Get The Picture

Here's how to choose the best digital camera for your needs

Anyone who has ever pored over the ads in their local paper or whiled away hours online in search of a new camera knows the experience can be mind-numbing. “Just because you have a budget of $600, doesn’t mean you need to spend that much to get a good camera,” says Lavonne Hall, a professional photographer (www.lavonnehall.com) and digital media/photography teacher at the International Center of Photography (www.icp.org) in New York City.

These basic questions will get you started:

Do you want to just point and shoot or do you want to become more proficient?
Do you need something that’s compact and easy to carry?
What kind of subjects are you likely to shoot: portraits, landscapes, action shots, low-light subjects?
Will you post photos online, view them on a TV, or print images larger than 11×14?

Once you’ve answered these questions, look at the three basic types of digital cameras: point-and-shoot (P&S), advanced P&S, and digital single-lens reflex (DSLR). A P&S can take high-quality images, but consider an advanced P&S if you are comfortable using camera features and want greater flexibility. If you plan to do extensive image editing, a DSLR is a better option, says Ports Bishop, professional photographer (www.ports bishop.com) and ICP instructor.

Higher megapixels can sometimes mean poorer quality images, especially with P&S cameras. Hall says a P&S of seven to 12 megapixels is more than adequate, noting that it’s a good idea to see how much noise a camera produces in various lighting situations and ISO settings.

Most P&S cameras shoot only in JPEG, which limits the flexibility for digital editing. All DSLRs shoot in both RAW and JPEG formats and are therefore a better choice for more serious photographers. Some other benefits of DSLRs are interchangeable and higher quality lenses, larger and faster sensors, and greater flexibility and control with the ability to shoot in manual mode, customizable features, and programmable settings. Some drawbacks are their bulk and weight, higher cost, more complicated operation, and inability to record video.

Experts’ Choice
Lavonne Hall, a professional photographer and digital media/photography teacher at the International Center of Photography, and Ports Bishop, professional photographer and ICP instructor, recommend several cameras from each digital category.

P&S

  • Canon Powershot SD850 IS (8 megapixels; $389; www.canon.com)
  • Panasonic Lumix DMC LX2 (10.2MP; $449.95; www.panasonic.com)

Advanced P&S

  • Canon G9 (12.1MP; $499)

Entry-level DSLR

  • Canon EOS 40D (10.1MP; $1,299, body only)
  • Nikon D70 (6.1MP; $699, body only, www.nikon.com)
  • Nikon D300 (12.3MP; $1,799, body only)

Advanced DSLR

  • Canon EOS 5D (12.8MP; $2,999, body only)
  • Canon EOS 1Ds Mark 3 (21.1MP; $7,999, body only)

NOTE: Body-only prices do not include the camera lens

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