CHRIS BICKES: How to buy a holiday camera … and not go crazy or break the bank (PART 1)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of three in a series about choosing the right type of camera for you by local photographer Chris Bickes.

By Chris Bickes

Guest Columnist

I’m guessing here, but you are about to face more than camera choices. Your choices will include whether to buy a new cell phone camera, a Point and Shoot or Hybrid (Mirror-less) camera or a time proven digital SLRs (dSLR) … and I haven’t even got to the accessories yet!

For starters, let your budget and camera “friendliness” decide your purchase … not technology, not pushy sales types or the sales bargain of the day.

Try not to let the many choices, confusing terminology and myriad of features get to you, because what it will come down to is budget and how easy the camera is to use. Besides, if the camera isn’t right, a replacement will be out there next summer and you can sell your purchase on eBay.

When purchasing a camera it always comes down to how much can you afford to spend. I suggest not spending beyond your budget just to get a new feature like Wi-Fi. Buy something to fit your needs today and trade up later when and if your needs change.

Think about how you will use your camera and pictures: Facebook and Internet for low resolution (camera phone); or photo books and posters-high resolution (Point and Shoot); rugged and waterproof-outdoors (Hybrid); sports and portrait photography-(digital camera -dSLR). These answers will guide you to a camera phone or point and shoot or hybrid or dSLR.

First, the big question … How much can you safely afford to spend on yourself or as a gift?

CELL PHONE CAMERAS

If your budget is $0-$150 then you have two excellent choices: a camera-equipped Smart phone or used Point and Shoot camera from eBay. EBay purchases often come with a 30-day guarantee.

The current generation of cell phone cameras is not only fully featured, but has flash management capabilities, apps and good picture resolution of at least 5 megapixels, more than ample for 4×6 pictures and Facebook. Also most come with many “on-board” photo adjustment features such as red eye reduction. If you purchase an Android Smart phone or iPhone, there are thousands of APPS where you can really manipulate your photo. Other cell phone camera operating systems have little in the way of Internet apps, but their camera technology and the on-board features are similar.

Did you know that most of the photos taken today are by cell phone cameras and nearly all the pictures on Facebook are from 5MP camera phones? I’ve even seen pros use smart phone pictures in their photo exhibits. And when was the last time you sat down and looked at a photo album as opposed to leaning over and looking at a photo on a camera phone?

When choosing between an Android and iPhone cell phone camera, take a few indoor and outdoor pictures and then use the camera adjustment features to adjust your picture like photo cropping and lighting. How quick and easy were the adjustments? How did the picture look? How easy was it to access your picture? When shooting test pictures, get a close facial shot to test the flash for brightness and then use the camera phone red eye adjustment. Before you finalize your decision, check the Internet for available apps to correct for white balance, camera jitter and focus and light and color adjustments.

POINT AND SHOOT CAMERAS

If your budget is $150-$400, a Point and Shoot camera from Nikon, Canon or Olympus should be your choice. All three companies produce excellent and highly reliable products with many accessories. Be careful of your salesperson and marketing hype as I guarantee they will misrepresent the product and its features. Never fails. And Web-based camera write-ups are usually written by the manufacturer or a paid writer pushing the product. Independent Internet sites are excellent.

Once again, look for ease of use, i.e. how easy is the camera to operate when making changes such as white balance and ISO.

Since most of the camera manufacturers offer similar features, technologies are secondary, but look for resolution more than 10 megapixels (a minimum of 5 megapixels does a fine job for Internet postings and 5×7 prints); optical zoom greater than 10 (the larger the number, the more distance you can zoom in). Be sure to check the entire zoom range because just a number of 10x doesn’t do it. Look for the zoom range like a 24mm to 500mm zoom, which would be much better than a 28mm to 500mm. These numbers can be found in the product specs, specs which electronic stores rarely have.

Additional specs should also include: macro focusing; a minimum three inch LCD monitor (with a monitor dot display exceeding 300), a viewfinder for your eye and an LCD monitor would be better as a visual viewfinder will come in handy on bright sunny day and in low light. Make sure your flash range is good from two to 15 feet and that your camera has manual white balance correction, ISO adjustment, HD movie capability and several focusing options such as facial recognition, subject tracking and image stabilization.

I can’t emphasis enough ease of use. So test the camera. See how intuitive it is to turn on; find the menus; zoom; replace batteries; retrieve memory card; use the picture playback and delete buttons. Are they easy to find and quick to get at? Can you find HD video record and playback quickly?

Next, access the menus. Believe it or not, you will use these menus all the time. How quick and easy is the access? Are the sub menus understandable and easy to read even in low light? Access the submenus like the “set-up menu” or “shooting menu” and go into their submenus. Go ahead, you won’t hurt anything. Once you buy the camera you’ll find yourself going into the submenus to change settings. So see how easy and quick it is to change these. If any of this is time consuming of difficult, move on to another camera.

Chris Bickes is a longtime Onekama resident and hosts photo-walks and workshops through-out Northwest Michigan. He is a former staff photographer at the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite and trained under Ansel Adams. Chris’s assignments have ranged from riots and disasters to landscape and portrait photography. Writing experience includes many magazine and newspaper articles and post graduate creative writing at Columbia University. You can contact him at picturetellsstory@yahoo.com.

Leave a Reply