A Guide on how to buy a Digital Camera for the Rest of Us

I am no professional photographer by any means, but I am someone who loves to use her digital camera on vacations, around family, friends…

And I don’t like fiddling with buttons or settings and I just want it to WORK.

If that sounds like your kind of review (I won’t be talking about fancy ISO or aperture settings), then proceed ahead!

These are all the things I look for in a digital camera, in the category of what they call “Point & Shoot”, meaning you point the camera at something and press the button to shoot the picture.

Here’s the rough rundown of what I am going to cover:

  • Weight & Size of camera
  • Memory Card format & compatibility with your laptop
  • Scene Settings for getting the best picture
  • Optical Zoom to really zoom in on an object
  • Video capabilities
  • Size of digital viewfinder to avoid squinting through the peephole
  • Batteries used and its charging process
  • Ease of use for zooming and adjusting settings
  • Menu layout accesibility

How heavy and compact is it?

What you’re looking for is a Point & Shoot Camera.

Mine is a fair weight, and is pretty small. Enough to put in a pocket and go.

It is nowhere as slim as my old Fujifilm Finepix camera, but considering the other features and how easy it is to point and shoot.

Generally speaking, the more features a point and shoot camera has, the bigger and heavier it is likely to be.

This is where you have to bring in your own personal judgment and preferences.

Do you want a small, in your pocket compact camera that is light? Then you might want to look at 4X optical zooms or smaller, but you won’t be able to take beautiful pictures as with a heavier, bulkier camera.

For me, I like something that can fit in my hands, and isn’t SO thin that it looks like a card (those cameras have no zoom whatsoever worth speaking of), and can be held STEADY.

I have small girl hands, but even I have found that the smaller the camera for me, the shakier the picture gets. The heavier the camera, the easier it is to hold, point and shoot. It’s just my preference.

I’d rather have something substantial with features, than something super thin sleek and sexy (a lot of Sony cameras are like this — too sexy without any real features put into it for the price you are paying).

What kind of memory card does it take?

Don’t buy digital cameras with XD memory cards. Bla bla bla, it’s better… but let’s think along the line of practicality.

Almost every single laptop takes SD cards directly into the machine without any extra gadgets.

It’s incredibly handy to just be able to pop out the memory card and insert it into almost any new laptop on the market today to grab all the photos. Even my HP Mini 1000 netbook has a spot for SD cards.

In fact, it was a big selling point for me to get rid of my old Fujifilm Finepix camera because it had an XD card, and to pick up my now beloved Canon Elph 880 Powershot camera that has an SD card.

What size of memory card can the camera handle?

This may not be a big problem for you if you are buying a brand new digital camera. But if you are going to buy one used, I’d suggest Googling or asking the manufacturer what the camera can handle as its maximum.

The reason why I am saying this, is because BF’s HP Photosmart Camera that he bought 6 years ago, only takes up to a maximum of 2GB on his SD card.

In contrast, my Canon Elph 880 Powershot camera, takes up to 8GB and possibly more — I haven’t tried.

Having lots of memory, especially if you are a photographing hog like me, is crucial. I also like to take videos and multiple shots of the same thing.

Granted, I’ve never run out of space on an 8GB card yet, but if you are forgetful like me, you will forget to unload your pictures one night, and curse that your card is only 2GB.

Alternatively, you can just buy a second 8GB SD card as a backup, which is what I did.

How many scene settings are there and how easy are they to use?

I know I said I wasn’t going to get technical, but I had little to NO settings on my Fujifilm Finepix camera to allow me to switch between different scene settings like Beach, Aquarium, Indoor, Outdoor, Kids & Pets (fast action), etc.

You’d be surprised at what a big difference it makes to switch to a different setting based on where you’re taking pictures.

A Beach setting on a digital camera for example, will automatically account for super bright sun, high contrast colours, and do all the fancy technical work that old school photographers used to have to manually adjust.

And for Kids or Pets, the aperture speed will be much quicker, to allow you to capture a kid’s motions clearly rather than just seeing a blur.

Look for USEFUL scene settings that you are going to use. There’s no need to have 50 settings with options for Candlelight or Nighttime Landscape, if you only use maybe 5-10.

It is also important to be able to switch between the settings easily.

On my Canon Elph 880 Powershot camera, I am able to rotate between little icons of each of my settings VERY easily, click on the link to check out the review & see shots.

This saves me the time of having to press a button and then scroll through the 10 – 15 options of scenes, one by one, having to read the titles of each scene I could choose.

