What to Look for in a New Camera

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When you're shopping for a new camera, look for features that will help you take high-quality photos quickly, like quick startup time and easy-to-use controls.

Physical buttons for manual controls: If you want to get serious about photography, you don’t need to buy a DSLR right out of the gate. You can save money and still learn the ropes by buying a compact camera with full manual controls for aperture, shutter, focus, and exposure compensation. It’s a good idea to experiment with those controls and gain experience before you spend big bucks on a digital SLR. Look for a camera with traditional buttons and dials for manual controls for a couple of reasons: It will make using those same controls on a DSLR more intuitive, and touchscreen manual controls just aren’t ready for prime time yet. Related: Best Point-and-Shoot Cameras With Manual Controls

Fast startup time and burst mode: Shutter lag isn’t much of a problem anymore. By and large, every camera autofocuses quickly once you half-press the shutter button, and snaps a shot immediately thereafter. That said, modern cameras can still make you miss a shot in a few significant ways. A delayed startup time can slow you down, so look for a camera that lets you power it on and shoot within about a second and a half. In some cases you may need to disable the “splash screen” that displays after you turn the camera on, so check whether the camera lets you turn that off.

A camera’s “burst mode” or “continuous shooting” speed is also an underrated spec: Even if you’re not a sports or action photographer, the ability to fire the shutter continuously can help you capture the perfect shot of a hyperactive pet, a fidgety baby, or another finicky subject. Look for a burst mode of 3 frames per second or greater, but keep in mind that some cameras’ burst modes reduce the resolution of each photo to increase processing speed. Related: Take Your Best Shot

Features that fit your needs: If you just want a car to drive to the local grocery store at a maximum speed of 35 mph, it’s pointless to buy a Ferrari. Likewise, the most important thing to think about before making a camera purchase is how you’ll be using the camera and which features best serve your needs (and your budget).

Sports and wildlife shooters will want a long-zoom lens and a fast burst mode. If you’re planning on taking your camera on vacation, you might be best served by a ruggedized model that can shoot underwater, or a GPS-enabled camera that geotags your photos for mapping them later. If you want a high-quality camera that’s more portable than a DSLR, consider a compact interchangeable-lens camera or a point-and-shoot with manual controls. And if you just want something that’ll offer significantly more than your average cell phone camera, look for manual controls, a fast burst mode, or a larger-than-average optical zoom range.

The good news is that cameras tend to hold their value longer than other forms of electronics do, so when you feel it’s time to upgrade, you can probably fund a generous chunk of a new purchase by selling your old gear. Related: How to Buy a Digital Camera

Look for features that will help you take high quality photos quickly, like quick startup time and easy to use controls.

Physical buttons for manual controls: If you want to get serious about photography, you don’t need to buy a DSLR right out of the gate. You can save money and still learn the ropes by buying a compact camera with full manual controls for aperture, shutter, focus, and exposure compensation. It’s a good idea to experiment with those controls and gain experience before you spend big bucks on a digital SLR. Look for a camera with traditional buttons and dials for manual controls for a couple of reasons: It will make using those same controls on a DSLR more intuitive, and touchscreen manual controls just aren’t ready for prime time yet. Related: Best Point-and-Shoot Cameras With Manual Controls

Fast startup time and burst mode: Shutter lag isn’t much of a problem anymore. By and large, every camera autofocuses quickly once you half-press the shutter button, and snaps a shot immediately thereafter. That said, modern cameras can still make you miss a shot in a few significant ways. A delayed startup time can slow you down, so look for a camera that lets you power it on and shoot within about a second and a half. In some cases you may need to disable the “splash screen” that displays after you turn the camera on, so check whether the camera lets you turn that off.

A camera’s “burst mode” or “continuous shooting” speed is also an underrated spec: Even if you’re not a sports or action photographer, the ability to fire the shutter continuously can help you capture the perfect shot of a hyperactive pet, a fidgety baby, or another finicky subject. Look for a burst mode of 3 frames per second or greater, but keep in mind that some cameras’ burst modes reduce the resolution of each photo to increase processing speed. Related: Take Your Best Shot

Features that fit your needs: If you just want a car to drive to the local grocery store at a maximum speed of 35 mph, it’s pointless to buy a Ferrari. Likewise, the most important thing to think about before making a camera purchase is how you’ll be using the camera and which features best serve your needs (and your budget).

Sports and wildlife shooters will want a long-zoom lens and a fast burst mode. If you’re planning on taking your camera on vacation, you might be best served by a ruggedized model that can shoot underwater, or a GPS-enabled camera that geotags your photos for mapping them later. If you want a high-quality camera that’s more portable than a DSLR, consider a compact interchangeable-lens camera or a point-and-shoot with manual controls. And if you just want something that’ll offer significantly more than your average cell phone camera, look for manual controls, a fast burst mode, or a larger-than-average optical zoom range.

The good news is that cameras tend to hold their value longer than other forms of electronics do, so when you feel it’s time to upgrade, you can probably fund a generous chunk of a new purchase by selling your old gear. Related: How to Buy a Digital Camera

This story, "What to Look for in a New Camera" was originally published by PCWorld.

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