Buying a Camera

Salesman: So you want to buy a camera?

You: Yes I do.

Salesman: Here let me show you….


What’s wrong with this picture? Did you catch it?

The salesman is all set to show you a camera, and he has no idea what you want, except for that one word: camera. Chances are, you are going to walk out of that store empty-handed, or with something for which you paid too much money and that isn’t going to do what you want.

One of the first things a salesman should ask you, once you’ve told them you are looking for a camera, is this: What sort of pictures will you be taking?

See, this is where the difference between camera becomes noticeable. When you look at the type of pictures the user is taking, at how the camera is going to be used.

First of all, cameras today fall into 3 broad categories:

  • Film cameras
  • Digital still cameras
  • Camcorders, aka video camera/recorders

Chances are, if you haven’t slept through the past 15 years, you are at least mildly familiar with these types of cameras. Still, sine so much of what we discuss on this blog will spin out of these three camera types, let’s get some baseline definitions down here, and clear up any confusion.

A film camera is a traditional style camera that uses a chemical-coated film to record an image. This film must be developed through the use of other chemicals to create a negative image, which is then printed on to paper. The film and prints must usually be processed by a commercial developer.

A digital camera uses computer chips to record an image into computer memory. The image may then be viewed on a computer, printed, e-mailed or modified on the computer.

A camcorder is specifically for recording video, which is a running series of images depicting movement.

The lines between these three types of cameras are blurring. Many of the digital cameras now feature a “movie mode”, which will record short video clips in the camera’s memory. More expensive camcorders can take digital stills which are recorded on the tape or disc along with the video, or on a separate memory card. There have even been cameras that combine digital and film into a single camera, and the best digital cameras are actually film camera bodies and lenses with a digital image sensor where the film used to be.

So, what type of camera should you get?

Again, what kind of photography are you planning to do?

The choice between the camcorder and the others should be pretty clear cut. Most camcorders will not take good still pictures. On most digital still cameras, the “movie mode” is good for recording short clips, the sort of thing you might see on the Internet. So, if you plan to take home movies, you want a camcorder.

That leaves the big question: film vs. digital.

Film still creates the best quality picture. The highest quality cameras are getting close, but they aren’t there yet. You can still take a 35mm negative and blow it up into a wall-sized poster, and see all the details in the picture. Film cameras are also cheaper, at least in the beginning. However, film and developing costs will mount up quickly, especially if you take lots of pictures.

However, for 99% of you, digital is the way to go. Good digital cameras can be had for under $200, and developing costs are minimal. Copy the files to you computer. Print the ones you like, or view them on the screen. Send them to a website to get prints, which can be mailed directly to you, or in some cases, picked up at a local store in an hour. You can see the pictures right after you take them, and delete ones that you don’t like.

Coming up next, a guide to what to look for in a digital camera. Check it out fast, you only have a few days left to shop before Christmas!