…”What compact digital camera should I get so-and-so for the holidays?”
And the sad truth is, I don’t know. The funny thing is that even though it’s my profession, most photographers I know don’t use point and shoot cameras a lot in real life. My walk around camera when I’m not toting my Canon 5D… is the iPhone. I’m probably more qualified to give you a recommendation on something I use regularly, like a GPS (I couldn’t work without my Garmin Nuvi 360 with the bluetooth and the voice prompts with street names).
We have two digicams in the house. My wife has a Canon Powershot SD600 I got for her for her first Mother’s Day, and we also have a Leica D-Lux 3, which is a little on the pricey side and isn’t exactly a great value, to be honest.
And what do we use those digicams for? Video. My Leica has less motor noise than my camcorder, and I can put it in my pocket, so that’s what I do with it. (This is the part where you’re supposed to roll your eyes.)
All that said, I can give you a few pointers on buying a camera these days:
1. You really don’t need all those megapixels. No, really. In fact, we’re now getting to the point on digicams where some of them (I’m looking at that Leica on the shelf right now) have too many for their own good. Because they’re trying to pack so many pixels on these itty bitty sensors, image quality is actually deteriorating on some of the newer models. If you’re not going to print bigger than 8×10 (and most of you will never print bigger than 4×6), there’s no need for more than 8MP.
2. Smaller is better. You know what makes a camera useful? When you carry it with you. If it’s too big to bring somewhere, what good is it? Most people are best off with a camera no bigger than a deck of cards.
3. Look for simple. Now that I think about it, I end up having to help buy one digicam a year. You see, my father ends up replacing his annually. It’s not that he’s a gear geek or anything– he ends up giving one away about once a year when he goes overseas on medical missions trips that he leads. Dad happens to take great pictures completely on instinct. He doesn’t know an f-stop from a bus stop and he has no idea what the rule of thirds is, but he knows what looks good. He’s looking for something that he can focus and shoot with. For Dad, face recognition technology is great, because he gets the focus right nearly all of the time. The Olympus cameras he prefers also have a little menu where he can look up what he wants to do, and tells him how to set the camera up for that type of shot.
4. SD cards rule. Dad actually got away from the Olympus cameras this time because he found out the hard way that the xD cards that Olympus and Fuji like are hard to find, and as a result, pricey. Sony’s Memory sticks are a little easier to find, but nothing beats the good old SD card for being cheap and easy to find. Especially good when you’re on a trip and need to run to Target or worse yet, some store in a foreign country. It’s better to have more cards than you think you need than to run out of space during a once in a lifetime trip like your honeymoon.
5. CNET.com has great camera reviews. They’re written for normal people, and many of them even include video to illustrate their points.
“OK, but what if I’m buying a camera for someone a little more advanced, you know, a camera that looks like yours, Ian?”
We’ve finally gotten to the point where DSLR’s (the cameras with the interchangeable lenses where you can look right through the lens) are getting affordable. Like between $500 and $750. And the two big manufacturers (Nikon and Canon) both make great cameras where you’ll get great features at low prices. Sony has also made some interesting cameras that work with old Minolta lenses, too.
If you had a SLR film camera made in the last 15 years, you might want to stay with the same brand of camera. The lenses will probably work on a new DSLR from the same company. I use lenses from my old Rebel G film camera on my newer Canon equipment all the time.
One of the best investments you can make, by the way is an external flash. The pop-up flash built into your low-end DSLR’s is hardly better than the one built into a point and shoot. Anything that will let you point the flash at the ceiling makes a world of difference.