Identify your need
It's easy to get swept away by the advertising glitz, the fads and the hype of cameras. Everyone is getting a digital camera, and many are switching from compact to DSLRs. However, you don't have to jump into the bandwagon. Are you planning to go professional one of these days and earn your keep as a photographer? Are you a hobbyist and want to take breathtaking and artistic shots to show off to your friends? Perhaps your need is simple: you just want a camera to document family gatherings or outings? Consider your reasons for getting a camera and take it from there.
Define your budget This probably goes hand-in-hand with the first tip, and is a practical one. How much are you willing to shell out for a camera that you will use in situations you identified before? It should be within a reasonable range, especially if you don't have anything set aside for such expense and plan to take it from your day-to-day expenses.
Know what's out there Visit the websites of known camera manufacturers and learn what models they have available. Take a look at the camera specifications. Most of them are pretty straightforward, although some information may be a bit technical. With that in mind, note down the ones you think sound like a decent camera for you. Note their make and model, and if available, the price. You can also write down the key features that caught your eye and made you pick the camera for consideration.
Do your homework Knowing what's available isn't enough. Again, one can easily be taken by the hype manufacturers place in their products. The Internet alone is a huge resource for information right at your fingertips. Here's what you can do:
- Visit review sites - There's quite a lot out there on the Internet. Go to any search engine, type in the camera you want and you should get several review sites. Among the top favorites are DP Review and Steve's Digicams, both which provide in-depth reviews on various camera models, sample photos and videos too.
- Log in to forums - It doesn't have to be a forum that's totally focused on digital cameras and photography. Many forums and online communities have sub-forums tackling technology and for sure, there's a thread about cameras. Do a search among the threads and posts to see if someone has posted a question about the model you want. If there's none, go ahead and post your question. You'll be surprised to see that there many who will respond to your query and give good feedback.
- Check out blogs - compared to review sites, bloggers often don't hold back when they write about something. In some ways, that's a drawback because if a product is really bad, many bloggers would rant incessantly and you might not get anything decent. However, this is a rare case and it's great to hear an actual consumer's thoughts on a product: their experience with using it, especially.
- Ask your friends - Definitely, you would have friends who own a digital camera. Ask them about their experience with what particular camera, especially if it is the same make and model of your desired camera. If not, ask them what they think of that particular manufacturer. As with blogs, hearing what an actual user has to say is often one of the best ways to know how good a product is. It is not foolproof, but it is very helpful.
Get your hands dirty
Once you have an idea of what you want, go visit an appliance or electronics store and ask if they carry the camera you want. If they do, ask the attendant if they can assist you in getting to know the camera first hand. Let them know that you're not yet going to buy one, but are weighing your options and would like to be a bit more familiar with your choices. Chances are, the staff will let you and even be able to answer some questions you have about the product.
Know the cost
Because you have a budget, it's best to know how much the camera costs in at least three stores. Product websites give you an estimate of how much the camera is, but some stores often sell it at a higher or lower price. As the store how much it is, what comes along with the standard box, and if there are freebies. Remember that the standard box should contain everything that the manufacturer ships to these shops. Freebies are the extra things that come separately from these boxes, and often do not cost extra. These are often camera cases, bigger memory cards or discount coupons to other accessories.
Warranty: A must
It is standard for cameras, much like other things, to come with a warranty. Factor this in when you're buying a camera. Some stores will include a limited warranty (6 months or even less), while others will give the full year or even more. Also ask if this is a manufacturer's warranty or a shop warranty: the latter is limited to the store and some repairs may cost you a lot. The former (manufacturer's warranty) would mean that the repairs will be done by whoever made the camera and often, parts replacements come free. Obviously, the manufacturer's warranty is the better deal.
It may sound a lot, but doing your homework beforehand ensures you'll be able to get a camera that's offers the best value for your money. You wouldn't want to buy one that everyone says is good, then later on regretting on buying it and wishing you got something else.
Getting a camera doesn't mean buying the snazziest or most high tech model around, but rather buying one that best fits your needs and lifestyle.
I wrote this article almost four years ago when I first got my Canon Ixus 80 IS for a pay-per-post site. However, I never knew if it got published, so I'm posting it here on my blog.