Digital Camera
3 Cs to Choosing Your First Digital Camera

Choosing your first digital camera can be quite a daunting task. Increase your level of confidence by doing your homework first before talking to the salesperson. Here are 3 Cs (Category, Criteria, Choice) that should help you narrow down your selection.

The Four Categories

It helps to understand how camera manufacturers divide up the digital camera market. Basically, the consumer digital camera space is divided up into four categories: Point-and-Shoot, Beginner, Serious, and Advanced. [Notice, we did not mention a fifth category which is the "Pro" category and which targets both the amateur "pros" as well as the professional "pros."] You have to decide the Category you fit into.

Point-and-Shoot: This crowd is the bread and butter of the camera manufacturers. They want a digital camera that is easy to use, takes good pictures, and does not require them to even break open the User Guide. Interestingly, most digital cameras from the other categories can also be used in a point-and-shoot mode, and this crowd has been known to spend $$$ to get "the best" -- yet use only a fraction of the features they are paying for. But then again, there are not too many strictly point-and-shoot digital cameras today; the technology has advanced to the point that a digital camera targeted to the point-and-shoot crowd will usually also have more features than they need. I wouldn't recommend you buy from the Advanced category because these higher-end models might require you to fiddle with more settings than you'd be comfortable with to get good pictures.

Beginner: Here is the budding photographer who wants a digital camera to start off with. A strictly point-and-shoot camera might do the trick, but may not permit too much experimentation. A digital camera in this category should not cost too much but must provide the ability to experiment so the beginner can learn the basics of photography. This is also the time to head off to your neighbourhood library and loan out a couple of photography books on composition and exposure control.

Serious: The beginner has exhausted the capabilities of his or her digital camera and is ready to try out more advanced features, including manual modes, white balance selection, and exposure bracketing. The serious amateur photographer has also a better understanding of the type of photography she or he prefers: landscape, portraits, macro, sports, street, etc. and may seek out a digital camera that is good at that particular type of photography.

Advanced: Once you reach this level, I don't see you asking, "Which digital camera should I buy?" You know what you want, what you don't really care for, and what you are willing to live with. You know there is no such beast as the perfect digital camera, and you don't waste your time and energy debating "my digital camera is better than yours." You simply have no desire to debate any of these things because you are out there busy making pictures (yeah, that's not a typo: making , not just simply taking ). You probably demand the best in image quality, rapid performance, reliability, and flexibility; but then you may also purchase the digital camera that "the majority" denigrate but which you consider is right for you. In fact, you can take excellent pictures with a digital camera from any of the four categories.

Where Do You Fit?

Once you understand these categories, mosey over to our Buyer's Guide and take a look at the digital cameras we have sloted into each category. This should help narrow down your choices. Check out the QuickFact � Sheets to get a better idea of why a camera falls into a particular category. If we have reviewed the camera, see if you fit its User Profile .

What's (Really) Important To Me?

Digital cameras in each category tend to offer pretty much the same feature set at the same price point than their competitors. So, how do you decide among them? Having decided on the Category , you now have to figure out what Criteria are important to you. Do you want something you can easily slip into your jeans pocket and take anywhere? Do you need a wide-angle? Panorama capability? Movie capability? At first, you may decide you want all of these, and the kitchen sink thrown in for good measure. Then you look at the price and you realize you cannot afford it. So, you have to decide which criteria really matter to you. As an example, if you're into macro photography, then you need a digital camera that can focus in real close; if you want to be able to carry it in your jeans pocket, then you need an ultra-compact model.

To help you in this quest, we have decided not to feature all the available digital cameras on the market. Only a subset make it in our list. They are the ones our editors believe are the best in their respective categories. That does not mean there are not as good or even better ones out there. There are a couple of reasons why we may not include some digital cameras in our list:

  1. The most important reason is that we do not know enough about them, either because the manufacturers do not provide enough information, and/or there are not enough users out there who have a positive comment about them.
  2. We try to avoid private labels. What private label means is simply that a company takes the digital camera made by another company (which usually makes a "cheap" generic model) and puts its own brand on it. (Note: This is not the same as two companies which combine their respective R&D and strengths to put out the same camera under their respective brands.)
  3. We already cover one of the "similar" model in case 2.
  4. The manufacturer has a lot of models which approximate one another on features; so, we select one or two from the group.

The Selection

Once you have your Category and Criteria , you can now make your Choice . It is pretty much a matter of matching the digital cameras in your category against your criteria. Now, your confidence level is much higher than you first started. A salesperson will not be able to sell you more than you need or less than you need. You should by now have narrowed down your choices to two or three digital cameras you want to personally handle and try out before deciding on the one that is right for you. More often than not, it will come down to how it handles, whether it is too small or too heavy for you, and the all important price. Do not miss this all important step to try it out first, which means a return guarantee from the vendor in case you don't like it during the trial period (it's usually 2 weeks, but get it in writing from the vendor).

Digital camera technology is advancing at an accelerated pace (perhaps even faster than the PC did) and you should not view your first purchase as your last. So don't worry too much if you make a "mistake." This also means that you cannot really afford to sit back and wait for the "perfect" model. Only you can decide what you can afford and when you can afford it. Though digital cameras in the serious and advanced categories are still high compared to their 35mm film counterparts, entry-level (point-and-shoot and beginner categories) digital camera prices have come down drastically and are now very affordable.