On buying a new digital camera

... so many to choose from, but so easy to use

from Eleanor Jenkins and Don Norris

Stringer Eleanor Jenkins lives in the Philadelphia area and maintains a steady flow of notes back to Mirror HQ in Melrose. Editor Don Norris supplied her with his thoughts when she asked about buying a new camera -- apparently her first, which was to be a digital. The email conversation went like this:

Good morning Eleanor,

I hesitate to tell you which camera to buy, for I don't know your propensities within the photo world. Nor your budget, nor a dozen other things that go into selecting a new camera.

Some people, like Louise Fennell and Shirley Rabb, are naturals and have studied photography over the years -- it would be easy to advise each other on what's good. But there are 300 miles between us, there are dozens of choices available, a hundred levels in gadgetry ..

I know the Nikons and the Canons are top shelf. Sony may be good too, but I dislike the brand because its memory cards are proprietary -- you are obligated to buy their brand, at any cost. Not good. Panasonic, Casio, Olympus are good also.

I would buy, first, a name brand. I would settle on how much I can spend, and then start looking. Salesmen will push you to buy what provides the best profit for them, so beware. Buy from a reliable store, one that has been there for the long run.

My latest copy of Consumers Reports arrived this week, and it has a couple of pages on compact digitals. Their "quick pick" is for the Canon PowerShot A510, about $170, which they rate as a Best Buy. I have a similar Canon, and it is reliable. I use it as a third backup, which I can stick in my pocket when I'm not going out to shoot some assignment.

My top cameras are two: A Nikon Coolpix 5700 (now available at about $650), which has a fold-out screen that permits me to shoot from my feet, over my head or around corners -- and still be able to frame my pix. It is excellent for all round photography, shoots amazingly good pictures, is very reliable -- I have a total of three rechargeable batteries for this camera.

Second (and best) is a Nikon D70, which costs about a thousand. It is a single-lens-reflex, and can shoot fast and in bursts. It is the first step toward buying a Nikon professional camera, which starts around $3000 and goes up to $5000.

The small Canons and small Nikons (and perhaps the Casio, about which I know nothing) are good, reliable, dependable cameras -- probaby much like the one your daughter had at the flower show. You can shoot with a built-in flash, or do available light photography by turning off the flash. All these small ones are fully automatic -- just turn it on, point and shoot. There usually is a manual mode to use as you advance.

You will need a spare battery (maybe $40) and an extra memory card (maybe 128 megabytes or 256mb in size -- cost will be $30 or $40). You may need to buy a card reader device ($20), but then most of the these digitals have a wire that connects to the camera and to your USB port on the computer. It is easy to download pix.

You will never have to buy film or have film developed again. You can take your memory card to Walgreens (etc) and have only pictures you select printed, at about 30 cents each. In quantity, the price drops to 20 cents.

Things to look for: A screen on the back of the camera to frame your pictures -- plus a standard peep eye viewer for the same purpose as the screen tends to fade out in brilliant sunlight. You will want an optical built-in zoom telephoto lens with at least 3x magnification. You may have to buy a battery charger -- always keep the spare charged and with your camera kit.

I met a minister at lunch in Melrose recently, and he is a Nikon nut. He has a D-2 ($5000), still owns all the Nikons he has bought over the years -- including 131 Nikon lenses. The lenses probably cost $65,000. The total has to be close to $100,000. Being a preacher must be lucrative.

I suggest you invite Karen or her sister with you when you go to select your camera.

And finally, I have great fun shooting with digitals -- much more than with standard film cameras, for there is no cost for pictures. And editing is so easy, if you buy a decent program.



Thanks Don for your wise advice.

I appreciate your wise observations about what and how to look for when choosing a digital camera. My picture taking has been limited to pointing and shooting for the most part and trying to remember to turn the film ahead.

I recall one of my earliest pictures was a cute double exposure of my daughter Karen, learning to crawl with an Easter basket in her hand and it looks like she is putting it under the Christmas tree. That surely tells you how often I took pictures. On the other hand my husband was always armed with his 35 mm camera and a gadget bag full of gadgets including multiple lenses, light meters etc. which led to millions of slides sitting in little metal boxes and never see the light of day once they come back from the camera shop. Oh well at least now with the sophistication of the digital they can be placed on a disc and filed away to never look at again and take up much less space. Modern technology is great.

I did it, I discussed with my son-in-law where would be the best place for the best price etc. Then I decided I would go to the local camera store and see what they had. Well, the gal pulled a Nikon Coolpix off the shelf and started to explain all of its features. Armed with the information you had pointed out I felt I could ask intelligent questions. That camera seems to be the one that will do all that I want it to do. In addition to taking scenes, it can take action shots, (I practiced with it on Sunday and caught my grandson leaping in the air making baskets) Actually caught one with the ball in the hoop).

I took some scene shots earlier in the day when the boys were hunting for the hidden eggs.

I am sure that it will let me get reasonable pictures of the mountains in Kamloops, and Banff and other scenic spots along the way, finally in Toronto, with a short trip to Niagara on the lake. I promise not to rent a barrel to try the falls. (I have never seen the falls, my husband and I went camping in the Smokies for our Honeymoon, not the traditional falls trip).

I will have a note book with me to keep a running log for my report when I get home. Now all I have to remember is to turn it on. (I was taking some shots Sunday and it had automatically turned itself off and I hadnít noticed).

Hope you had a Happy Easter.

P. S. This is not a zoo trip, so donít expect to see Don Morrison on this one.

May 5, 2006

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