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What Camera should I buy

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I’m thinking of getting a (serious) digital camera…

Some thoughts on buying a camera

An article that dates quickly, but still asks the relevant questions about what you want to do.

Site Notice: Like many working photographers, our work has completely dried up in these challenging times, so I'll be at home a lot. The silver lining is that I've lots of articles and reviews to write - if you've any suggestions or questions, please do let me know - Keith ...Why not sign up for our (ad free) Newsletter to keep informed about new articles.

What Camera should I buy?

Although first written in 2006 and updated in 2010, the basic advice and links here are still relevant. In particular, the key questions to ask yourself about what you want to do are still the same, when I’m re-formatting this page in 2017…

I still don’t include phone cameras even though they offer better quality than some compact cameras back in 2006

ricoh gx200

Keith has taught numerous digital photography classes in Leicester and regularly gets asked what digital camera people should buy – and often has to admit he hasn’t a clue!

So much of it depends on why you want a camera in the first place.

He’s collected together some useful links about camera purchase he’s found when helping people decide. There are also some of his own thoughts on what you should be looking for, for your first digital camera.

Just remember that any page like this is likely to become dated, so do check with some of the sites mentioned, for the latest models.

Time moves on: In 2016 I’m moving the whole Northlight site to a new format, which as well as being a big job, gives me a chance to re-read old articles and add notes/updates. In the 6 years since last updating this article, the capabilities of phone cameras has advanced enormously, but there is still a very definite case for ‘real’ cameras – I’ll aim to write a ‘new version’ of this article in 2017, looking at how things have changed.
Compact cameras such as the very good GX200 have dwindled, although you might want to look at some of the small Fuji/Olympus/Sony/Canon ‘mirrorless’ cameras which offer interchangeable lenses with a small size.

How to choose a camera that suits your needs

There are an ever growing number of digital cameras available, with a bewildering array of features.

What do you do if you’re thinking of getting a new camera and are tempted move up from the camera phone or even to go digital for the first time?

Spoilt for choice

I’m assuming that if you’re reading this then your enquiries have got as far as a search of the web.

That’s a good starting point.

If you are bewildered by the sheer number of models available, but have a good idea of what is important to you (card type, weight, zoom range or any of dozens of other distinguishing features), one good place to look for comparison information and advice is dpreview

You select what features you want and a search is made – there are often in-depth reviews available as well.

Rather than repeating what’s on countless other sites, I’ve decided to suggest some questions you need to ask yourself and I’ve also picked a few sites that I think give good general advice, and have themselves got good collections of links to other info.

Try looking at some of the guides to ensure some familiarity with the terminology. By all means ask other people what they use, but be sure to find out what they take pictures of and how they do their prints as well.

Try asking how much it all costs, and don’t forget to include all those extras like memory cards and batteries.

You might like to look at my review of the Ricoh GX200 that I’ve written, if you are from a film rangefinder camera background. It’s not a detailed technical comparison like you will find on some of the sites I’ve suggested visiting, but more my own impressions of using the camera.

GX200 with lens cap – move mouse over picture to see the lens.

Original ImageHover Image

Some questions first

Just a couple of important questions to answer before you go…

What do you -actually- want to do with your digital camera?

  • Holiday pictures?
  • Photography as a hobby?
  • Large prints?

Have you any idea about how much money you might be prepared to spend on a new camera?

Don’t forget that getting into digital photography -can- easily become rather expensive.

Digital rebel Xti frontThere are all kinds of additional expenses you might not have thought of.

Not only the new camera but also…

  • A good printer?
  • Ink and paper for the printer?
  • More memory cards for your camera?
  • …and software for your computer?
  • Maybe a more powerful computer?
  • Learning how to use the software?

Considering your own answers to these questions should help you wade your way through the vast range of cameras available.

Look out for price drops heralding the arrival of new models, and perhaps consider if the latest features are worth the extra money?

There is a good range of 2nd hand kit available. I’ve saved a lot of money buying used photographic items (such as lenses) from MPB in the UK [USA used – B&H | Adorama ]

More Megapixels?

For the last few years we’ve been concerned that the ever increasing megapixel numbers in small cameras, didn’t actually reflect any increase in picture quality.

For a basic ‘Point and shoot’ compact camera, there isn’t much benefit to be gotten in much over 10 megapixels – remember that more megapixels are not always better megapixels.

There is a good (simple) article at the NYT, suggesting why last year’s model may be better (and cheaper) for you.

