tones (especially in cloud-dotted skies) when photographing scenery.

A sturdy carry bag is also beneficial, if your camera isn’t supplied with one and an add-on flash can be useful if you take a lot of shots at night – provided your camera has a hot shoe that accepts one. Note: you will probably need to check the flash can be used with your camera.
 
Mistake No. 5: Not testing the camera before you buy
It’s impossible to tell whether a camera will suit you by reading a review or checking the specifications online. Even a product shot posted on the Web can’t show you whether the camera will sit comfortably in your hands. Small, closely sited controls can be difficult to use if your hands are large or you lack dexterity and a large hand grip can be uncomfortable for those with short fingers.

No matter how attractive the camera looks or how many desirable features and functions it has, a camera that feels uncomfortable to use will spend most of its time in the cupboard. Make sure you visit a shop and try out a few models before making your purchase – and choose one that feels comfortable to operate.

Mistake No. 6: Not checking the return and warranty policies
If you buy a well-known brand of camera, it’s almost inevitable that the local distributor will support it with at least a one-year warranty to cover problems due to faulty assembly or inherent product defects. (These are usually quite rare.)  Many distributors will also offer extended warranty protection for a small fee.

However, warranties are set up to protect buyers against faults in the manufacturing process: they are not there to compensate for user-created problems and, consequently, some things are not covered by standard warranties. These include water and impact damage, loss of components and problems created by exposing the camera to dust and moisture. Read the warranty carefully before buying the camera and then, once the camera is yours, pay strict attention to the precautions the manufacturer has listed in the manual to ensure your equipment in properly cared for.

Mistake No. 7: Neglecting the computer requirements
If you aren’t a computer owner and user, there’s little point in buying a digital camera because the computer interface is vital for realising much of the potential a digital camera can offer. A computer is required for retouching images and sharing them via the internet.

Your computer must have enough system memory to work with, appropriate editing software, adequate storage space to hold your photos and the right printer for producing hard copy output. Most digital camera specification list the minimum computer requirements for using the camera. Use them as a guide – but recognise that to reach your camera’s maximum potential you will probably need more RAM and a higher storage capacity – and probably a more powerful editing application.

Mistake No. 8: Buying overseas
Many Australians believe they can buy electronic equipment more cheaply overseas – and in some cases this is true. But, regular price checks have shown that the dollars you might save on an overseas ‘bargain’ often need to be spent to make the equipment usable when you get home. Cameras sold in Australia normally come with all the components needed for use here, including power cables and adapters. If you buy overseas, there’s a good chance some of these components will be different and you’ll have to buy adapters or new cables before you can use your camera at home.

Instruction manuals may be written in a language you don’t understand and it can cost you a lot in Internet time to download one in English – and even more in ink and paper if you want a printed version.

Don't ignore the warranty. While it may look like the real deal, if you’re offered a camera that doesn't have a warranty card that covers Australia, it could be a fake, a stolen camera, an unauthorised import or resale camera that won't be covered by the manufacturer. Make sure your camera has a warranty that covers Australia before you hand over your money.

Some local distributors are reluctant to provide warranty support for cameras that have been purchased overseas – and you can’t really blame them for this. After-sale support is costly and the cost is built into all suppliers’ profit margins. If you’ve paid for the camera overseas, the distributor in the country where you’ve purchased the equipment benefits – not the local distributor.

Mistake No. 9: Ignoring camcorders
The latest digital camcorders have a lot to offer photographers, with high resolution sensors producing still shots that can be printed to snapshot size. They also produce much better video clips than digital still cameras, giving you the best of both worlds.

Some subjects (virtually anything involving movement) are better captured in video format and most camcorders will let you archive video footage to CD or DVD. A couple of manufacturers (Hitachi and Sony) have even released DVD camcorders to make this process easy.

Mistake No. 10: Not planning for the future
Write out a list of all the possible ways you might use your camera – both now and in a couple of years’ time. Then use the checklist in the Photo Review Digital Camera pocket guide to home in on the features and functions that will be critical for you during the camera’s lifetime (which is typically two to three years). This is particularly important when deciding on your camera’s resolution. While a budget-priced 2-megapixel model is fine for e-mailing family snapshots and holiday photos to friends and family, it’s not suitable for printing to A4 size. If larger prints are a possibility, it’s better to pay slightly more for a higher resolution camera.

Don’t expect the camera you buy today to have all the features and functions offered in a model that will be released in six months. And don’t be surprised if that new model is significantly cheaper than the price you paid. If you buy sensibly now, the camera you purchase will still have most of the features and functions of the models that are released down the track and you’ll be able to delay upgrading until there’s a genuine reason for you to do so.
 
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