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Holiday Buying Guide: Picking the Right Digital Camera

With Black Friday rapidly approaching, the time of the year for spending is upon us. Although I’m sure all of us Mac lovers are considering which Apple product we’ll be blowing our budget on (mine will be a Magic Mouse), there are also the other gadgets in our lives to consider.

One of the most important gadgets for Mac users is often the digital camera, what with all those wonderful iLife tools we can use to manipulate and share the photos and videos we take with our digital cameras. As such, here’s a quick guide on picking the right digital camera for you.

Rules to Remember

1) The inverse law of megapixels
Despite what the guy at the Best Buy tells you, more megapixels does not mean better photos. In fact, in this day and age the opposite is true. This is because the more megapixels you pack onto a camera sensor, especially the tiny sensors found on most point and shoot cameras, the worst they become at picking up light. Nowadays you can’t buy a camera with fewer than six or seven megapixels, which is more than enough for most, and you will actually hurt your picture quality if you buy small cameras with more than 10 or 12 megapixels.

2) Think about where you shoot
Most people don’t stop and think about the type of photos they take before they buy, not realizing that there are tradeoffs to be made. For example if you take a lot of photos in low light conditions, buying a camera with a larger sensor and whose lens can open up wider to pick up more light, like the Canon S90 or Panasonic LX3, makes a lot of sense, but such cameras also mean giving up zoom range. The opposite is true if you like to get close to your subjects. You can pick up a pocketable point and shoot with a 12x zoom like the Panasonic DMC-ZS3, but you’re going to give up low light capabilities. If you want the best quality in all conditions you’re going to have to give up portability and carry around a large DSLR.

3) Don’t forget the accessories
Even if you’re not spending a ton of money, a few simple accessories can improve your photography experience. I almost always recommend picking up an extra battery. There’s nothing more annoying than having your camera die on you in the middle of a trip or family event. Another useful accessory is a tripod, which doesn’t necessarily need to be a gigantic. Picking up something like a Gorrilla pod, which is both cheap and small, can let you stabilize the camera when taking shots with a long exposure, like a night scenery shot, and also lets you set up the camera better for self-portraits.

4) Decide how serious you are about photography
If you’re truly a point and shoot photographer, then it’s important for you to pick up a camera with a good automatic mode and wide selection of usable scene modes. If you’re more advanced, or want to learn how to take more control of your camera, then expect to pay more for a camera with full manual controls. If you’re a serious photographer or if you’re ready to take the leap to the highest level of photography, then it may be time to invest in a DSLR, which allows you to swap lenses for various photographic situations.

5) Don’t cheap out
We’re Mac users for a reason. We recognize quality and are willing to pay more in order to get the best. The same is true with digital cameras. The universe of cameras under $150 is enormous, and they’re all almost the same. By paying a bit more, I’d say more than $200 for a point and shoot, you’ll find a significant increase in photo quality and features. That’s not to say that every camera under $150 is poor and every one over $200 is good, you’ll still need to do research, but there’s less chaff to sift through at higher price points and a better chance of picking up something you’ll be happy with.

Cameras to Consider

The cameras below are widely seen as solid performers in their class. If you’re still bewildered by the options out there, these are a good place to start your research.

Canon PowerShot SD780 IS

Price: $199

This is a good fit for anyone who wants a reasonably adept camera in a small and slim package. The price is reasonable too, but don’t expect wonders from the tiny sensor in this camera. Expect to use the flash in even slightly dim conditions. On the plus side, you do get face detection, HD video recording and image stabilization.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3

Price: $270

Stepping up a bit in price over entry-level point and shoot cameras, the ZS3 is still a very good value considering what you get. That is an extremely impressive zoom range, from wide angle for scenery shots all the way up to a 300mm zoom for getting close to subjects far away. HD video is also a big plus here, with the ability to zoom while recording, something that not all cameras can do. Not all is perfect, however, as the ZS3’s sensor is tiny, which combined with a less than impressive maximum aperture means that this camera struggles in low light situations. If you’re looking for small and versatile, however, the ZS3 hits the sweet spot in a lot of places.

Canon S90

Price: $430

Canon’s newest addition to their high-end point and shoot lineup offers quite a few features that will get advanced amateurs excited. First up is a significantly larger sensor than that found in most point and shoot cameras. Combined with a lens that sports an f/2 aperture at the wide end, this means the camera struggles much less than typical point and shoots in low light situations. You also get a full range of manual controls and an interesting click wheel around the lens that can be assigned to a variety of functions. The S90 doesn’t come cheap, however, and it is missing some features like HD video that you can find on much less expensive cameras.

Nikon D60

Price: $640

DSLR’s like the D60 combine a huge sensor for even better low light photography, with the option to switch lenses to match your particular situation. Be ready to continue spending, however, as in this world it’s the quality of your glass (lenses) more than the camera itself that will dictate the quality of your photos, and lenses don’t come cheap. The D60 is a good choice for those just entering the world of interchangeable lenses as it’s available at a reasonable price and it offers a more gradual learning curve than other more advanced DSLRs. That said, it does lack one of the new sexy features that you are beginning to see on DSLRs:┬ávideo recording. If that’s a must for you check out the Canon T1i.

6 Responses to “Holiday Buying Guide: Picking the Right Digital Camera”

  1. These are all good digital cameras. But as the author said, best pick the digital camera that will best suits your needs. Most digital cameras have the same features as others. Just be wise enough and choose the one that will fits your needs and that will give you all the benefits it has to offer