What to Look for When Buying a Camera

There is no one-size-fits-all buying guide to purchasing a camera, but there are a few things to remember before you begin to look. Start with the basics.

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Know the kinds of cameras.

DSLR: if you've seen movies with a journalist lugging a camera and huge lens, that's a DSLR. It turns out the highest quality images, but is the most expensive. DSLRs have the most features, but this type of camera is for professionals mainly because amateurs won't know how to maximize its potential.

Mirrorless: this type of camera has interchangeable lenses like the DSLR, but is much smaller and lighter. It's generally for advanced amateurs.

Point-and-shoot: the most popular type on the market. Most come with automatic settings and small LCD screens for lining up your shot. Not all of them have viewfinders, so if you're purchasing one after years of having an old film-using camera, it might take some getting used to.

Know what your needs are.

If you're going to be taking pictures of family gatherings and the occasional public event, there's no reason to go all-out on an expensive camera. Remember, though, that getting incredible image quality and all the bells and whistles isn't going to happen with a smaller camera.

Adjust your expectations accordingly. People who are buying their first digital camera should generally look for something that does most of the work for you, especially concerning autofocus.

Don't buy a camera you haven't held and tested out.

With the rise of the Internet, many people just want to go online, buy something, and have it shipped to their house. That's a very bad idea when buying a camera, because you need to be comfortable with it before you buy it. If it's too large or heavy, it's just an expensive paperweight.

You should not only check it out in person, but handle it as well. It should feel comfortable in your hands. Power it up and check out the menu; make sure that the functions are explained to you, and if it's too complicated you might want to look at a different camera.

Remember this: there is no "best" camera. There's only the one that works best for you. With careful research, you can find the camera that will suit you for years to come.