Choosing A Digital Camera
September 14, 2005
One of the more stressful moments involving digital photography, is choosing the digital camera. Taking a trip to your local favorite camera store, or even surfing the thousands of merchants online, can be an experience which most of us would have avoided if we knew what we knew now.
Every month, in the beginning and at the end of the month (don't ask me why), I receive a good number of emails pertaining to a future camera purchase. Which camera should I get? Should I pay more than $xxx.xx? Is Store A better than Store B? These are good questions. And I would be asking them myself. Which is why I'm writing this article.
For those who are in the process of choosing a digital camera, this article is for you.
For Every Camera, There Is A Reason
I can't tell you how many times I've read about camera owners who end up changing their perspectives on photography once they own a digital camera for about 6 months. Most of this change of perspective has to do with the reason they purchased their camera in the first place. This is where I ask you, my inquiring reader, to be honest with yourself. At this point in the digital game, you don't want to lie to yourself about the reasons for purchasing a digital camera. Trust me when I tell you that down the road, the real reason will pop up and will divert and distract you. So, one of my first questions to you is, What Are Your Plans?
What Are Your Plans
I almost always ask my digital inquiring minds what their plans are with digital photography in general before I even get into the details of the camera itself. And by this I mean, are you going to be paid for your photography? Do you know you will be paid for your photography? Do you plan on getting paid for your photography? Do you intend to shoot professionally? Are you looking for something to take a few pics of the kids, cats, and dogs on the weekends? Do you have a local church or community organization which will more than likely be requiring your services in the near future? Do you like going on hikes and taking pictures of the wildlife? Do you prefer taking images of plants versus wildlife? Do you like taking pictures of birds? Will you be taking pictures of the local high school's sports events?
If you don't know exactly what your plans are, or your intentions, this is fine. In fact, I've observed many camera purchases end up taking the owner on many exciting adventures, which end up becoming a paid hobby or even a professional form of recognition. However, you should have some sort of idea. As I stated above, you and I know there's a reason why you want to purchase a digital camera. It's just a matter of realizing it.
Don't Forget About Acce$$orie$
When purchasing a camera, accessories need to be taken into account as well. There's a reason why I replaced dollar figures with the letters. Lenses, batteries, filters, camera bags, lens bags, camera/lens cleaner, media cards, tripods, flash units, storage devices, larger monitor, faster computer (for processing images), and the list goes on. Your "camera purchase" could easily end up doubling (maybe even tripling) by the time you actually get the camera. Be sure you research the available accessories for the camera and get some notion of the costs involved. My advice is to get an idea of what you will be doing with the camera, when you get it. This goes back to realizing the plans and reasons of your photography purchase.
Ok, I Realized And Recognized My Plans--Now What
Now it's time to look for a camera which will fit into your shooting style. Many of the cameras today are "multi-purpose", so you can get away with not spending a small fortune. At this point, if you're going to only take pictures occasionally, and it's just an experiment into the realm of digital photography in general, I suggest you will not need a DSLR, and will probably want to purchase a "DSLR-Type" camera. The price range should be anything under $400. What I mean by "DSLR-Type", is the camera has most of the features of a DSLR, but does not quite fit in the category. With a "DSLR-Type" camera, you reduce your expenses mostly in the lens accessories department. Most DSLR-Type cameras have a zoom range which has a focal range of 35mm-350mm. This is more than enough for the average photographer. This could save you hundreds and even thousands of dollars, depending on your focal length requirements.
In the next part of For Every Camera, There Is A Reason, we will take a look at the purchasing process itself, and how to make sure you don't spend more money than what your particular dedication is worth.
Shop Smart, Shop Used-Mart
Alrighty. Now that we pretty much have an idea why we want a camera and what we're going to do with it, let's get to the next steps./p>
This is the secret many of us photographers don't like to admit to each other but we do it anyway. You would be surprised how many cameras and electronic gadgets sell on the most popular auction sites, which are basically new, and are only a few months old. Why is this? Well, it goes back to the What Are Your Plans question. Many don't ask themselves this question, and after a few months, come to discover the camera they purchased is just not for them, and they might as well sell it, and get something else that takes their fancy.
If you buy used, you may even find yourself a DSLR with a lens or two, for the same price as a DSLR-Type camera. Camera manufacturers are producing more DSLRs than ever before, and more camera owners are selling their DSLRs in a short period of time, more than ever before. If you have doubts, check eBay and other auction websites. There are virtually endless lists of sellers.
Another reason why you should buy used, is many photographers are upgrading quicker than ever before. Technology is evolving so fast, a new DSLR is announced almost every 3-6 months, and compact digitals and DSLR-Type cameras are introduced almost every 3 months. This is another subject for another article altogether, but the reason for this, is the purposeful actions of manufacturers to flood the market with their own particular brand for recognition. Some say it's technology working its way into the market replacing the old--some say it's a plan to overwhelm a particular sector with a particular brand due to marketing behavior. I think it's a combination of the two. In any case, we have photographers who are upgrading their barely-used models for the latest and greatest Techno Shooter.
A Few Things To Consider When Buying Used
I won't go into extreme detail when purchasing a used camera, but let's take a look at a few factors and options.
My advice when searching for used cameras on eBay, is to look for a few distinguishing factors that I have found attribute to a legitimate seller:
Purchasing Factors To Consider
Positive Rating of 25+
Has no consistent negative ratings
Several images of the product being sold
Responds to inquiries with direct anwswers, not vague generalities
Has knowledge of the equipment they are selling
Yes, a seller can have negative ratings. Some people who give eBay advice say never buy from a person who has even one negative rating. That's just unrealistic, and is very uninformed about the buying and selling realities. As an example, I will use myself. I purchased a vehicle on eBay for $5000. The seller had negatives. However, when I corresponded with the seller, he responded within 24hrs. We sent several emails back and forth, and I even talked with him on the phone a few times. It's been over 18 months since I purchased the vehicle and it hasn't given me any problems other than having a very small coolant leak which only does this in the winter months.
