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What kind of digital camera do I need if I'm a novice shooter?

Determining Your Digital Camera Needs

Mark Comon (Vice President, Paul's Photo, Torrance, CA) gives expert video advice on: What kind of digital camera do I need if I'm a novice shooter?; What kind of digital camera do I need for shooting sports?; What kind of digital camera do I need for shooting portraits? and more...

What kind of digital camera do I need if I'm a novice shooter?

If you're a beginning digital photographer, any digital camera today will work for you. It depends on what kind of pictures you want to take. All the cameras today have a green auto idiot-proof mode. So you can start with a camera today and know nothing and get great results. Just have the camera store where you buy it set it up for you so it's all in the no-brainer mode. Now, a lot of you are intimidated by the SLR-type camera, you want to start with a small camera, that's fine. Just know that you're limited by the small camera features--less zoom, longer shutter lag, no ability to adjust things later on. The SLR-type camera, for a beginner, is a great camera if you're not afraid of having it too big or too expensive. All the digital cameras today work perfectly for novice photographers.

What kind of digital camera do I need for live events?

Regarding your digital camera needs, to shoot low-light digital pictures like for stage plays, concerts, ballet, volleyball, ice skating and other live events, the number one feature you need is a fast or bright lens. That generally means an SLR camera with a lens with an f-stop of 2.8. It's going to be big, it's going to be expensive, but it's going to give you the pictures you want for those live events. You are not going to find the ability to do that with a compact digital camera, because these lenses aren't bright enough to shoot under that low-light condition of a live event.

What digital camera do I need for shooting my vacations?

When it comes to needing a digital camera for vacations and travel photography, you're generally going to look for a smaller camera that's going to fit in the pocket, therefore one of the compact cameras. There are a couple of compact camera that has a 28 millimeter wide-angle lens, this is really important for scenic's and vistas, especially if you're going to Europe where everything is so small and you need to get in tight places. So, look for a wider angle lens. I don't mind carrying a big camera on vacations because that's what I like to do. So a small SLR with a 28 to 15 equivalent lens would be perfect for a travel camera. It just depends on you, whether you want something that fits in your pocket or you don't mind carrying a camera that's a little bit bigger on your vacation.

What kind of digital camera do I need for shooting sports?

That's one of my favorite things to photograph, so you're asking the right guy. Sports pictures, you really need a SLR-type camera - not a bottom of the line SLR, but mid level/above – so you need to spend about fifteen hundred to three thousand dollars on the body and a pretty good high quality lens to get the sports pictures you want. The secret to sports photography is tracking auto-focus. The tracking auto-focus allows me to lock the focus dot on my subject, and the camera will follow them wherever they go in the picture. The other thing that tracking auto-focus does - is remember that we talked about shutter delay, earlier? – all cameras have a shutter delay. I press the button now, and at some later date, or later time a fraction of a second later, the camera takes the picture. When I'm shooting moving subjects, that also means that the subject has moved during that time. So with your compact cameras – even the ones with the big zoom – I focus on the main subject, I press the button, a fraction of a second later the camera takes the picture. The subject has moved some amount of distance in that time, and therefore they're that much out of focus in every picture. With my SLR-type camera with tracking auto-focus – once again at the mid-level and above cameras – I can put the focusing dot on you, hit the shutter. Every picture or virtually every picture will be in focus, even in the motor driver action mode where it goes clickety-clickety-clickety-click – it keeps every one in focus. That's why for sports photography you need to spend a little bit more money to get great pictures. If good pictures are good enough, maybe one of the compact cameras with the big zoom is ok. But for great pictures, you've got to spend the money, unfortunately.

What kind of digital camera do I need for shooting animal life?

Regarding digital camera needs, wildlife photography is very much like sports photography, so you'll find that you need a big zoom. If you're at the zoo or maybe on safari, maybe one of the compact cameras with a big zoom is great for doing that kind of photography, as long as the subjects aren't moving. If you want to take lion's charging, birds flying, or deer on the run, we have to look to the sports style camera, Therefore the mid level and above SLR, $15 to $3 for the camera plus a fairly big lens. A big zoom lens or a big fixed telephoto lens has the ability to shoot the moving subjects such as the animals running or flying. So, once again it's back to sports, whether you want to think about it that way or not, wildlife photography and sports photographers generally have the same camera equipment.

What kind of digital camera do I need for shooting family events?

It depends on the picture quality you demand as to what kind of camera I recommend. A good lower- to mid-level SLR type, a single lens reflex type camera, is what I recommend because it gives you the ability to change the camera if you want--to add a flash, add a different lens. If you want to stick with the compact camera, one of the mid-level compacts in the four to six hundred dollar price range will generlly do the right thing for you with the right zoom lens, the right feature set. Because, once again, it's lens quality that gives you picture quality. Buy a better lens-- you're going to be happier with your pictures.

What kind of digital camera do I need for shooting portraits?

To shoot portraits, you really need a camera with a good, high quality, mid-level telephoto lens. So, in 35 millimeter terms, that would be an 85 to 120 millimeter lens. You can do that with your compact digital cameras if you want, but I have zero control over my aperture for focus or my exposure with a compact camera. So, you're generally better off with a mid-level or higher compact camera, or a single lens reflex type digital camera, like a 28 to 105 style lens. If you want the best portrait pictures, you're going to pick a fixed portrait lens, like an 85 millimeter 1.8 or 85 millimeter 1.4 portrait lens, to go on your digital SLR. That will give you the best portraits you can get.

What kind of digital camera do I need for shooting landscapes?

You really need a camera that has a low ISO, high resolution, and a fairly wide-angled lens. So, on your compact cameras, I recommend a high-quality one, with like a 28/100 or 28/135 lens. You really want to avoid the big zoom lens cameras because the resolution – the picture quality is generally a little less from those when you're going for the big zoom range. One of the SLR's with a high-quality lens would probably be a good choice as well for landscape photography. If you really want to get into landscape photography, spend the money, and buy one of the upper-level SLR's. If you want National Geographic quality or pictures you can hang and frame and put up on the wall, you've got to have a 10-12-16 megapixel camera, with the high-quality – the Canon L-Glass or the Nikon ED-Glass to get that professional, quality picture – because that's what it's gonna take.

What kind of digital camera do I need for shooting underwater?

To shoot pictures underwater, if you really mean scuba diving or skin diving, it takes a special breed of camera. Most underwater photographers use a regular camera in a waterproof housing, or underwater housing. It's a great way to photograph underwater. For most of us, when we think of underwater photography, it's sailing, a little skin diving, a little pool, maybe some fishing and things like that, and there are a couple of cameras on the market that will do that for you with no housing. Olympus and Pentax currently make a camera that you can actually dip in the water, or go swimming with, that are really kind of cool, that aren't these big, huge, funky things. But for true underwater photography, if you're a skin diver or scuba diver, you're going to end up with a fairly big camera with an underwater housing to get the pictures that you really want.

Can a digital camera capture high-quality video?

Most of your compact digital cameras today, still cameras, have a movie mode. It's really cool for taking the occasional movie. Once again, just like the movie cameras don't do as well for still, the still cameras do great still pictures and they do ok movies. Not your general purpose movie camera, but for an occasional, the first steps or something happening that you weren't expecting, it's great to have the movies with the compact still camera.