How to choose a good budget digital camera

Posted on 10/12/2007

These days, everyone's gotta have a digital camera. But with such a wide array of models, options, features, and prices, the task of shopping for and choosing the right camera (and one that fits within your budget) can be a bewildering one. As with any major purchase, you'll do better if you do your research before making a decision. You have to consider your needs and your budget, and then find out as much as you can about the key features you need and which brands and models will meet those needs. Here's a guide to choosing the right camera for your needs while sticking to your budget.

1. What are your needs? This is the first question to ask, before you do any shopping. What will you be using the camera for? Where will you be using it? Will you be printing photos or just posting them on the web? Are you into more professional photography concerns, or do you just want to click and shoot? Does size matter to you? What's your budget?

2. Do some research. Now that you know your needs, look into the different features you're looking for. For example, learn about megapixels — they used to be the main indicator of a good camera (the higher the number, the better), but these days just about every camera comes with a decent level of megapixels. If you're just going to use your photos on the computer, or for basic printing, 4 megapixels will probably suffice. If you're going to be blowing the photos up or using them for professional publications, you'll need more. Do research on other features as well, including DSLR vs. point-and-shoot, and optical vs. digital zooms (pay more attention to optical zooms, as digital zooms just give you a worse quality).

3. Read reviews. Now that you know what you're looking for, and know more about the features, look for the brands and models that have the features you want and are in your price range. Browse through online shopping sites, and read reviews on those sites (Amazon is great for reader reviews) and on digital photography websites (DP Review is by far the most extensive). You want quality at a good price. If a camera is cheap but breaks easily or has buggy features, user reviews or professional reviews will tell you that.

4. Consider speed. Cheaper cameras often have a long lag time between when you can take photos — click once, then wait 5 seconds before you can click again. Again, whether this is a bad thing depends on your needs. Some people need to shoot faster, especially if you shoot action photos or anything in motion. For needs like that, you'll want at least 5 frames per second.

5. Think about accessories. This isn't an issue for many people, but you might consider things such as memory cards, a camera case or bag, spare batteries or recharger, lenses, filters, external flashes, tripods, etc. These can really add up and break your budget if you don't plan for them. Again, if your needs are simple, you might not need most of these accessories.

6. Try it out. It can be useful to go to a store and try out the model you want. It can make a world of difference. You don't need to buy it from that store, if there's a cheaper place to get it online, but for a purchase this big, you'll want to make sure you're making the right decision.

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