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 Sinclairification by Grant Sinclair

How to Buy a Camera

01 May 2008

Before you go any place to take pictures, youíre going to need a camera.  If youíre in the market for photo gear and are unfamiliar with what to look for, this article will help.


Rule #1: Your cell phone is not a camera.  It may have a camera in it and you might be able to take photos with it, but it is not a substitute for an actual, physical, functioning camera.


Rule #2: Donít buy more than you need.  You might think this contradicts Rule #1, but it doesnít.  Youíre not going to want to carry around a bunch of lenses, filters and other equipment if you donít know how or when to use them.


The first thing to consider before buying a camera is the type of travel youíll be doing most often.  If youíre going on safari in Africa, youíll want a camera that has the ability to accept telephoto lenses, but if your travel is a little more laid back, youíll want something you can carry and use easily.


Point and Shoot or SLR?  Or a little of both?

A point and shoot camera is something small and light and fairly easy to use.  Youíll want one of these if you want to take casual photographs of scenery, your friends and family and other snapshots.


Point and Shoot cameras

Point and shoot cameras have come a long way since the film ďPHD (Push Here, Dummy)Ē cameras.  They are more sophisticated, smaller and more portable with each new model.  However, putting all that capability in a camera requires a trade off.  Youíre going to actually have to learn how to use it.



SLR stands for Single Lens Reflex, which is important to know for some reason.  SLRs are more (or totally) professional cameras and their main feature is the ability to switch lenses.  If you have a standard lens on an SLR and you want to zoom in on a subject, just switch to a telephoto lens.  The same goes for macro (very close up) wide angle (wide view) and other lenses.


A main advantage of an SLR is the ability to change settings quickly.  While it possible to change settings on a point and shoot camera, you usually have to go through several menus and options before you get what you want.  With an SLR, many of those changes are literally at your fingertips.


Another advantage of an SLR is the ability to add on external components, like a flash or cable release. 


Hybrid cameras

But what if you want the advantages of both types of cameras?  Maybe you want to take good photos, but donít want to carry around a lot of weight?  Try a camera like the Canon PowerShot S5 IS.  Itís small and light, but has a 12X zoom and a lot of the features that are missing from a basic point and shoot, but without the weight of an SLR.


You canít have everything, though.  This camera is not as fast or as sturdy as an SLR, nor does it have an input for a cable release.  Also, when going to an event like a concert or sports event which restricts ďprofessionalĒ cameras, the PowerShot S5 IS runs the risk of looking ďprofessionalĒ, even though you canít change lenses.  In situations like that, you would probably not be allowed to bring that camera into the venue. 


If those things donít matter to you, then give this camera a look.


Digital or Film?

Believe it or not, some people still use film cameras.  If youíre going to a place with little or no electricity (like doing bush tour through the Australian Outback or a two-week long hiking trip), a film camera is something to consider.  Because electricity would be scarce, you wonít have a place to charge digital camera batteries or the ability to download photos from memory cards.


There still is the added burden of carrying around rolls of film and keeping track of everything, but rolls of film and lithium batteries do well when electricity is scarce.


To be fair, if youíre taking a long trip to out-of-the-way places and you want to use a digital camera, you could bring along extra batteries and memory cards.  No matter how many extra batteries and extra memory cards you bring along, be sparse with the photography.  The memory cards and batteries donít last as long as you think and battery life decreases significantly in cold weather.


Another angle to consider, especially if youíre on a trip that, while far from electricity, will be a bus or van tour of some kind, would be to bring along a car charger for your batteries.  This wonít solve the issue of memory cards that fill up, but at least youíll have plenty of battery power.  You may also want to consider a power inverter.  A Power Inverter is a box that has standard wall plugs, then fits into the cigarette lighter/power input on a car.  More information about power inverters here.


For really long, out of the way, non-automotive trips, you may also want to consider portable solar power, but thatís another article for another time.


Back to cameras.


Once youíve decided on digital (because at this point, if youíre buying a new camera, you really donít have much choice), and which camera style suits you best, youíll have to decide which model to choose.


Which camera?

So now youíve decided which type of camera you want.  Now you need to decide which model to buy.


If youíre going with a Point and Shoot, remember that smaller is not always better.  It may look cool to have a camera about the size of a credit card, but is it functional?  Can you still take good pictures with it?  It does you no good to have a camera that you can only hold by your fingertips at armís length.


Different cameras have different features.  For example, Olympusí Stylus Point and Shoot series Ė the 720, 770 and 790 Ė are shockproof, waterproof (up to 10 feet, 33 feet for the 770).  Sounds great, right?  The main drawback is that they use the XD card.  Every other camera manufacturer uses CF or SD cards, but Olympus uses the obscure XD card.  The problem with this is youíll have a hard time finding a card reader that an XD card will fit into.


More megapixels is better, right?

Not necessarily.


Donít be fooled by buying a camera with more MPs than you need.  If all youíre going to do with your travel photos is have them printed into 5x7s and put in a photo album, then you donít need a 10MP camera.  Or an 8 MP camera, for that matter, though good luck finding anything smaller than that.


When I was buying my SLR, I asked a friend of mine if I needed a 10MP camera.


ďNo way,Ē He said.  ďUnless youíre planning to put your pictures on a billboard or a bus.Ē


Most people donít realize how big 10MP is, but to put it into perspective, try this:


Youíll only get about 100 photos from a 10MP camera onto a 1GB card.  Not only that, but the larger the photos are, the longer it will take to download them off your camera.


Before you jump online and buy the first camera you see, go to your local camera store and talk to the employees.  Touch the camera you are interested in buying.  Pick it up, feel it, try all the buttons, take some pictures and see if itís comfortable.


Donít be afraid to spend money.

Cameras can be expensive, but once-in-a-lifetime experiences have limitless value.  A once-in-a-lifetime experience isnít limited to a trip to another country, but includes birthdays, weddings and visiting relatives and friends. 


Spend as much as you feel comfortable on the camera, but know there will be accessories.  Donít buy an SLR without also purchasing a UV filter to protect the lens.  Then thereís the camera bag, flash cards and batteries.  So things can get a little pricey.  But in the end, itís worth it.

Buying flash cards can be a confusing task, so use this rule of thumb:  Do not buy anything larger than 4GB.  The reason for this is the standard capacity for a DVD-R is 4.7 GB.  You want to be able to copy all the images on your flash card onto a DVD-R without having to delete any images.


Even with a 4GB card, you should copy the images from your card onto a CD/DVD/computer after each event.  This will help you stay organized and it will back up your images.  You donít want to have all you pictures in only one place, including your computer.  If all your pictures are on your computer, copy them to CD or DVD.  Better safe than sorry.



Once you purchase an item, you can insure it.  To be safe, do so immediately. 


Your insurance company will tell you specifically what information you have, but at the very least youíll need your receipt and any information about the camera you can give them, including the manufacturer, model number and serial number at the very least.


When it says to insure your camera immediately, it means just that.  You can call your insurance company from your cell phone and read the information to them.  Once they have that information, your items are insured, even if you havenít paid yet, though you will most likely have to submit a copy of your receipt to make everything complete.


Remember, your insurance company will tell you specifically what you will need.  More information is in the Insurance article.


Now that you have purchased the camera, play with it.  Learn about its capabilities.  The best way to learn about what your new camera can and canít do is to sit down with the camera and the ownerís manual and read it, page by page, until youíve learned all you can.


Now go out and have some fun!

© 2008

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