Monthly Archives: September 2011

Eleven Digital Camera Myths

by Steve Maller :: September 20, 2011
Because of what I do for a living, a lot of people (family, friends, total strangers) ask me for camera buying advice. The choices out there are truly overwhelming, and just when you think you might have a handle on it, an avalanche of new products, buzzwords and technologies buries you all over again. So I’d like to share a few thoughts on this subject in the hopes of providing some guidance.

This is the first in what might be a series of articles. For now it’s #1 in a series of one.

  1. You get what you pay for
    This is no more true in cameras than it is in anything. You have to be a well-informed consumer. Pay for what you need, but no more than that. And caveat emptor!
  2. I’m going to buy what Consumer Reports recommends
    With all due respect, I’ve not been impressed with their reviews of anything besides clothes dryers and coffee machines. There are excellent technology review sites that do a very thorough job of sorting through the buzzwords. The best is DPReview.com, but I also like others such as Cnet, Engadget, and Gizmodo.
  3. The bigger the better
    Modern technology has given us pint-sized powerhouses, and unless your priority is to impress your neighbors, ditch this assumption.
  4. Canon rules! Nikon rules!
    The two titans of the camera business dominate the professional end of the market, but for most of us, there are many more excellent choices, especially in compact cameras. Panasonic and Sony both make excellent small cameras.
  5. I need that holographic 3D ESP face detection mood ring wireless transmogrifier!
    Beware buzzwords and trendiness. Lots of the gizmos and magic tricks that some companies are building into their cameras are better done “in post”. Your computer is far more powerful than your camera, and you’re better off getting a clean, well-exposed picture in the camera, then monkeying around with it in your computer.
  6. More megapixels!
    The obsession with packing millions of pixels onto digital camera sensors has produced some impressive technology, but at the expense of some more important capabilities. For example, a 4”x6” print requires a 2 megapixel camera and even an 8”x10” print only requires 7 megapixels. And an emailable photo is generally about 1/2 a megapixel. Why pay for 15 megapixels when that’s more than twice the biggest print you’ll ever need?
  7. More zoom!
    Many things in life are about compromise, and this is a good example. You might feel like having a 10x or 15x zoom is a great idea, but that convenience comes at a price. You sacrifice overall sharpness and low-light capability when you have too much zoom. In a compact camera that’s especially deadly because you’re stuck with that lens. In a DSLR, don’t fall prey to believing that a $300 10x zoom is going to give you the same quality photo as a $300 3x zoom or even a non-zoom lens. For example, in the DSLR camp, Canon makes a $129 lens (their 50mm f1.8) which is a stunningly capable lens that can do some things that lenses costing ten times as much can do, at the expense of not being able to zoom.
  8. I like that green “auto-everything” mode
    Yes, it’s appealing to have the camera make all the decisions for you, but you should take the time to learn what you and your camera can do when you work together. “Creative control” is not just something that bossy Hollywood types negotiate into their contracts.
  9. Just use the flash
    Learn how to turn off the flash on your camera and make it use the “available light”. Your best photos are memories of what things really looked like, and you’ll be better off when you learn how to get your camera to do that. Unless you like your photos to have the ambiance of an interrogation. Some modern cameras have the magical capability to take photos in nearly complete darkness. Apropos #7 above, this capability is found in some specialty cameras with a large “maximum aperture”. Bottom line: an f2.0 lens is far better than an f4.0 lens. There, you learned something today.
  10. My hard drive (or memory card) will never crash
    As we say in the business, it’s not “if” your hard drive will crash, it’s “when”. Make backups. Learn about your options. Look around your house and see how many 20+ year old photos you have. Now look on your hard drive and see how many photos you want to be able to see in 20 years from now. Then make a plan. Because I will guarantee you that your hard drive, your camera and your computer will be long gone by then. And so will your photos if you’re not careful. There are very good backup systems such as Apple’s Time Machine (for your home) and Mozy.com (an online system) that are reasonably priced (or free).
  11. I need a better camera than my iPhone
    The camera in my iPhone 4, when properly used (braced solidly and in most lighting situations) has delivered absolutely stunning photos (and videos, too). Don’t expect too much, but learning how to get the most out of the gear you already have may be a better plan than spending lots of money on new gear.

copyright © 2011 Steve Maller :: all rights reserved :: re-posts are permitted so long as this notice remains

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