Originally published December 12, 2010 at midnight, updated December 12, 2010 at midnight
If you’re thinking of buying a camera, your choices are overwhelming. Having hundreds of models available means it’s critical to determine your needs and narrow your choices. I always encourage people to go to a well-stocked camera store and get cameras in your hands. How a camera feels and functions can be an important part of your satisfaction. Unfortunately, once in your hand, and in the presence of a salesperson, you may not know the right questions to ask. An intelligent dialogue with a salesperson can help you zero in on the best camera for you based on features and price.
Here are a few questions to help you out.
- What is the camera len’s maximum aperture? When choosing between similar cameras, I recommend the camera with the “faster” lens or largest aperture. Look for F2.8 as a good starting point. The smaller this number is, the greater amount of light the lens can capture for your image. F2.8 is faster/brighter than F4.0, for example. This simply means that all other things being equal, the camera with the maximum aperture will enable you to take photos in lower light, with faster shutter speeds and with lower ISO settings. In my opinion, cameras with larger maximum apertures can actually make you a more successful photographer.
- How wide is the wide-angle lens on this camera and how long is the telephoto zoom? If you take a lot of indoor photographs or group shots, having a good wide-angle lens lets you include more subject matter in your field of view. If this is important to you, make sure the camera has a suitable wide-angle lens. I prefer a good wide-angle over a long telephoto on a compact camera zoom but cameras today offer both. If possible, have the salesperson give you the wide-angle to zoom range in 35mm terms and look for something like a 28mm-200mm. This provides an excellent range for a variety of subjects.
- What is the shutter lag like on this camera? A salesperson won’t necessarily be able to answer this. Test a few models in the store and note the speed at which the shutter fires as you press the button. You should be able to distiguish between models and determine which camera responds quicker to your finger.
In our area you can always get your hands on cameras at a few big box stores, but for some more knowlegable encounters, Wolfe’s Camera in Topeka is a good bet. My complaint about big box stores is that cameras on display are often inoperable because of dead batteries or no memory card. I recommend taking a memory card of your own and if the camera has no batteries inform the salesperson. Then hand him this list of questions.