SLIDESHOW

How to Test a Camera in the Store

Use our experts' guide to in-store testing before you spend big bucks on your next camera.

How to Test a Camera in the Store

You need a new camera. In the store, you see three different models that might work, but you don’t know how to decide on the best one for you (not the best one for the salesperson). These quick and simple in-store performance tests will separate the winners from the posers, and lead you to a decision you can feel good about.

Note that these tests provide only part of the information that will go into your buying decision. They’re best used to choose from several models that you’ve already determined have the features you seek.

Also remember that how many tests you’ll be able to do will vary from store to store. Depending on the outlet, you’ll find display devices that are fully functioning and ready to use (and test), or you’ll find a room full of models that are largely disabled or otherwise untestable. Our advice is to shop for tech in stores that allow for a hands-on buying decision.

Photograph by Robert Cardin

Autofocus: Short and Long Zoom

For long zooms, pick a spot as far away as possible, and zoom in slowly. Does the camera’s autofocus search in and out at the midrange and at full telephoto?

For close-ups, point the camera at some text. Starting with the lens as close as it can get to this text, slowly move away and half-press the shutter button to attempt autofocusing at slight intervals.

Photograph by Robert Cardin

Shutter Lag Speed

Start with the camera already on, and point it at your stopwatch. Start the stopwatch and half-press the shutter button to autofocus, and then take a photo of the stopwatch time. This will show you how long the camera takes to autofocus and snap a sharp shot of the smartphone’s display, giving you a shutter lag speed that you can compare with other cameras you’re looking at.

Photograph by Robert Cardin

Power-on Time

Start with the camera off; then simultaneously start the stopwatch and power the camera on.

Take a photo of the stopwatch or phone screen as soon as the camera will let you.

Jot down the resulting start time, to compare against other cameras.

Photograph by Robert Cardin

Automatic Stabilization

Zoom all the way in on an object, and then shake your hands gently while attempting to take a shot at full telephoto. This test is a good gauge of how well the camera’s optical-stabilization system works in a worst-case scenario.

Compare that shot with a picture of the same object taken with the camera resting on a flat surface, such as the store display stand.

Photograph by Robert Cardin