Digital Camera Buying Guide | Gadget Review
Digital Cameras

Digital Camera Buying Guide

Digital Camera Buying Guide
Buy the right digital camera for you by reading our camera buying guide.

If you’re going to invest anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand in a digital camera and related equipment, you’re going to want to be certain you’ve made a smart purchase. With hundreds of different cameras on the market, all of which have varying areas of strengths, the process can become almost overwhelming. Following the tips listed in this digital camera buying guide is a good start though.

When you’re looking for the best digital camera, you need to do some homework to find a great digital camera that will meet your personal needs. For example, just because your brother-in-law loves a certain model of camera, it doesn’t mean that digital camera also will meet your needs.


Follow the tips for how to buy a digital camera below, and you’re sure to have success in finding the best model for you!

Digital Camera Buying Guide

 Amazon RatingEditor's ChoiceImage QualityEase of UseTypical UsageTypical Price
Digital SLR Camera91MTKEAC9iL._SL1500_

4andhalf-stars
Nikon D810ExcellentChallengingIntermediate to
advanced
$600 to $3,000
Mirrorless ILC91j048O32YL._SL1500_

five-stars
Fujifilm XT10Above average to excellentAverage to
challenging
Intermediate to
advanced
$400 to $1,500
Point and Shoot Camera91oASa4w3lL._SL1500_

4stars-new
Nikon Coolpix L840Below average to averageEasyBeginner $100 to $400
Compact Camera81UiwkH6yVL._SL1500_

4andhalf-stars
Canon PowerShot SX710AverageEasy to
average
Beginner$100 to $250
Travel Camera81WzTkVk0HL._SL1500_

4andhalf-stars
Canon EOS Rebel T6iAverage to above averageAverage to
challenging
Beginner to
intermediate
$300 to $750
Large Zoom Camera71BYy-xLOaL._SL1500_

4andhalf-stars
Canon PowerShot G3 XAverage to above averageAverageBeginner to
intermediate
$300 to $600
Waterproof Camera81aUPuzpvWL._SL1500_

3stars-2105
Nikon 1 AW1Below average to averageAverage to
challenging
Intermediate$200 to $600
WiFi Camera91dWF1EB1rL._SL1500_

4andhalf-stars
Nikon D5500Below average to above averageChallengingBeginner to
advanced
$250 to $1,000
Camera With a Viewfinder81xY5TDe+GL._SL1500_

4andhalf-stars
Fujifilm X100TAbove average to excellentAverage to
challenging
Intermediate to
advanced
$400 to $1,500
Camera Under $200411bYPHReSL

4andhalf-stars
Samsung WB350F AverageAverageBeginner$100 to $200
Camera Under $50081vDPWCAZ1L._SL1500_

five-stars
Canon EOS Rebel T5iAbove average to excellentAverage to
challenging
Intermediate$300 to $500

DSLR Camera

Nikon-D810-Best-Digital-SLR-Camera

A top rated DSLR provides exceptional photos, uses interchangeable lenses and is at the top of the price point.

Price Range: $600 to $2,500
Aimed at: Intermediate to advanced photographers
Key Features: Excellent image quality, fast performance, large camera body, versatility in lens choices

digital SLR camera make use of interchangeable lenses, giving them good versatility. They often contain large image sensors, leading to the best image quality in a digital camera, but they’re also expensive.

Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera

Best Mirrorless Camera

A mirrorless camera is smaller than a DSLR but uses interchangeable lenses

Price Range: $400 to $1,500
Aimed at: Intermediate to advanced photographers
Key Features: Great image quality, fast performance, average sized camera body, colorful camera options

A mirrorless ILC (interchangeable lens camera) is an advanced model that uses removable lenses like a DSLR. The recording technology in the mirrorless ILC is different from a DSLR, which allows these models to be significantly thinner. And while mirrorless ILC image quality is very good, the top mirrorless cameras can’t match the top DSLRs in terms of image quality.

Point and Shoot Camera

Point and Shoot Camera

A good point and shoot should be portable and capture crisp photos.

Price Range: $100 to $400
Aimed at: Beginning photographers, children
Key Features: Ease of use, colorful camera bodies, fun special effect shooting options, average image quality

The best point and shoot camera must be easy to use, allowing even a beginning photographer to take it out of the box and have success immediately. Some of these models have below average image quality, which is only slightly better than smartphone cameras.

Compact Camera

Compact Digital Camera

A good compact camera will fit in a pocket or purse and might even include a zoom lens.

