Mom’s Guide to Buying a Digital Camera
Many new parents find themselves buying a new camera within the first year of their baby’s life. With so many precious moments to capture, buying a camera is not a purchase that should be made without addressing a few things. Our team at Daily Mom want to address your questions as simply as possible.
1. Determine What (and how much) You Need
New parents often make the mistake of buying more camera than is necessary. Before spending the first dollar, you first need to ask yourself these questions. From there, you can ask for recommendations or check out what’s on sale.
- Why do you need a new camera?
- What is your budget?
- What’s your current experience level with photography?
- Are you willing to learn how to shoot in manual mode?
- What will you be shooting? (snapshots of your children, portraits, nature/landscapes, sports, etc.)
- What features or benefits are most important to you? (zooming, image stabilization, LCD screen, shutter speed, etc.)
Years ago, manufacturers spent a great deal of time promoting a camera’s megapixel capabilities. Cameras (and camera phones for that matter) have come a long way since then, and most new cameras have at least five megapixels.So, the conversation is less about megapixels, and more about printing and storage. If you typically print images at a normal size (4×6, 5×7 and 8×10), then anything over four megapixels is sufficient. However, if you have any plans of enlarging your images (16×20 or larger), you may want invest in a camera that supports more megapixels. Understand though that higher megapixels mean more storage space required on your computer’s hard drive.
According to the Digital Photography School, the more important factor to consider when buying a camera is the size of the sensor. The image sensor used in point and shoot digital cameras is typically much smaller than the image sensor used in a DSLR by as much as 25 times. This means that point and shoot cameras must use much slower ISO levels while producing a much grainier photo. Even entry level DSLR cameras will produce a fair amount of grain at ISO levels of 400. Again, this doesn’t matter so much if you’re printing small images or only plan to share your images on Facebook or Instagram, but it’s something to consider.
Before we go any further, let’s define ISO. Most simply put, ISO measures the sensitivity of the light. In the days of film, you would have to buy different ISO films to handle various types of shooting environments. The lower the number (100, 200, 400, etc) the less sensitive your camera is to light and the finer the grain. Higher ISO settings are generally used to shoot in darker situations using a faster shutter speed. The higher the ISO you choose, the grainer shots you will get.
3. Kits and Other Gear
- Camera Case or Bag
- Memory Cards
- Spare Batteries/Recharger
- Lenses (if you are getting a DSLR)
- Filters (and other lens attachments)
If you are starting from scratch, the kit is an easy way to purchase all the necessary items you’ll need to start shooting. Most retailers (including online retailers like Amazon, B&H and Adorama) will bundle these extras with cameras and offer a discount when buying more than one item at once. That said, bundles may or may not meet your photography needs. For example, if you plan on buying a DSLR camera and plan on shooting in manual mode, you may want to consider the quality of the items in the kit. Kit lenses (Canon EF-S 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II) are typically considered cheap and are often upgraded quickly to lenses that can shoot at wider constant apertures (such as the Canon 50mm f/1.8). The camera cases or bags often offered in kits are generally low quality.
Other gear that you may find useful, but not necessary right away are:
- External Flashes
Be careful when purchasing these items in a bundle. Much like the kit lens, low market items are more likely to collect dust in your home than to be used. On that note – one way to save a little money is to re-use accessories, especially in cases where you may be upgrading from one DSLR to another.
4. DSLR or Point and Shoot?
This is probably the biggest question you have. Entry level DSLR’s have become incredibly affordable in recent years. However, that does not mean that everyone needs to have one. And while your budget may allow for a DSLR purchase, if you are not committed to learning how to use your camera beyond auto mode, we do not recommend purchasing a DSLR. Remember, cameras don’t take great pictures, people do. That said, you’re likely still interested in the advantages and disadvantages of both, so here you go.
DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) Cameras:
- Image Quality: image sensors allow a faster ISO, faster shutter speeds and less grain.
- Adaptability: build the camera you need over time with the addition of lenses, flashes, filters, etc.
- Speed: focus, shutter speed and lag time are generally not an issue.
- Large ISO range: this varies between camera models but allows for a wider array of ISO settings which lends itself to more flexibility in shooting conditions.
- Manual Controls: assumes that the photographer wants to control their own settings and designed such that these functions are easily accessible.
- Value: even if you plan to upgrade your DSLR after a few years of use, the investment you make in the lenses that work with your DSLR will last for many years.
- Price: often more expensive.
- Size and Weight: adding the additional weight of a DSLR with lens can be quite heavy to an already overloaded diaper bag.
- Noise: you may or may not like the clunk or click noise associated with snapping photos.
- Complexity: most DSLRs have auto and semi-auto modes, but there is often still a learning curve when moving to a DSLR.
Think a DSLR is for you? Here’s a list of the Top 20 DSLR Models.
Point and Shoot Cameras:
- Size and Weight: most point and shoots are small, lightweight and can easily be thrown into a diaper bag (or your back pocket).
- Quiet: so quiet that you may have to check the preview to see if the photo has been taken.
- Auto Mode: no extra thinking required, just point and shoot.
- Price: significantly cheaper than most DSLRs with many options under $100.
- LCD Screens: ability to frame your shot using the LCD screen on the back of the camera vs. using a viewfinder.
- Lower Image Quality: smaller image sensors which means that the quality of the images they produce is generally lower. Again, not a big deal if you are only sharing your photos on social media sites or printing 4×6 photos.
- Smaller ISO range: ISO ranges are usually more limited in point and shoot cameras, thus limiting your shooting conditions (unless you use the built-in flash).
- Shutter Lag Time: a lot of people become interested in purchasing a DSLR after trying to photograph a moving child and experiencing slow shutter lag time.
- Limited Manual Controls: some point and shoot cameras come with ‘aperture priority’ and ‘shutter priority’ modes which are nice, but not easily accessible.
- What You See, What You Get: typically not adaptable in that you can’t add lenses, filters, etc to most point and shoots.
Think a Point and Shoot camera is for you, here’s a list of the Top 10 Point and Shoot Cameras.
With all of that said, the ball is in your court. What camera you purchase is entirely up to you. Many people find that having a DSLR in addition to using their camera phone is a good balance. Whatever you decide to use, we encourage you to learn how to use your camera to the fullest. Study the manual. Carry your camera with you everywhere and practice, practice, practice.