How to Buy a Digital Camera

Two Methods:Choosing a Basic FormEvaluating Technical Specifications

Are you looking for a digital camera but getting confused by all the features, doodads and tech talk? These instructions should help you figure out what type of camera you need. Since there are so many different models of digital camera, it might be best to start by deciding on three or four of these attributes that are most important to you. Once you've determined what these are, you can narrow your online search or ask at a camera shop for cameras that satisfy these requirements.

Method 1
Choosing a Basic Form

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    Consider a cheaper and simpler point and shoot camera. If you want a simple, inexpensive camera with a low learning curve, consider a point and shoot digital camera. These have a viewfinder that's simply a "window" through the camera, rather than an exact image of what the camera will photograph, and may have fewer settings to alter.[1] The picture quality will likely be worse because of this, but there is a wide range of quality in point and shoot cameras, so do not rule them out before you investigate.
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    Consider a digital SLR camera for more control. An SLR digital camera (sometimes referred to as DSLR) provides you with much more creative control. Most of these have both automatic and manual adjustment for lighting and focusing. If you want additional control over the technical aspects of photography, or if you enjoy playing around with color settings and flash, look for digital SLR cameras. Be aware that these are almost always more expensive than point and shoot cameras.
    • SLR stands for "single-lens reflex" and describes the mirror and prism system that sends an accurate image to the viewfinder. Nowadays, most digital cameras of this type have an electronic display, but they are still referred to as SLR or DSLR cameras.
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    Don't assume a high price or popular brand means quality. Remember that sometimes an inexpensive camera will satisfy your needs better than a more expensive one. Similarly, brand names are sometimes associated with higher quality, but that does not mean a less well known brand won't satisfy you. Judge cameras based on their qualities, not on the hype of a price tag or advertisement.
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    Pick a camera that suits your mode of transport. Before you get carried away with the extra features and higher quality of a fancy camera, keep in mind that you'll have to carry the camera away as well. Generally speaking, a small camera is lower quality than a larger one, but the sacrifice may be worth it if you plan to carry the camera on a whirlwind tour of Europe.
    • Consider the case it comes with as well, and how much protection it provides. You may wish to purchase a higher quality case if you are going to be traveling. Soft camera cases are portable and easy to store, while hard camera cases provide better protection and waterproofing, which may be necessary for non-compact cameras.[2]
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    Find a camera you can hold comfortably. Even some larger cameras have uncomfortably small hand grips, while many small cameras have no grip at all. Ideally, the grip should just fill the inside curve of your fingers, or the camera should be light enough that you can comfortably hold it steady. Will you get a major finger cramp just trying to hold on?
    • Small cameras without grips should still have a loop of nylon or other material that you can slip around your wrist. This could save your camera from damage if it is dropped or knocked from your fingers.
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    Count the cost of the accessories. Before you compare the cost of cameras, add the cost of a memory card and memory card reader if necessary. An extra set of batteries and extra charger are also a good idea. Decide whether to buy a more protective case as well. Once all of these are added up for your top two or three choices, you have a much better idea of how much each option will cost you.

Method 2
Evaluating Technical Specifications

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    Don't make decisions based on megapixels. The difference between a 5 megapixel camera and a 13 megapixel camera is barely visible even if you are printing your photos as posters.[3] Even if you plan to print 8 x 11 prints of partial photographs, an 8 megapixel camera should have more than enough resolution.[4]
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    Consider your need for speed. Many cheap cameras have a substantial time lag between pressing the button and actually taking the picture. If you're going to take photographs of your kids, sports games, or people performing fast actions, find a camera with a lag time of 0.2 seconds or less.[5] If this will be the primary purpose of your camera, consider an SLR camera with a continuous shooting mode, which will allow you hold down the button and take a whole series of photos at once. The continuous frame rate tells you how many photographs the camera can take per second; for a camera used for fast-paced situations, this number should be at least five frames per second.
    • Note: be sure to look up or ask about the camera's internal memory buffer as well. This tells you how many photographs it can store during continuous shooting mode before it has to pause and save them to the memory drive.[6] A high frame rate won't help much if the camera can only take a half second of continuous photos at a time.
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    Evaluate the zoom ability. A zoom function allows you to adjust the distance of focus by the amount specified, for instance 4x or 50x the normal focal length. This specification isn't as simple as looking at the number advertised, however. Optical zoom alters the arrangement of the lens itself to focus on more distant objects, producing a high quality image. Digital zoom only enlarges the center of the image electronically, cropping out the rest of the photo without focusing further. Digital zoom results in a much lower image quality, and since the photo can be easily cropped later with image editing software, digital zoom is only useful for helping you find a distant object to photograph, not for taking high quality photos at a distance.
    • If you plan on zooming in on distant objects frequently, consider a camera with "image stabilization." This helps keeps your image steady even when focusing on a tiny, distant area, and reduces the chance of blurring.
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    Consider battery type. Many cameras use proprietary batteries, rather than standard AA batteries. Someday, the battery that comes with your camera may stop working or get lost, in which case you will need to obtain a replacement. Find out how to obtain one, and keep a back up battery charged and ready to use if possible.
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    Know the memory card format. While your camera may already come with a memory card, you should find out which type of card anyway in case you need to buy a replacement. SD or Secure Digital cards are the most popular card format in consumer cameras, but the SDHC and SDXC varieties may not work in the SD slots of older models. These can come in standard, mini, and micro size. CF or Compact Flash drives are more commonly found in higher-end, DSLR cameras.
    • If you do need to purchase a memory card, consider how many images you need to store. This online calculator will show you how many photos each memory card will store based on your camera's megapixels. Typical users enjoy having a camera that can store around 400 photographs, but keep in mind that video uses up much more space.
    • If you do not have a memory card reader of the correct type, or a memory card slot of the correct type on your computer, you do not necessarily need to buy one. Most digital cameras come with USB attachments or other ways of transferring photos from the camera to the computer using common attachment methods.


  • On cameras with a substantial internal buffer (most medium or high-end models) you won't notice much improvement in speed between normal and high speed cards unless you do action photography.
  • When buying a camera's memory card, look in computer shops and office supply shops as well. The prices there tend to be a lot cheaper than those in camera shops
  • Look at the lens on the front of the camera - generally a bigger the piece of glass in front will translate to more light gathering capability, which in turn means better performance in low light situations. This is not a hard and fast rule, but a small lens may cause you to ask about or research low-light performance in that model.


  • Be careful when evaluating online reviews or model tests. Look for review by consumer reports or other large-scale, third-party reviewers, not camera companies or bloggers paid by camera companies.

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Categories: Digital Cameras