Price Range: $100 to $250
Aimed at: Beginning photographers
Key Features: Small camera body, average image quality, fun special effect shooting options, touchscreen displays

The best compact camera should able to slide a small camera into a pocket or purse, the best compact digital camera will meet your needs. Some compact cameras even offer mid-sized optical zoom lenses, which is a great feature

Best Travel Camera

Travel Camera

A top tier travel camera should be versatile and suited for a variety of activities and scenarios.

Price Range: $300 to $750
Aimed at: Beginner to intermediate photographers
Key Features: Flexible features, large optical zoom lenses or interchangeable lens options, good image quality

When preparing for a trip, you’re going to want your a top travel camera to offer plenty of flexibility to meet whatever shooting situations you encounter on your trip, as such situations may be tough to predict ahead of time.

Best Large Zoom Camera

Zoom Camera

Large zoom cameras may not offer top level image quality, but their lenses will make up for that allowing shots from far away.

Price Range: $300 to $600
Key Features: Large optical zoom lens, large camera body, average image quality, slow performance, often needs a tripod
Aimed at: Beginner to intermediate photographers

When looking for a large zoom camera, be certain that you pay attention to the optical zoom measurement, rather than digital zoom, as digital zoom can lead to a loss in image quality as it provides its magnification.

Waterproof Camera

Waterproof Camera

Dropping this camera in water, or using it in water should be a none issue.

Price Range: $200 to $600
Aimed at: Beginner to intermediate photographers
Key Features: Works in a few dozen feet of water, survives fall of several feet, small optical zoom lens, compact camera size

A waterproof camera can be used in a depth of a few dozen feet of water, and it often offers some other tough features, such as the ability to survive a fall of several feet.

WiFi Camera

WiFi Camera

A WiFi enabled camera allows a compute for smart device to connect to it to download photos.

Price Range: $250 to $1,000
Aimed at: Beginner to advanced photographers, smartphone users
Key Features: Can share photos on social networks, can control camera with smartphone app, may suffer from fast battery drain

Many cameras currently on the market offer built-in Wi-Fi. This wireless connectivity can help you share photos with others immediately, can print photos wirelessly, or can provide an ability to remotely control the camera.

Camera with a Viewfinder

Price Range: $400 to $1,500
Aimed at: Intermediate to advanced photographers, film photographers
Key Features: Usually only found on intermediate and advanced cameras, great image quality cameras, viewfinder provides fast performance

Viewfinder Camera

Viewfinder cameras are a rare breed these days and often reserved for select consumers.

If you’re familiar with film cameras that used a viewfinder, you may want a viewfinder to frame the scene in your digital camera too. But outside of advanced digital cameras, few digital models contain viewfinders, so you’ll have to do some hunting to find this feature.

Camera Under $200

Camera Under $200

A camera under $200 will compromise on some features, but it’s great for beginners.

Price Range: $100 to $200
Aimed at: Beginning photographers
Key Features: Ease of use, basic photography features, below average to average image quality and performance speed

camera under $200 has some nice features that do an average job with performance and image quality. This is a great price point for beginners looking for an easy to use camera.

Camera Under $500

Camera under $500

The $500 or less camera is great for intermediate photogs looking for above average image quality.

Price Range: $300 to $500
Aimed at: Intermediate photographers
Key Features: Good image quality, good performance speed, some advanced features, some large optical zoom lenses

For intermediate photographers, the $500 price point will provide a nice mix of entry-level DSLRs and mirrorless ILCs, along with advanced fixed-lens cameras.

3 Things to Do Before Buying a Digital Camera

Set a Budget: There’s no point in looking at digital cameras that are outside your price range. You’ll just end up wasting time and becoming frustrated. Set a budget for your purchase and only look at models that fit. If you cannot find a good digital camera within your budget, put off the purchase until you can save more money.

Figure Out Your Needs: Do you need top-notch image quality to make really large prints? Do you need a waterproof camera? Do you want to shoot selfies with an articulated LCD? Figure out the two or three most important features for you to have in a digital camera and look for a model that fits your budget and contains these features.

Narrow the List: Even after following the steps above, you still may end up with a dozen or more potential cameras to purchase. Ideally, you’ll want to narrow the list to between three and five to make an easier digital camera comparison. Put together a list of secondary features that would be nice to have, say like a touch screen display or price that’s well under your budget, and eliminate cameras that don’t fit the secondary criteria as well.

