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Buying a new camera (03/07/2007)
By Tom Hirsch

Maybe you're in the market for your first camera, or perhaps you've had your 35mm Gismomatic Deluxe XL 5000 for a while and you think it's time to buy a more versatile camera. Possibly you'd like your spouse to have a camera too, so you're not the only one responsible for getting a shot of everything you see on vacations. It might be that a birthday or graduation is coming up and you'd like to buy a special gift for a loved one.

Whatever your reason for buying a new camera, probably your first inclination is to rush down to the photo store and ask the clerk for advice and recommendations. Good idea, but not yet. A better plan is to take some time to do a little homework.

Not too many years ago, you could choose between the 35mm format, the Advanced Photo System (APS) cameras and digital cameras. Now your choices are between digital, digital and digital. Film cameras aren't obsolete, but digital cameras have so much going for them right now that one of these is the only logical choice.

One of the first decisions you should make is the size of camera to get and the options that will suit your needs. A single-lens reflex (SLR) is great if you want a specialized camera with lots of versatility. An SLR will give you interchangeable lens capabilities that will allow you to take close-up shots of individual flowers, or long shots of wild animals, or zero in on the action in sporting events. If you'll be using the camera primarily for such things as family and/or vacation pictures, then consider a compact digital camera. For most of us, an SLR is too expensive, too bulky, and too sophisticated for our needs. And besides, most of the things that can be done with an SLR can be done with a compact digital.

It's still not time to go to the photo dealer. Now you want to find out about specific camera models and the options they provide. For this information, go to the library and examine current and recent issues of Popular Photography and/or PHOTOgraphic magazine. These publications always have information on new cameras. But you'll find the most comprehensive rundown in the November or December issue. Probably a coincidence, but that's just before Christmas.

When you locate an appropriate issue, you'll find information on virtually every new camera on the market, up to forty or fifty pages of listings. Skim the information on specifications until you come to the list price. If the camera is out of your price range, keep looking until you find what you can afford, then look for the features you think you'd want.

Another excellent source of information on new cameras is consumer magazines, such as Consumer Reports and Consumers Digest. Throughout the year, both magazines make recommendations, including features and price ranges, but Consumers Digest lists only the top-of-the-line models, whereas Consumer Reports compares a wider range of cameras, and provides a more extensive rating system. CR also gives more information on things to look for when buying a camera.

When you find a camera that seems to fit your needs, look in the ad sections in the Sunday newspaper for stores that carry digital cameras. You might find the model you wanted, or something very similar. If you don't find a camera that will fit your needs, you can either wait until you find what you want on sale, or pay the full price.

When you have all the facts you'll need, then go into the store you've selected. And remember, "The more information you have going in, the better buy you'll have coming out," I always say. Actually, I haven't said it very often, but it makes sense. 


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