MummyBarrow’s camera buying guide

Shiny new electronics with 72 megapixels, 475x digital zoom, APS-C, CMOS, SD-XC. Whaaaaaat?

What. On. Earth? (Answers at the bottom if you care)

If you’re thinking about a new camera, it’s a minefield. I don’t know much about cameras but the little I know should at least give you somewhere to start.

The first question to ask yourself before ANY other is “why?”

And be honest…if you’re mad busy and you just want to take better pics of the family, then to be frank, your phone is a great tool. Go on YouTube and look for tutorials on taking better pics with your phone and that’s probably your best option.

The technology in phones now is exceptional and with a bit of practice and patience, you will get better results….and you’ll always have your camera with you.

If you do want to go down that route, there are a couple of apps you might want to look at (listed below) and if you do decide that you really do want to treat yourself to a new camera, remember that buying the camera the man in Dixon’s or Jessops wants you to buy…. might not necessarily be a good idea.

If you still find your phone isn’t really up to the job, I would say your next important question is “why?”  Yes, again!

It’s very tempting to think that a new camera will take better pictures but it probably won’t*, for one simple reason: the single most important component of any camera is the person using it.   This is why YouTube tutorials will be your best investment of time.  Or a free online course like Emma Davies’ “A Year With My Camera

If you’re STILL thinking about spending some hard-earned cash on a camera, what’s your budget?

Remember that some cameras come with in-built expansion possibilities which can be great if you have generous friends/family and will give them loads of present ideas for you…..for YEARS.   But others are more budget-friendly, and to be honest, that’s where I’d start… and just because a camera is tagged as entry-level, don’t think you can’t get great results; you’re the most important component, remember?

If I was starting now, I’d look carefully at fixed lens cameras like the Nikon Coolpix or Canon Powershot range.  Fuji, Panasonic and Samsung also make great starter cameras.   I think the combination of portability, ease of use and technical quality is very hard to beat.

When looking at these ranges, try and hold one and play with it, don’t buy it sight unseen off the web.   You’ll be surprised how different their layout is, and the look and feel of Canon vs Panasonic can be a deal breaker.   There’s no ‘better’ here, just ‘better for you’.   Actually that’s decent advice for anything, but this purchase might lock you to a brand, so take your time.

Here are my five things to get the assistant to show you:

  • How do I change the ISO, what does it go up to?
  • How/can I change the shutter speed for milky water?
  • Can I change the white balance if I want to?
  • Can I shoot in RAW?
  • Ask them to explain what the different zoom numbers mean

My crib-sheet answers to the above would be:

  • ISO is the sensitivity to light. If you’re shooting in darker surroundings turn lights on or increase the ISO.  100 is a good setting for daylight.
  • Slowing the shutter speed can make waterfalls milky but you’ll need to keep the camera steady, probably by using a tripod.
  • White balance lets you adjust your compressed pictures for clouds/fluorescent light etc
  • Raw is as close to ‘real’ as you can get it-anything that is a JPEG or JPG or PNG or GIF file is a compressed format and these formats throw detail away.   The compression is very clever and 90% of the time you don’t need the discarded information, but sometimes you might.

How to spend more money than you ever thought possible

I don’t want to alarm you, but the ticket price of a new camera is not the whole story.

Youve just spent 50/100/200/500 quid on a new thing, you’ll want to look after it, right? Use a bag that has nothing else in it; you might buy a new bag.

  • Tripods are really useful for longer exposures to keep the camera steady.
  • Memory cards cost money.
  • Does your computer have a card reader? If not you will need an external one.
  • Spare batteries can be really useful, but these are complicated things, and not cheap.
  • The list is (almost) endless – you can spend £200 on a camera strap if you want to – so while it’s tempting to say “buy the best you can afford” I would suggest starting small.

*it might, if your camera lens is manky 😉

Apps:

  • Lightroom CC (as well as editing your pictures, this app lets you take shots on your phone in RAW format, which is much better for editing)
  • LightX is an editing program I also like as it lets you select an element of a picture and isolate it  so you could drop it on to a different picture with “hilarious results”  hmmmm
  • Darktable is an alternative, open source, version of LightRoom which is free (Lightroom is around a tenner a month).

Oh and those answers….

  • Megapixels are a bit like dots on your computer screen, but they record light rather than display it. Generally, more dots mean smoother colour boundaries and more accurate pictures.
  • Digital zoom is a way to blow up the image which doesn’t involve moving pieces of glass.   A telescope shows you an image that is bigger than the human eye.   If the telescope can zoom in on the object, that’s “optical zoom” and it produces an image in your camera which is (say) 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch.   There’s a lot of detail in there and “digital zoom” just shows you a part of that image, blown up.
  • Aps-c this is a size of sensor (about twice as big as your thumbnail)  also known as a “crop sensor”
  • CMO,  this describes the material or technology used for the sensor
  • SD-XC,  this is a term to describe very high capacity secure digital (SD) cards. There’s more info (but Why?????) here.

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