3 Things to Avoid When Buying a Digital Camera

Don’t Sacrifice Image Quality: Although you may find yourself caught up in the fun features a camera has, great image quality has to be at the heart of any camera worth buying. You want your pictures to look great for a long time, so don’t sacrifice image quality.

Not Knowing the Jargon: Take the time to educate yourself on how a digital camera works before you purchase one, primarily so you understand the language specific to camera technology and you aren’t confused during the process of comparing models.

Don’t Forget About Extra Costs: The cost of a digital camera often extends beyond what you see initially. If you purchase a DSLR or mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, you’ll have to include the cost of extra lenses along with the cost of the camera body. You’ll need a memory card and a USB cable. Or you may want to buy a second battery. Include any of these extra costs in your budget.

12 Key Digital Camera Features

Image Sensor

  • The size of the image sensor in the camera is the most important factor in determining image quality. A beginner-level camera may have an image sensor measuring about 1/2.3 inches diagonally, while advanced cameras may have image sensors measuring 1 inch or larger.

Resolution

  • Camera makers strongly tout the number of megapixels of resolution the image sensor in a camera can record. The resolution number plays a role in image quality, but it’s not quite as important as the image sensor size.

Optical Zoom Lens

  • A zoom lens can shoot at different focal length and magnification levels. Optical zoom is the key measurement to consider, as the lens physically causes the magnification. You basically can ignore the digital zoom measurement, where the camera’s software magnifies the image, reducing image quality.

Size

  • Many different sizes of cameras are available. Most simplistic cameras are small and thin, fitting inside a pocket. Large zoom cameras and DSLRs are of a similar large size, meaning you may need a camera bag. A mirrorless interchangeable lens camera and some advanced fixed lens cameras are of a medium size, meaning they might fit in a large pocket or purse.

Flash Unit

  • Most cameras contain a built-in flash unit that either pops up from the camera body or that is embedded in the front corner of the camera.
  • Advanced cameras contain a hot shoe, which is a set of brackets on the top panel of the camera where you can attach an external flash unit.

Viewfinder

  • Few digital cameras contain viewfinders, which are small windows that you look through on the back of the camera to frame the scene. With a film camera, there was no display screen to frame the scene, so you had to use a viewfinder.
  • Because of some problems with glare on the display screen when shooting photos in bright sunlight, the LCD screen might be tough to see clearly. A viewfinder makes it easier to frame the scene in this type of a situation.

Wireless Connectivity

  • Camera makers often build wireless data connectivity into digital cameras now, including both Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity. You can use this wireless connection to share photos with social networks, send photos to a printer, or control the camera via a smartphone app. Using Wi-Fi or NFC options with most cameras will drain the camera battery quickly though.

Battery Life

  • Thinner cameras make use of smaller batteries, meaning they won’t record as many photos on a single charge as would a larger battery.
  • Camera makers include a battery usage rating in the camera’s specification list, although you’ll likely only receive about 75% of the life listed in the rating. Camera makers tend to over-estimate the battery rating.

Display Size

  • Large, bright display screens are important in digital cameras, because you’ll often be framing the scene using the display screen, as so few digital cameras have viewfinders. A large screen also allows for a clear and easy review of your stored photos.

 Display Features

  • Inexperienced photographers will appreciate having a touchscreen display, because it makes the camera easy to use, more like a smartphone. Such touchscreens are becoming common on advanced cameras too.
  • An articulated display is one that can tilt and twist away from the camera body, allowing you to shoot selfies or odd-angle photos. It is another feature that helps a digital camera compete with a smartphone.

Video Recording Mode

  • Recording movies on a still image digital camera is easier than it ever has been, as most cameras have a dedicated recording button and can record in full HD resolution with varying frame rates.
  • 4k video and 4k output is another option for some cameras, but currently this is a rare feature in still image digital cameras.

Tough Features

  • Some digital cameras offer tough features, including the ability to work in a few dozen feet of water depth, to survive a fall of several feet, or to work in below freezing temperatures.

Which Digital Camera Should You Buy

Once you’ve understood what is a digital camera, you’ve learned about digital camera terminology, you’ve read some digital camera reviews, and you’ve figured out which features will best meet your needs in a camera, you’re ready to make a digital camera purchase.

Above all else, be sure you stick to your originally set budget, and you’re sure to be happier with your purchase. And if you need a shortcut to finding a great camera, our best digital cameras 2019 list will give you some very solid options that can meet a variety of photography needs.

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