Three things not to consider when buying a new camera.

Purchasing a new camera can be quite daunting for people given the amount of choice available, the amount of technical jargon or the techniques used by high street salesmen to encourage a customer to go for a more expensive model.

As a semi-professional photographer with a long standing passion for photography, I am often asked to give advice to friends and family whenever they are thinking of making a new camera purchase, and I have noticed a few common themes which have repeatedly come up over the last 12-18 months.

The following three points address some basic myths and misconceptions that the casual photographer may have when on the lookout for a new camera.

1. SLR is best

Not strictly a myth, as a high-end SLR camera will generally achieve higher quality photographs. But… only in the right hands.

Over the last 12-18 months, so many people have asked me the question “Which SLR camera should I get?” My answer is always to ask why they think they need an SLR camera.

SLR cameras offer much greater control and flexibility, and the lower cost of entry-level models is helping them to become affordable for more and more people.

For anyone not seriously interested in anything other than taking casual snaps, the advantages are far outweighed by the disadvantages.

Most lenses lack the flexibility of many compact cameras, which can include the ability to take  wide angle shots as well as having a huge zoom. To achieve that with an SLR, two separate lenses would be required, at greater cost,  not to mention an additional kilo worth of bulky equipment to carry around.

The other drawback for the non-serious photographer is that you’d need to be familiar with some of the settings in order to get the most out of the camera. Sure, there is an ‘auto’ mode on the lower end and mid-range models, but these cameras are there to give the photographer greater flexibility in how they set the camera up. To never break away from using the ‘auto’ setting is like purchasing a £150,000 Ferrari, only to drive it around at  30 mph.

If you’re interested in photography or feel you may be in the future, and are prepared to invest in additional lenses, then there may be justification in purchasing an SLR.

If not, spend your money on the best compact camera your budget will stretch to. The chances are you’ll have much more fun, and get results which are at least as good.

2. Megapixels rule

Another frustrating argument is that the more megapixels, the better the camera. Not true! If it was true then Fuji’s  16 mp Finepix AV250, available for under £70, would make spending £3,500 on a 12.1 mp Nikon D3s a bit pointless. You’d be better saving the extra money to put towards that Ferrari.

The number of megapixels determine how big the photograph will be on-screen, and at what size it is capable of being printed without loss of quality.

A decade ago, it would have been a more valid argument. A 1 megapixel digital camera would struggled to look half decent at 6×4″, and only in 2002 did 4 megapixel cameras start to surface.

Such problems are now in the past, with the minimum standard these days closer to 6 or 7 mp, meaning that virtually any camera available today will produce photographs with a high enough resolution to print out acceptable quality photographs at any size up to A4.

It’s also worth noting that more megapixels result in larger file sizes, filling up your valuable hard drive space much more quickly.

If you need to be printing much larger sized photos on a regular basis, then it would be an advantage to have more megapixels. For everyone else, it’s no longer an important issue, despite what the high street sales people will try to convince you.

3. The more expensive the camera, the better your photos will be

In terms of technical quality, there is again some truth to this. Expensive cameras with expensive lenses should obviously be producing good quality results, from a technical point of view, but the subject of the photograph and the composition is never the result of the camera, and always down to the photographer.

Whether you have a cheap compact camera, or the finest SLR known to man, the photographer’s eye for a photograph will determine whether the image is good or bad.

An expensive camera doesn’t suddenly help someone to start noticing subjects which make a good picture.

Nikon caused a stir in September by stating on their Facebook page that “A photographer is only as good as the equipment he uses, and a good lens is essential to taking good pictures!”

The post was universally condemned, and rightly so. The subject and content of a photograph is only as good as the photographer taking the picture, and there’ll be little wrong with the image quality from the overwhelming majority of new cameras available.

If you are in the market for a new camera, do your research but don’t be conned into believing any of the myths which may be fed to you by salesmen, or Nikon.

Also, once you’ve narrowed down a shortlist of potential purchases, have a look at PBase’s excellent ‘search by camera‘ facility. You’ll be able to see photos which have been taken with the very same camera, and therefore make a judgement on the quality of the results achieved.

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