Do I Need a New Camera?

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August 9, 2008

Sooner or later everyone is likely to decide it is time for a new camera.  If your old one got lost, broken, or is no longer usable, the decision is easy (although the choice of what to get can be daunting) but even if you just want a new one I’ve included some suggestions that may help with your decision.

  1. First question: Why replace your current camera? If you are looking to replace a broken or missing camera & you have been happy with what you had, it is worth checking to see if the previous camera is still available.  Unfortunately, if it is more than a few years old, it probably isn’t.  New versions of digital cameras usually replace the previous versions in less than a year. Although the older version may be available for awhile after it has been replaced, you are probably going to be looking for something new if it is over 2 years old. If you can’t find your old camera, one way to shop for a replacement is to use feature search to look new cameras that have the same criteria as your old one.  A final comparison can be made by looking at the previous camera & the possible replacement using “side-by-side” comparisons. Although I like dpreview, other side-by-side comparison sites include & Image Resource.
  2. You have decided it is time to “upgrade”, that is purchase a better camera. In this case it is important to decide what specific features you wish improved. All cameras have their pluses & minuses – unless you spend some time thinking about what you don’t like about your current camera, you may replace it with one that has some better features, but the ones that annoy you the most about your current camera are worse on the new one. Again, the feature search listed above can be helpful. Some specific complaints that are often pointed out by individuals taking my basic digital camera class include:
    • It takes too long to turn on.
    • It takes too long between the time I push the shutter button & it actually takes the picture.
    • I can’t see the LCD in the bright sunlight.
    • All my flash pictures have “red eye”.
    • It does not have manual settings.

    All these problems are typical of point & shoot cameras, but some are better than others.  If one of these (or any other specific characteristic) is important to you, use reviews to look for cameras that are favorable in that area.Another popint to remember – unless your camera is under 5megapixels, you probably will not see much resolution improvement going to a higher count camera.

  3. Speaking of reviews, unless your are planning on purchasing a new camera the day it is released, there are likely to be reviews available on the internet that can be helpful.  Some of my favorite sites that review cameras include:

    What ever camera you are considering, spend some time reading reviews at all these sites.  They may not all cover the camera you are looking at, but it is always worth looking at more than one.  Another useful place to look is user reviews at buying sites such as Amazon, Adorama, etc. Reviews by consumers are double edged – they may reveal problems the professional reviewers overlook, however since they are often inexperienced users, they may not be knowledgeable enough to provide good information.

  4. You want to change from a Point & Shoot to a Digital Single Lens Reflex. Rather than me repeating a previous post, you might take a look at my earlier article “Point & Shoot or DSLR?” for the advantages of each type of camera.
  5. You want to replace your entry level DSLR with a semi-pro or even professional DSLR.  If you discover you would rather have more control over your images than your entry level DSLR provides, most major manufacturers would be glad to sell you a more expensive version of their digital camera.  Some examples would be going from a Nikon D50 to a D300, a Canon Rebel to a EOS 40D, etc. A couple of points:
    • Most of the Semi Pro & all the professional DSLRs are bigger & heavier than their entry level counterparts. Before your spend a couple of thousand dollars on a new camera, get one in your hands to be sure it is not too big or too heavy for you to use.
    • Although even an entry level DSLR offers many advantages over a point & shoot camera, they have quite a bit of “automatic” processing built in.  One of the often noted complaints from individuals that shift from entry level to semi pro cameras is that their pictures don’t look as good as they did with the previous camera.  Semi pro & professional cameras do little processing to the images, even jpegs. They tend to look “flat” until further processed by the photographer.  Unless you are willing to spend some time post processing your images, you might think twice about upgrading.
    • If you are upgrading because you don’t think you have enough “pixels” in your image, remember that for 99% of all photographers, much above 6mp cameras isn’t all that necessary.  To double the resolution of an image you must have 4X the pixels, so going from a 10mp to a 12mp camera makes little difference.  The advantages where high pixel cameras count are for photographers that do heavy cropping or print huge (30″ X 40″) images.
  6. A last consideration for semi pro DSLR owners: Should I go to a full frame DSLR? Both Canon & Nikon now offer relatively inexpensive (and the term relative is important; they are $2500 – $3000 cameras without a lens compared to $5K – $6K for their pro versions) full frame cameras.  The larger sensor is about the same size as 35mm film as compared to the APS sized sensor used in most DSLRs.  This results in lower noise in low light images & a general overall improvement in image quality.  You lose the 1.5 – 1.6 multiplier provided by the typical APS sensor, so you may find you need longer telephoto lenses, but on the other hand your wide angle lenses are really wide.  Although the full frame cameras often work with the lenses specifically designed for APS sensors, the resolution drops considerably.  For example, the Nikon D700 has a 12.1mp full frame sensor.  If you attach a DX lens (designed for the smaller APS sensor) the maximum resolution is 5.1mp. Still useful, but if your lens collection consists of DX lenses, you might want to stick with the smaller sensor.

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  2. Lisa Roth

    You may have covered this in an earlier post. If so, I apologize, and will go searching for the information. But you didn’t mention the reason I’m thinking of upgrading my digital camera and it can’t hurt to ask. 🙂

    The camera I replaced my (broken) Olympus with takes great shots – IF I just want to share them on the internet or look at them on my computer. The prints that come from the shots are less than great. Since some of the people I share pictures with passed ‘antique’ awhile ago and are not internet savvy and don’t even *own* a computer, I really do need a camera that will take pictures that will print out nicely. The prints from my Olympus were so much better than my current camera and it was a basic model, no real frills other than a zoom capable lens. I think my hubby paid less than $100 for it when he bought it as a gift for me for Christmas a few years ago. I went to a camera shop to see if it could be repaired and the guy there sneered at me and said it would be best if I just found the nearest trash can! 🙁 I ended up buying a Konica Minolta after reading a bazillion reviews online, but as I said, the prints are just barely acceptable.

    What should I be looking for in a camera *specifically* that will give me good looking prints? I have looked at cameras online and in Best Buy, etc, but I don’t always understand the jargon and I’m sorry, but the guys in Best Buy and stores like it just don’t know the products well enough to be able to answer my questions. And believe you me, I’ll never go back to that camera shop! I will check out the feature comparisons that you mention – once I know which feature phrase I should be looking for! 🙂

    Thanks for your time and if you’ve covered this in a previous post, please just point the way and I’ll read what you’ve written.