I’ve been looking at digital cameras lately–I want something that will handle both still and video and that I’ll be able to use for business and as a plain old dad. There are, oh, only about 1200 brands, each with 755 models and 2900 features. It’s enough to make me want to skip the whole thing. But even after the screaming, I still need the camera. In this guest post, Ken McDonald takes us through the must-haves, nice-to-haves, and the totally-useless. It’s saved me quite a bit of frustration–and may be able to do the same for you.

Many have the misconception that choosing a digital camera is all about getting the most megapixels possible and you’ll have a great camera.  The truth is that megapixels actually only make up only a small part of the consideration that should be taken for picking out a camera.

Most people will never take advantage of eight plus megapixels.  The only reason you need a high amount of them is if you are planning to make huge prints or are going to blow up a tiny piece of one image.  Another disadvantage of having a huge amount of megapixels is you run into more noise and sharpness issues.  The majority of people never even print pictures anymore, they choose to share them online and for this purpose, you can use a camera with much less on the megapixels (eight or less) and go with more other features that you actually need and use.

User Questions to Ask Yourself

So putting the megapixels out of your mind, think about what features you would like the camera to have.  Do you want a small camera that carries easily in the hand or pocket or do you mind carrying a camera bag?  Do you want manual controls or are you okay with just using the automatic settings?  What price range do you need to stay in and what conditions do you take pictures in the most?  Answering all of these questions will help you on the journey to choosing the best camera for your intended uses.

Large or Small

Larger cameras tend to come with more features but you also have to consider the weight, size, design and cost.  Smaller cameras sometimes have less options but do fit in the hand, pocket and purse easily.  Small or less expensive cameras usually don’t have options such as manual controls and have very small dials which can make changing the settings difficult.  Don’t let this scare you off of buying either size camera, it’s just considerations to think about when deciding what you want out of your camera.

Where Size Does Matter

Now that you have a picture of what you might need in your mind, it’s time to look at the functions.  Cameras with large sensors (think DSLRs for example) take the best pictures in all light conditions, but they also cost more.  The sensors actually have more effects on the quality of pictures you will get than the megapixels.  When checking out the specs, you want a camera that shoots well in low light conditions.  This option is well worth a few extra bucks, so consider not skipping the large light sensor.

Controlling the Shakes

Another option not to skip out on is image stabilization.  Even with small cameras is this great feature to have.  Unless you have a very steady hand or are planning to use a tripod all the time, you’ll end up with blurry pictures without image stabilization.  This is one feature worth spending the money on.

Faster is Better

Shutter speed, autofocus speed and startup time can all make the difference between capturing the shot and missing it while you wait for your camera to get ready.  Check out the spec sheet on the camera to see what the continuous shooting speeding (sometimes called burst mode) is.  Preferably, you want at least three shots per second.  Once again this is an option that generally adds to the price but is worth is to most photographers.

Optical not Digital

For zoom features, never even consider or rely on the digital zoom.  It just enhances the images once they are inside the camera and you lose a great deal of detail.  Check out the optical, and consider whether you want to be able to change lenses or are just happy with all-in-one zoom lenses.  Either way you want lenses with enough wide angles to allow close up shots or those with some spread such as landscapes.  The more zoom range you get, the more picture taking options you have.

Get a Life

The battery life is definitely something you have to take into consideration.  Make sure the camera uses rechargeable batteries and isn’t one which tends to go through battery life before you’ve taken a dozen pictures.  Nothing is more aggravating than having to change out batteries constantly and missing shots.  Also always, carry a backup battery with you.

Don’t Forget Your Memory

Always carry a spare memory card.  Check out what kind of memory card the camera you are considering uses such as SDHC, SDXC, SD, Compact Flash or XD.  The higher the class number on the card, the faster the camera writes and stores to disk so buy as good as you can afford.  Depending on your computer’s capability, you may also have to buy a memory card adaptor for uploading onto the computer.

To sum it all up, options you do want no matter what size camera you are buying is low light excellence, image stabilization and the fastest shutter speed and startup time that you can afford.  Match the megapixels to your image style (remember this number is only very important if you plan to make huge prints).  Battery life is important.  Always buy a spare set of batteries and a second memory card; it’s a rookie mistake to get caught without either when you need them.  Finally, always try out the camera you are considering before buying it, the majority of camera stores will allow you to test a few out to make sure you are making the best decision.  Take advantage of this option and you’ll be out snapping pictures before you know it.


Ken McDonald is a photography enthusiast who loves everything about digital cameras. In his spare time he reviews digital slr cameras and blogs about photography.