Ten Tips for Buying Camera Gear
It's the time of year when many people are thinking about taking a vacation, and taking some pictures on that vacation. That means it's also the time of year when many people think about buying some new camera gear. Here are ten guidelines that should help if this includes you.
Think about How You will Use it
Not everyone shoot the same kind of subjects, so not everyone needs the same kind of camera. Cameras come built like tanks but weighing a lot, or lighter weight but perhaps not as rugged. Large aperture "fast" lenses allow you to shoot even under low light but weigh a lot and cost even more. Zoom lenses that cover a wide range are compact and comparatively affordable but may not be as sharp as more expensive options. The choice is yours, and there are plenty of choices out there. Maybe all you need is a good cell phone camera. Maybe you need a top of the line Nikon or Canon DSLR.
Megapixels Measure Size, not Necessarily Quality
In the early days of digital photography, you could generally rely on a simple comparison between megapixel counts to determine which camera would take the better photo. But these days every camera has a sensor with tons of megapixels. But manufacturing a sensor isn't all it takes. It's what they do with those all those pixels that really counts. Sometimes lots of pixels take up space with nothing to show for themselves. Do your research and understand what you are really getting for your money.
If You Shop Local, Buy Local
Not all local camera shops are good, but most major metro areas have at least a few that are, with knowledgeable sales staff and reasonable prices. If you take advantage of those knowledgeable sales people, please also tell them you appreciate it by making use of their reasonable prices. You may be able to get cheaper prices online even with shipping charges, but you're more on your own when deciding what to buy. You may not need any help, but sometimes just being able to hold that new camera in your hands at the local camera store, and maybe even try it out for yourself may be worth paying a bit more for.
What's in the Box, and What Isn't?
You can buy just a camera body, but you can often also buy a kit with a lens and other accessories included. Regardless, the purchase of a new camera is often an occasion to buy things that go with that new camera. Nikon is notorious for changing the battery model with every camera model so if I want a spare battery I know I have to budget for it. Buying a new lens can be the same if not quite as bad since you may feel compelled to buy new lens caps, lens hoods and perhaps filters. Make sure you factor all this into your budget.
Would You Like Some French Fries with That?
In order to compete, some camera dealers will cut the price of the camera itself to the bone with the hope of making up for it by overcharging for all those accessories you feel compelled to buy. I liken this to what some fast food restaurants do in terms of pricing. They may make little profit on the sandwich but try to make up for by "suggestive selling" the fries and soda. Resist the temptation. Decide what you want and need. Don't go just by what they want to sell you.
Third Party Lenses are Cheaper, but Name Brand Ones Have Higher Resale Value
There is no one right answer. But if you've been tempted by the lower prices of third party lenses compared to the closest name brand Nikon and Canon equivalents, you may not have done all the math necessary to fully judge the cost difference. In my experience, a well cared for Nikon lens can be sold later for a higher percentage of the original purchase price than can a third party lens. If you're the type who buys for life, resale may not matter, but if you like upgrading when new models are released, you'll likely save more in the long run sticking with the name brands.
With the rapid pace of technology, some users may be better off with last year's model bought used instead of paying top dollar for this year's model. You may just be able to buy a well cared for used lens someone else sold when they bought themselves a new one. Buying used can be tricky though so ask around to find a trustworthy source.
The Camera Doesn't Take the Picture, the Lens Does
When it comes right down to it, the basic function of a camera is to serve as a sealed box with a hole in it that can be opened and closed. It's the lens that focuses the light into that hole. The quality of the lens matters more than the quality of the camera. The glass in the lens performs an active function that contributes to your image. When apportioning your buying dollars you will probably be better off with a cheaper camera and better lens than the other way around.
Neither the Camera nor the Lens Take the Picture, You Do
Don't forget that both the camera and the lens are just tools. The most important part of taking a good picture is seeing it in the first place. If you already have a good camera and lens, you may not need a better one. You may just need to slow down and learn to see what's in front of you. You've probably heard it before, but there are great photos to be taken just about anywhere. Go look for them. Only buy a new camera if you've pushed your old one, and yourself, to the limits.
Don't Rush Into Anything
Take time to think things through. Never buy on impulse. If you think it's a great deal, it may just be that you haven't checked out the latest offerings from the competition yet. Technology changes rapidly. Be sure you know the state of the art before deciding what your best buy is.