Buying a new digital camera…

So you’ve saved your pennies and are off to buy a new camera, what do you buy? How much should you spend? Do you get a SLR or a Point and Shoot? Do you buy Nikon, Canon, Sony or some other make? 6 mega pixels, or 12, or yes! 21 mega pixels is what you want, but do you really need it? Questions, choices, sales pressure, oh the head aches!

I get asked at least a few times a week what camera should I buy, is Nikon better than Canon, should I really get a SLR, what do you think of such and such… what follows is my opinion on where you should start and what you should look for when you’re buying a new camera.

Before we begin, I’ll lay down some ground rules, I am not a camera retailer. I am a Nikon and Canon owner and have had Minolta, Sony, and Fuji cameras in the past. I own, in my business, over 20 cameras and usually upgrade my flock every couple of years. I won’t list specifically what I have in my stable now, because it’s not relevant to the topic at hand, but hope to make you appreciate that I come at this from a minimalists position as I don’t want to pay for bells and whistles that I’ll never use, nor should you!

So, where do we begin? In my humble opinion, you start with a budget.

Budget: When you go to buy your new camera, it is crucial to note that this will NOT be the last camera that you ever buy, so don’t spend your life’s savings on it as if it was. The first consideration when buying a new camera is how much you are really willing to spend on it. An answer of “as little as I can” will only result in you spending far too much. Without having a firm “top-end” cost in mind you will be subject to a salespersons up-sell tactics that usually start with “for another $30 you can get… insert feature here…” and once you’ve got yourself sold on that option, they usually repeat the sales phrase until you finally end up spending two or three times what you really should spend or wanted to spend on the camera, and you end up not felling particularly good about your purchase, not because the product was bad, but because you don’t have bus fare to get home!

Once you’ve established a budget, the next step is to clarify what your primary goal for the camera is, so you need to establish a purpose.

Purpose: What are you going to do with the camera? Is it for pleasure or for work? A backup or a primary? Are you going to shoot portraits or landscapes, are you connecting to a telescope or a microscope? Are you photographing for print or for the web? Are you using it in water or out? All of these uses should be thought about and considered when planning a purchase. As every camera has some ability to perform some or all of these functions, how well it performs them is usually determined by price. We’ll examine these various uses in a little more detail as we progress through the various sections, but suffice to say, you should know what you’re primary use is before you walk into a camera retailer as that will, if nothing else, steer you in the right direction.

Along with the Purpose, you need to determine the State of the purchase.

State: Is this a new system or an upgrade to an existing one? Are you looking for a relocation from one system to another, or from one format to another? The answer to these questions can be the single most important element to the direction of your camera purchase and the cost as the answer to this usually determines how big a budget you need and ultimately what purpose your gear will serve.

For example, if you currently have a Point and Shoot camera and you want to move to an SLR system, then the State is new as this move will not have an impact on your existing equipment, but rather will provide you with a new system to work with. If you already own an SLR and you’re buying a new body, then the State can be either an update to existing equipment or a movement to a new system. It’s an update if you stay with the same manufacturer as you will in most cases be able to use your existing lenses and accessories but are updating some of the features of your body. If you are buying a new body from another manufacturer then you will be forced to buy new lenses, flashes and accessories to build a functional system. This is the most expensive way to go as you are starting with essentially nothing, much like when moving from a Point and Shoot to an SLR.

Finally, you have to determine what if any accessories you will need in order to be able to use your new camera purchase.

Accessories: The accessories that you want or need can often run you as much or more than the actual camera itself. Accessories are things like lenses, flash units, filters, camera bags, tripods, protective housings, cables, memory cards, card readers, batteries, and so on. Everyday there are new and exciting items added to the world of photography, you may want them all, but you surely don’t need them all. Knowing what you need in place of what you want, is the hardest obstacle in photography to overcome, but it ultimately will determine how much you will end up spending and how much you will end up using your gear.

Lets examine these accessories in a little more detail.

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