You’d be surprised how fast a minute or two goes by, and then the shot is finished — either the wildlife disappears into the forest, or the sun sets completely.

What is the OPTICAL zoom on the camera?

Ignore it when salespeople gush about digital zoom. That is just like going into Photoshop and increasing the size of the photo to “zoom” in. It turns out grainy, blurry, pixel-y and is not a REAL zoom feature to focus in on a part of a picture.

What you want to look for is the OPTICAL zoom. That’s when the camera has a little lens that physically sticks out, and zooms in on the object.

My Canon Elph 880 Powershot camera has an optical zoom of 4. And that’s pretty good for all the other features I got.

If you can get any higher, kudos, but more than likely, you’re going to pay more, or the camera will be heavier or bigger because it needs to have an extra retractable lens put in the camera to allow such a zoom.

The exception was BF’s HP Photosmart camera. It has an optical zoom of 8. It was UNBELIEVABLE. His camera is was really fantastic for close up shots from far away, but that was the only selling point of the camera.

It sucked for everything else.

How easy is it to zoom in and out?

On my Canon Elph 880 Powershot camera, I have a little wheel at the top that allows me to quickly zoom in and out with one finger instead of having to press buttons on the side.

I just put my finger on the little tip of the wheel, and if I pull the wheel to the left, it zooms in and when I switch the wheel to the right, it zooms out, all while looking through the viewfinder and not concentrating on another part of the camera. Very simple.

In contrast, my old Fujifilm Finepix camera and BF’s (now dead) HP Photosmart camera needed me to look at the back of camera and to adjust the zoom functions by pressing on a left or right button.

Kind of annoying, and not as quick as a wheel zoom.

Does it have video? Do you care?

This wasn’t a selling point for me. I don’t really care to take videos with cameras.. I mean, it’s interesting to do so, but when have I ever really shown videos to my family? Like never.

Still it’s a feature that seems to come with all modern digital cameras these days.

And if you want to do a hybrid two-in-one camcorder & digital camera, then this may be more important to you.

How big is the digital viewfinder?

The screen.

How big is the screen?

If it’s too small for you to see anything or the way you are positioning the camera, then you may want to think about buying one with a larger screen.

Mine has a 3″ screen which is GREAT. It’s big & clear enough to see what you’re taking.

Many people think that just looking through that little peephole is enough, but once you go with a picture viewfinder, you will NEVER want to squint through a little peephole and cause wrinkles ever again.

I love being able to hold out my camera, to see the picture before it’s being taken, and snap a shot.

In older or other cameras, a little peephole was necessary to see how the picture was being taken, but that has since become obsolete technology for me.

What batteries does it take?

Hopefully not AAA or AA batteries.

Ancient history!

Those can be handy in the sense that you just need to carry extra batteries to pop in new power, but for me it’s annoying to have to deal with 2 or 3 batteries just to charge your camera.

And it’s wasteful if you don’t use rechargeable AAA or AA batteries.

Enter the Li-ion batteries, or Lithium ion batteries. Fancy way of saying, it’s a battery pack that is rechargeable. You pop it into a charger, and into a wall… and it charges. Simple as that.

And I have 2 Li-ion batteries so that in case one dies, I have the other.

How does it charge?

This is a big deal.

I hate cameras that come with docking stations that not only let you unload the photos, but are NECESSARY to charging up a battery.

I mean, I couldn’t even pop out the battery in my old Fujifilm Finepix camera to put in a battery charger or charge in some other way. I had to literally dock the camera in the station and charge it that way. SO annoying.

On my Canon Elph 880 Powershot camera, I just take out the battery, put it into a separate battery charger and plug it into the wall. When the light turns green, it’s charged.

I also have an extra battery charged in case the power runs out (happens more often than you think, especially if you forget to charge it the night before).

FYI: If you are going to buy new Li-ion batteries, you MUST KNOW THE CODE of the battery.

Not all Li-ion batteries are made or work the same. They have different levels of voltage and you don’t want to buy something that won’t fit in your compact camera because it was made for a larger one.

My camera takes NB-5L Batteries. If I want to buy a third Li-ion rechargeable battery, I go out and look for that code.

Is the menu easy to navigate?

How easy is it to delete pictures? To change settings?

Do you feel comfortable with the buttons, moving from one area to another?

That pretty much does it. All you need to know about buying a camera.

Anything I missed? Please chime in!

About the Author

Just a girl trying to find a balance between being a Shopaholic and a Saver. I cleared $60,000 in 18 months earning $65,000 gross/year. Now I am self-employed, and you can read more about my story here, or visit my other blog: The Everyday Minimalist.