When it comes to cameras, there is a great big variety to choose from, from camera phones to point and shoot to those fancy SLRs. It seems like every company is trying to sell you on the fact that you need their model. So, how do you know which one is right for you?
It’s about you
What it boils down to is what you are actually going to be doing with your camera. Are you just going to be taking a few pictures to email to your friends of you guys hanging out in the dorm partying? Do you want one that you can use to take shots of little Johnny playing soccer? Are you into wildlife photography? Do you want one where it does all the work for you, or do you want to have full control over the settings?
You should try to answer these questions before plunking down your cash, or before heading into a store where a salesperson will be more than happy to oversell you a camera you may not really need.
Use what you already have: camera phones
Most phones these days come equipped with built-in cameras. While I wouldn’t really recommend using this as a main tool for photographing for most people, this may be all you really need if all you’re looking for is a couple of shots here and there.
There has actually been some major improvements in the quality of what is being offered in some phones out there when it comes to cameras. They have higher megapixels and better lenses than anything offered when the first camera phones hit the market. If you do choose to go the camera phone route, there are a couple of tips to keep in mind (and several of these tips go for ANY picture-taking).
- Stay Still. This is probably the most important. As with shooting with any camera, a phone’s camera is especially sensitive to movement, and will blur your shot big time if your hand is shaking when you snap.
- Have good lighting. Your best shots will probably be outside in nice, natural light. If you are indoors, make sure you provide ample lighting.
- Get close. Otherwise, you’re just going to end up with a bunch of half-recognizable blobs. Of course, this can sometimes work against you with some phones that don’t have a macro lens, and it might end up just causing distortion. You’ll have to play around with your specific phone and see what works best for you.
- Don’t “digital zoom”. Even if your camera offers this, don’t bother to use it. Digital zoom often causes your shots to become pixelated because the camera is merely zooming in on pixels. “Optical zoom” is a whole different animal, so if you have a newer camera phone that offers this choice, feel free to zoom away.
- Use the highest resolution you can. If your phone lets you, up the resolution for your shots. In this case, more IS more.
Basic photography tips
Just point and shoot
Next, we come to those folks who want more out of their photography than they feel their camera phone offers, but want something simple to work with. In this case, I’d suggest sticking with a point and shoot.
This type of camera is the kind where, just like it sounds, the camera pretty much does all the work for you. You just have to stand there, hold it steady, and press a button. Afterward, feel free to bask in the glory of the perfect shot you just took. There are many great point and shoot cameras on the market these days.
Be careful about being lured into buying a SLR (single-lens reflex) camera if that really isn’t what you need. If you do not want to manually adjust settings for your photos, there really isn’t any sense to buying one of these much more expensive cameras when all you’ll be doing is setting the camera to “auto” anyway.
Decide what you’ll mainly be photographing, where you’ll be photographing, and what your needs are in your camera. There are cameras that are geared more toward the “rugged, outdoorsy” photographer and ones that are more for the standard “family shots” sort of thing. Knowing what you want before you shop will definitely help you.
SLRs: When you want more control
If you are looking to expand your shooting capabilities, you may be looking for a SLR camera. This is the kind of camera where you buy the camera body and lenses separately. You can exchange lenses depending on what kind of shot you are taking. Prices for both the camera and the lenses run the gamut, from the hundreds into the thousands.
Where to start with a SLR
A favorite among many as a good starting point for an SLR if you aren’t looking to spend a ton of money is the Canon Rebel. It produces very nice picture quality and won’t totally break the bank. Often you can purchase a “kit” package which will come with two lenses and some filters.
Filters are placed over the lenses for different effects, such as warming or cooling, or sepia. If you are just getting started shooting with an SLR, the best thing you can do is practice, practice, practice. Shoot the same thing over and over, using different settings, see how it looks using different aperture or shutter speeds. Learn about all the different settings your camera offers such as white balance. This setting will quickly become your friend, and you’ll probably end up using it often.
Most importantly, don’t give up. Be creative. Learn the rules, and then don’t be afraid to break them. Find your individual style. Shoot and shoot some more. There’s always plenty of great reviews of different cameras here on Gadgetell, so keep an eye out.
Originally published on Gadgetell at 11:13AM on October 5, 2008.