- There is no spec that tells you which camera is best. And few specs can be taken at face value.
- Resolution ("megapixels") doesn't matter unless you're a pro or already understand why. Sensor size, autofocus system and image-stabilization system are among the features that do.
- Don't get hung up on making sure you've got the "best" or newest in a particular class. The truth is, one camera rarely beats the rest on all four major criteria -- photo quality, performance, features and design. And last-year's (or even the year before's) models tend to be perfectly fine as well as a lot cheaper.
- Try before you buy. Make sure it fits comfortably in your hand and that it's not so big or heavy that you'll prefer to leave it at home. It should provide quick access to the most commonly used functions, and menus should be simply structured, logical and easy to learn. Touchscreen models can allow for greater functionality, but can also be frustrating if the controls and menus are poorly organized.
Why get a camera when you've got one in your phone?
- Many cameras have or support real zoom lenses which cover a much bigger range than the computational zoom used by some dual-lens phone cameras. (That's when they combine information from the two different focal-length cameras to provide a photo that's better than what you'd get with digital zoom, but not as good as true optical zoom.)
- Despite all the advances in phone cameras -- and phone marketing -- they still can't match the quality, speed or control of a good dedicated camera. So some people like to use a separate camera for special events.
- Not every phone has a good camera and not every phone with a good camera is a great phone. You might want both.
Interchangeable or fixed lens?
Interchangeable-lens cameras (ILCs) are dSLRs or mirrorless models. The advantages of an ILC over a fixed lens model is:
- You can always buy a better lens to improve photo quality and performance.
- If you need a wider or narrower angle of view, you can always get another lens to cover it.
- You can get a faster (i.e., wider maximum aperture) lens if you need better low-light performance.
Fixed-lens cameras come in two flavors: bridge cameras (the ones that look like dSLRs and have really long lenses) and compacts (formerly point-and-shoots, which for the most part have been replaced by phones). The advantages of a fixed-lens camera over an ILC:
- The compacts tend to be much smaller.
- The bridge cameras tend to cover a zoom range that would be prohibitively expensive and/or heavy in a standalone lens.
- Swapping lenses on an ILC can be a pain.
- Frequently, the kit lenses that ship with ILCs frequently aren't as high quality or wide-aperture as the fixed lenses.
- Many people never buy a second lens, anyway.
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