Buying a Camera

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “I wonder if there’s any pie left,” followed by, “Does stuffing go with pie?” after which your thoughts go to, “I wonder if there are any Black Friday deals left that I should be taking advantage of?”

Ah, Black Friday.

Every year, as people’s thoughts turn toward Christmas shopping, I get asked about a thousand times, what is the best camera to buy?

That, my friends, is not a simple question. And I can’t give you a simple answer. But I can give you some direction, I hope.

First of all, go digital if you want to learn. Film is fun and nostalgic but digital is much better for learning because you’re not paying for every mistake. (and you can make a lot more mistakes, which gets you better faster).

You need to decide what is important to you and what it is about your current equipment (assuming you have a camera) that is disappointing you. The kind of photography you’re doing will affect your decision. Having good zoom capabilities will be helpful in sports photography and wildlife photography, and if you’re going with a point-and-shoot you definitely want optical zoom and not digital zoom (on a dslr the zoom would be determined by the lens). If video is important to you, then choose a camera that gives you that option as well. If you’re into portrait photography, you’ll probably want to invest in some nice prime lenses along with a dslr. If you’re traveling with your camera, portability may be the most important factor to you. Draw up a list of what are the most important features you want your camera to have.

Do you want a “point & shoot” or a DSLR? There is some good information here about the pros and cons of each. A dslr will give you more control and flexibility in the long run but will require more patience and study in the beginning to learn how to use it. It will generally give you better quality pictures and will retain its value better. It can also be a definite money suck as you start wanting better and different lenses, and some of the lenses are more expensive than the the camera! It’s also big and bulky, and not so great when you’re traveling and can make you worry that it will get lost/stolen/broken.

Megapixels are not necessarily the most important element to look for (and pay for) in a camera. Anything over 5 or 6 is probably going to be more than enough for what you’re doing. (usually after the camera name it will say “5.1mp” or “10.6mp” or something; that refers to the megapixels) People make more of a big deal out of mp than they should;  In fact, some of the recent camera releases have been criticized because the sheer size of data being contained in each image file is an overwhelming burden to carry (and download, and print).

As far as naming specific cameras, I really don’t keep up-to-date on the myriad cameras available on the market today, especially with point-and-shoots. A knowledgeable salesperson would be more helpful to you there. I shoot with nikon, so that’s basically what I know. Read some camera reviews on the specific cameras available today and how they perform.

Also, if you find a deal that sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There are some very disreputable companies that advertise cameras for very low prices, and then after you purchase, they call you and give you a high-pressured sales pitch that ends with you paying ridiculous amounts for accessories you are convinced you need and probably a different camera than the one you originally wanted. You can read more about those kind of companies in this review here. B&H is always reliable, but I love Amazon personally and don’t shop anywhere else for camera equipment. I also love that I can find used equipment on there and get a feel for what is the going rate for old equipment I may be looking to buy/sell for my classes.

When I look for cameras for my students to learn on, what I’m looking for is a camera that allows them to use these modes: auto, shutter speed priority, aperture priority, and manual.  A lot of point-and-shoots these days have a bunch of different “programs” or “modes” like portraits, sports, nighttime, fireworks, macro, wildlife, children, etc. Basically those are just different kinds of auto and don’t really help the student to learn because they take the decisions out of the student’s hands. Again, what is important to you — that you learn the skill of photography and possibly go through a lot of frustration as you’re learning, or that you take pictures and enjoy yourself right from the get-go. (Of course, most dslr cameras will have an auto mode and can be used the same as a point-and-shoot).


Again, I wish I had a simpler answer. I wish I could point you to a certain camera and say “this one, this one right here is the best deal and the camera that will make all your photography dreams come true.” But then again, looking can be half the fun. Happy shopping, and if you have any camera experience of your own that you have loved or hated, please share.


Now I’m off to update from my old 4gb to some spankin new 64gb memory cards. Then I will reward my shopping prowess with some pie.




3 thoughts on “Buying a Camera

  1. So since you posted this and since you are a Nikon gal, and since I love your work, I must ask: Do you have an opinion on what Nikon camera would be the most affordable but handle higher ISO settings with low noise? I started out with a d3100 and am due for an upgrade. My biggest complaint is noise (and a few others), but mostly noise. Thoughts? Thanks!

    • The d3200 and d5100 are both in the same affordable price range, and they both improve ISO sensitivity to 6400. (always read reviews to see how the iso performs, though. Being able to reach a certain number doesn’t necessarily mean the camera does that number well) Both seem to make sense as upgrades from the d3100, although they might be TOO similar and not give you enough of a change. The d7000 is a little more expensive but gives you a few more features that might or might not be important to you. You can compare different cameras at (and the d7000 is 25% off right now, although I don’t know if that’s a cyber monday thing or a regular deal; I haven’t been tracking that camera’s prices.) Good luck!

      • Thank you soooo much! The d7000 is for sure on my radar but I was also looking at the d90. The deciding factor would for sure be how much better the d7000 handles noise. It is just so hard to find a review by folks that are not commissioned . . . thanks again for your time and response!

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