The cheaper, quicker, easier way…

You may just want to take your memory cards into a local outlet for printing, or use one of the on-line photo printing services. Many people find this a great way of getting into digital photography without the hassle of editing and printing their own photos.

Do give some consideration to keeping your photos for the future – if you can get your pictures saved to a CD as well as printed, you can always go back and get more prints – if you print them and then wipe the card, they are gone forever.

Storage cards are not expensive – get several of them and take more photos. I’ve seen people carefully deleting pictures off cards to get more space. Unless it’s an emergency, don’t bother, get more cards (and remember to mark them with some form of identification)

I used to suggest [2006] that film cameras were worth looking at …they work well and will be round for a -few- years yet. That said, I’d probably no longer [2010] suggest this route.


Optical zoom increases the real detail in your pictures – digital zoom just magnifies a bit of your picture, often giving very disappointing prints. My own view is that digital zoom is purely an invention of marketing departments – since I’ve yet to find any real use for it…

Camera review sites

Since I first put together this guide a few years ago, the number of review and information sites has rocketed. However many of the earlier ones are still the best, with in depth reviews and consistent styles.

General info (useful for non specialists and experts alike)

For a range of current offers and prices have a look at a few of the sites listed on the right of the page. Remember that you can often save a great deal just by searching around.

Quite often you may find that a local camera specialist will match prices for bona fide web offers. I tried this when looking for a digital camera in Leicester a while ago.

This saved me several hundred pounds on the camera I purchased – and has the benefit of a real shop with real people in it that I could complain to if things went wrong!

Tutorials and guides

Equipment Manufacturers sites

Remember, that the heavy hand of marketing is at work! Do look for independent confirmation before you decide that some ‘new’ feature is just what you need…

Canon Casio Epson Fuji
HP Kodak Nikon Olympus
Pentax Ricoh Sony Sanyo

Storage / Memory Card manufacturers

Your camera will probably need more storage than comes in the box. The sites below represent some companies that produce it.

Lexar Media – Sandisk Media – Kingston – Simple Tech

If you are taking lots of pictures you might want to consider whether you need a laptop computer with you or use an external storage device like the Epson P-2000 or one of several other similar devices available for photo storage.

I travel with a stack of 4GB and 12GB cards, making backup DVDs as I go along (2 copies of each) Every so often I’ll mail one set back home, so even if my camera and baggage was lost, the pictures would be OK! That’s maybe a bit more than you’d want but it does pay to consider what you are doing about your pictures before a trip :-)

Photo Editing software

Many cameras come with image editing software, and as a starting point it is often worth trying it out. If you have a Mac you should look at iPhoto which comes free from Apple – a well thought out piece of software that makes it easy to get into the world of digital photography.

Do consider carefully just how much time you want to devote to learning and using software for editing and printing your digital photos. Think about your level of computer skills, and whether you really really want to take the time to learn a new software package?

For organising photos and basic editing you could try Picasa from Google.

If you do want to do a bit more with your photos. There are a number of very good photo editing packages available. In fact, there are so many I decided just to discuss the packages I use for my own photographic work and for teaching.

I use Photoshop for all the pictures on this site. It certainly is a great program, but is not cheap!.

For most of my introductory photo editing teaching I used to use Photoshop Elements (some tips here) — it has most of the useful features you would want for a fraction of the price of Photoshop, and is often bundled free with scanners and cameras.

It is also available for both Mac and PC.

Training courses in photography

Northlight Images provides photography training for companies in the UK and as a part of other organised courses. (I work throughout the world, so contact Northlight if you organise courses and require a specialist tutor)

However I do personally offer specialist photography teaching for individuals in the Leicestershire, UK area.

I’ve put together a directory of some other professional photographers offering specialist training elsewhere in the UK and worldwide

For more general and introductory teaching, look at courses offered at local schools and colleges – I no longer have the time available to do this so I’ve made web versions of my (free) introductory tutorials using Photoshop Elements 2 available on this site (free for private non commercial use). Do note that whilst they cover important basic principles, they are several years old and definitively on my ‘to do’ list for updating.

There are many other other tutorial type articles on this site.

You will often find a wide range of courses are available in your local area. Be sure to check that they are available for your particular choice of editing software and what level of existing computer skills they need.

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Site Notice: Like many working photographers, our work has completely dried up in these challenging times, so I'll be at home a lot. The silver lining is that I've lots of articles and reviews to write - if you've any suggestions or questions, please do let me know - Keith ...Why not sign up for our (ad free) Newsletter to keep informed about new articles.

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