• Rich Engelbrecht

A new camera for the holidays?


The holidays are almost upon us. Are you considering a new camera for yourself, or for a gift? This is a great time of year to make a technology purchase. Cameras are more than just boxes that take snapshots, they are now computers wrapped around a lens. They are complex and making the right choice in a purchase can also be complex.


So what should you buy? I’m not going to tell you. I will try to assist you in making the right choice for you. What is the right choice for you?

The wrong choice is to watch an ad on TV and get caught up in fancy sounding specifications, meaningless numbers, and hype. You want to have a clear idea of what you want, and then find a camera that matches those wants, and fits your budget. Speaking of budget, watch out for hidden costs. For example, does the camera come with a battery, a memory card, or are the manual clear and understandable.

The first thing to determine is what I want to do with my photography. If you want to primarily take pictures of the kids and post them to FaceBook; I would suggest that your cell phone is probably more than adequate. In fact, cell phone cameras are incredible. They take some amazing pictures, allow you to perform some edits, apply filters, share on social media, and print. They have functions that rival a high end camera. The major drawback is the sensor size, and the optics.

For convenience, you can’t beat them. They are ubiquitous, most everyone has one and with the explosion of Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and so on, they are now the primary camera for users all over the world. Much like back in the film days the bigger the film size [nowadays sensor] the better quality image you have when you increase the output size. If you want to print an image taken with a cell phone, a standard print of 3.5 x 5, 5 x 7 and maybe even an 8 x 10 will look good. Printing larger with a cell phone image and you will probably see some loss in quality, like blurriness, softness, and other artifacts.

I use my iPhone 7 Plus as a backup camera, and in some cases I have better results from it than from my “big” camera.

When comparing camera specifications these are some of the specs that make a difference.

  • Image sensor size

  • A professional camera has a sensor that’s 864 mm2 as opposed to a typical point and shoot camera with a sensor size of 25 mm2. This is almost 35 times smaller than the professional; Cell phone sensors are even smaller.

  • Optics. Glass verses plastic. Coated optics, multiple elements.

  • Fixed lens verses interchangeable lenses.

  • Zoom – Optical versus digital.

  • Ignore digital zoom numbers, they are very misleading. All digital zoom does is crop the image so that you are only seeing a portion of the complete image. This introduces distortion, pixelization [where you can start to see edges that look somewhat ragged and blocky]

  • For example you may see a camera advertized with 10X optical and 30X digital zoom. To get to 30X the optical goes out to 10X and then the camera crops the image and in effect, throws away 2/3 of the rest of the image to give the illusion of 30X.

  • Finally, megapixels. The spec that is the most hyped and in my opinion, the least important. If you talk to a salesman and all they want to tell you is the megapixels, then you need to find another salesman.

Point and Shoot or DSLR?

Casual camera users typically prefer the compact size and easy usability of point-and-shoot digital cameras, which have automatic focus and flash options. Additional point-and-shoot advantages typically include red-eye prevention and removal, automatic exposure adjustment, automatic face detection and digital movie.


These are the most common type of camera in general use. They have amazing features, gobs of control functions that let you capture an image the way you want. They usually are small enough to fit into a pocket or purse. These are the cameras we take on vacation, to the birthday party, the graduation party, the wedding, etc. Their sensors are about twice the size of a cell phone, producing much better images, as well as having easier access to the controls. These cameras usually have a zoom lens that you can get some decent close-ups as well as zoom in on distance points. But you can’t change the lens.

DSLR [Digital Single Lens Reflex] cameras are ideal for photography hobbyists and professionals, and now come in several price ranges that are more accessible to the hobby buyer. The reason they are called that is when you look through the viewfinder, you are looking directly out the lens, through a prism built into it. You and the camera are seeing the exact same thing. These cameras have the ability to change out the lenses as well. There are more “moving parts”. There can be a bit of a learning curve, but these camera’s give us the highest quality of images.

The bottom line is to figure out what you want to do, and match your camera purchase to those wants. Remember, the best camera to have is the one that you will use. The camera you use is the camera that is with you, not in a drawer with dead batteries and a missing memory card.