When you're thinking of dealing with a seller, be sure to read the comments. Most of them if you can. This will give you an idea of the overall profile of the seller.
Buying From Outside The US
This is risky. I won't deny it. In fact, since you're reading this article, you probably are looking for a first-time digital camera, so I recommend avoiding this option altogether. Personally, I've conducted transactions outside the US, which include Germany, the UK, France, Belgium, New Zealand, Japan, and others. In time, you may do the same. However, the key in dealing with anyone anywhere, is knowing the equipment you want.
eBay Is Not The Only Place For A Deal
Believe it or not, you can find some good deals online besides eBay. For example, one of my favorite used camera stores is KEH. They have a very strict grading system, and you can be confident when they mark a camera as "Like New", it will be like new.
There are other shops like this located throughout the United States, and conducting a simple Google search should give you a used shop that is within driving distance. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you might be limited to online purchasing, as camera shops and cities are not as closely populated farther East.
Ma & Pa Shops
It is true that many "Ma & Pa" shops charge much more than what you would find online. However, there are a few deals you may discover when you're browsing. Also, start to forge a relationship at the camera shop. If you like the owners, and the only thing preventing you from buying from them is the higher prices, commit yourself to buying from them exclusively, and they will more than likely give you a nice discount which would almost be similar to buying online. Remember these shops are physical buildings, located in a business district, and they have many more overhead costs than your typical online store. Thousands, and I do mean thousands, of online "stores" could actually be storefronts, who merely go through a larger distributor. This is fine, and there's nothing really wrong with this method of selling, but the seller is mostly someone who's looking to make a fast buck, and may not be concerned when and if your camera equipment is defective. In addition, the store may actually close and then your hung out to dry altogether. Your only recourse is going through the manufacturer, which can take several weeks, and even months, to get a replacement.
So, don't give local Ma & Pa shops the cold shoulder automatically. Give yourself a little time to initiate a relationship, purchase a few items here and there, and see if the store owners pick up on it and reward you with your committed purchases.
In the next part of Choosing A Digital Camera, we will discuss even more alternatives to buying new.
Goodwill, Good Stuff
We've discussed a few alternatives of buying used so far, but now let's take a look at the gem of all used stores: Your local Goodwill.
This is another secret some of us photographers use as a resource, and I probably shouldn't be mentioning it here for the fact I'm going to have competition when I cruise the aisles of my local Goodwill store. But that's ok.
When I purchased my Nikon D100 back in the summer of 2002, I didn't have many lenses. In fact, I had none. I had a 50mm f/1.4 lens on the way, and an AF-S 80-200mm in transit, but that didn't help my current situation--I needed to put a lens on my camera NOW, or I was going to break down and cry like a little girl.
The same day I'm talking to my grandfather, and I mention I got a digital camera. He said something to the effect of, "Hey, I've heard of those!" After a few moments of explaining the general digital camera to him, he says to me, "So, you're going to be hanging out at the thrifty stores, aren'tcha."
Whah? Huh? Goodwill stores...ehhhhh, yeah, ok whatever.
After getting off the phone, I decided I had nothing to lose (except for my dignity, and since no one knew about my soon-to-be trip to the Goodwill, I was clear). My first visit to the Goodwill was a loss. I didn't see anything except for a few used disposable cameras (I have no idea why they were there--maybe had a few pictures left on it too take?) and several of those "Get A FREE 35MM Camera!" thingies you see when you receive your credit card statement, and about a few dozen promotional materials fall out. Yes, that kind of 35mm camera.
I decided to embark to another Goodwill which was in a less busy location. As soon as I walked in the front door, I glanced at the glass counter, and I saw the Nikon name on what appeared to be a 50mm lens. I immediately went over to take a closer. Yep, sure enough. It was a 50mm lens. It was an older AI-S 50mm 1.8. Price? Well, you better sit down. $15. The lens was in good condition, not excellent, but it was certainly worth the $15 I immediately whipped out of my wallet and said, "I'll take that lens, thanks."
Will you always find a gem like this at a Goodwill store? Probably not. However, that sort of ruins the mystical and mysterious hunt for treasure, now doesn't it. I can tell you, that you have a much better chance of finding a deal there, than other places. A regular trip every weekend sure isn't going to kill you, and it could pay off considerably.
Now, pawn shops aren't all what they used to be. Today, pawn shops have a highly inflated pricetag on most of their items. You might as well go to a regular camera store and pay the price of a new item because you wouldn't be paying much more. In some cases, you might be paying less. However, there is a chance you may find a pretty good deal on a lens, tripod, or even a camera. Tripods usually sell for really cheap, and I would definitely recommend looking around your local pawn shop cluster if you're in a large city, because you will probably find one. And considering if you're in a small town, you will probably find an even better deal. Why? Because there isn't the kind of merchandise flowing through and the expertise is not as present as, say, a dealer in New York City or Los Angeles. Most of us may live in larger cities, so don't expect to get a Manfrotto for $20, but there are other brands which come very close to the high and might tripod brands, and are extremely discounted. Velbon for example. I've seen $150-$200 Velbon tripods sell for $35, in mint condition. Did I buy it? Well, long story short, I didn't know it was this expensive until I remembered the model number, went online, had a heart seizure, then immediately drove back to the pawn shop.
It was gone.
You win some...you lose some.
In the next part of Choosing A Digital Camera, we will discuss some of the camera features you should prioritize when purchasing a digital camera. Yes, it may get technical, but I will be there every step of the way.
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