Choosing Your Next Camera – Part 2

Lesson #6 in Photography for Ignorant Geniuses

In last week’s lesson we took a look at the main features to look out for when buying a new camera. The features we went into in that lesson should have helped you narrow down your choice to a few cameras, but now that you have to make your final choice you should look through the finer specifications to choose.

This is where you actually need to start paying some serious attention to detail. Some cameras might tick all the right boxes, however there might be something that you cannot live without that is missing – and you don’t want to find this out after you’ve parted with your hard earned cash.

Article after the break:

Ergonomics & Size

A mirrorless interchangeable lens camera compared to a large DSLR.

Even after you have decided on the form factor you want to buy into, you must know that not all cameras are of the same dimension. Sure, they might look similar and be approximately the same size, but one might be slightly heavier or significantly larger than the rest.
If you have large hands then you have to pay attention to how easy it is to grip the camera comfortably and to use its buttons and dials. A lighter camera is better to carry around if you like slipping it into a pocket, but on the flipside it offers less stability.

Finally, if you’re looking at systems with interchangeable lenses you need to consider the respective sizes of the lens/es you will be carrying around with you on a daily basis too.

Viewfinder & Screen

A swiveling screen and a bright viewfinder, but at a cost - bulkiness

I usually feel I need to be looking down a viewfinder, and not at a screen, to compose my photos comfortably while others prefer a screen – it all boils down to personal . All DSLRs offer a proper through-the-lens viewfinder, however with smaller cameras one of the first things to go is the viewfinder.

In most camera systems that do not come with one, you can still buy an optional viewfinder as an add-on, but sometimes it can cost nearly as much as you spend on the camera itself – so keep it in mind when making your choice. In most cases it takes the place of the flash unit, so you cannot use them together. Also remember that these are electronic viewfinders, so essentially you are looking at a miniature replica of your screen, not through your lens (as you would with a DSLR).

The quality of the main screen is also crucial to your experience. Nowadays it is hard to fault most camera screens’ rendition of the photos they display, but there are two major things to look out for – brightness and articulation.

Brightness is simple enough, if you’re shooting in the sunlight you need to have a screen which is bright enough to allow you to compose and review your photos.

As for articulation, some cameras have screens which can swivel up or down and even outside the camera’s frame completely. A swivelling screen is a bonus because it allows you to take photos above your head without needing to guess what the shot will look like and to take photos down low without having to lie down on the ground. An articulating screen does have its drawbacks though: it adds to the camera’s overall size and is more prone to damage than a fixed one.

RAW shooting

The closest I can come to describing a RAW photo is as it being the equivalent of a negative in film photography. When any camera captures an image, it first stores the data that lands on the sensor, then processes it to make it usable by setting the colours, adjusting for digital noise and tweaking it in a few other ways. Once it is done, it compresses it and saves it as a JPEG, which is an image file that can be used anywhere.

This is all well and good for most photographers, but some others prefer to have more control over their images. Think of them as the people who developed their own film rather than taking their pictures to be processed at the closest Kodak booth. Using RAW photos allows for more creative freedom and better tonality in photos, but it comes at a cost. First of all you need to add an extra step of processing the RAW files on your computer and secondly the files are generally about three times the size of a JPEG.

Most bridge cameras and all DSLRs can shoot RAW photos, but this becomes an issue when looking for a more compact body. In general very few compacts offer the option for unprocessed images, so if you are after more creative control and looking for a compact camera, be sure to check about whether it can save RAW versions of your images.

Image stabilization

Most cameras you buy today include some form of image stabilization. This reduces the effects of camera shake (see Lesson 4 for more about camera shake). In compact cameras this is simple enough, you either have it or you don’t, however in system cameras with interchangeable lenses, stabilization can either be in-camera or in the lens. Stabilization inside a camera is great because it works on any lens you attach to the camera, however some users complain that it makes them feel dizzy and might not be as effective as stabilization inside the lens.

Shooting speed

If you are interested in sports or action photography then the speed at which your next camera can shoot images is crucial. Since they don’t have any moving parts to contend with, this is one of the few places where the smaller cameras with interchangeable lenses can win over DSLRs, sometimes reaching higher speeds even at much lower price points.

Shooting bursts of photos is crucial for action photography because it allows you to take a set of photos rapidly when you sense that something exciting is about to happen. You can then choose the right photo later in the comfort of your own home.


Most cameras released nowadays are also very capable of shooting video in high definition. If video is important to you, however, you should look out for video-specific features such as the ability to shoot stills while shooting video (simultaneously), a dedicated video button, the option to include an external microphone and the possibility of having two cards in your camera.

Photography for Ignorant Geniuses is a set of tutorials I give out on a weekly basis about the science behind photography. For more information (and to subscribe) click here.

Images (cc) by Jung-nam Nam/Flickr

(#64 of 366 X 2012 project)

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