By Mary Kolenick

Where to Buy a Digital Camera

Once you settle on the brand and model that fits your needs, there are several places to look for the best price. You can try to buy the camera from a store, such as Best Buy, Ritz Camera, Office Depot, Staples, and even Costco. Sometimes these stores do have the best deal on particular models, and they have the advantage of being a place you can walk into. If your camera breaks while under warranty or if you find that you just do not like it, you may be able to return it directly to the store where you purchased it depending on the return policy. Returning a camera becomes more difficult if you buy it on the internet. The internet, though, is where you will probably find the best deal and it is where you will find the biggest variety of digital cameras.

Buying from the internet can be tricky. If you buy the camera From a reputable seller, such as Amazon, or an online site for stores like Best Buy, then you can be reasonably secure in knowing you are getting the correct item and paying a fair price. But there are scam artists and sham storefronts that thrive on the internet. A popular scam is to knock down the base price of the camera but charge a huge markup on extras such as batteries, memory cards and lenses. And part of the scam is that you can never get the store to sell you just the barebones low cost camera without those extras; the camera is always out of stock unless you also buy the expensive extras. If a deal seems too good to be true, then it almost always is too good to be true. Nobody marks a brand new camera body that normally retails for $1000+ down to $250 without making up the difference some other way.

Unfortunately, these scam stores change names frequently. Sites like CNET that show you a list of the lowest prices on the internet are hard-pressed to keep up with the scams to keep them out of those lists. If you find a good offer at a camera store on the internet, be sure to check out reviews of the store as well as the camera. There are many reputable camera stores on the internet, such as Abe's of Maine and the stores that Amazon uses as approved sellers, so do not rule out internet camera shops entirely. But any store that insists you call to verify the order and tries to sell you unwanted extras is most likely a scam.

There is one more thing to consider before you buy a camera online - try to handle the camera in a local store first, especially a digital SLR. Each manufacturer puts dials and buttons in different places; you need to make sure these placements are workable for you. You also need to be sure you can hold the camera steady, see the display in the LCD, or use the viewfinder.

Pre-Shopping Considerations to Narrow the Field

There are hundreds of digital camera models available right now, and many features to consider. You can narrow the field of possibilities by ruling out cameras that do not meet your prime requirements. Make a list of "must haves" before you start looking, and then you won't waste time considering cameras that do not fit your needs.

For example, low cost may be your most important "must have." You have to know your budget before you start serious shopping. And you need to anticipate buying a few extras, such as extra memory cards, extra batteries, a camera bag or case, maybe a good photography book and a few other things. Go ahead and browse to get some idea of cost, but set your budget early in the process and don't waste too much time looking at cameras beyond your budget.

The next thing to consider is your own physical limitations. I have a major physical limitation - my eye-sight. I used to have a digital camera that I just loved feature-wise, but I kept getting fuzzy pictures. Finally, I realized I simply could not see to focus the images on the tiny 2.5" LCD. If you need magnifying glasses to read like I do, you need to get a large LCD. My absolute minimum "must have" requirement is a 3" LCD, and that removes many cameras from consideration. Another limitation is how much weight you can lift and hold steady in front of your face with one hand while holding a teaser toy in the other. If you do not feel comfortable holding a 2-3 lb camera, you probably should not be thinking about an SLR with a telephoto lens. There are lighter compact cameras that weigh less than a pound that do have telephoto capabilities, and those might suit you better.

Those who already have a film camera or a digital camera should consider compatibility. If you already have several memory cards, you may want to look for a camera that can use the same type. And here's something for those of you with film SLR cameras and multiple lenses or a speed flash. Your old lenses may be compatible with newer digital SLR cameras, the same for your speed flash.

Image stabilization should be your next "must have," so just rule out any model without it. Adjustable ISO is important, you can use that to rule out models unless there is a scene mode for indoor or sports settings, or a pets/kids setting. If you prefer using a viewfinder to an LCD, rule out cameras that do not have a viewfinder. You may find you have to make a trade-off. For example, requiring both a viewfinder and a 3" LCD on a camera with a maximum budget of $400 is an impossible set of requirements. Anything under $400 is going to be a P&S camera, and those are too small to have both a 3" LCD and a viewfinder. One of your requirements must change. Either dump the requirement for the viewfinder, dump the requirement for the 3" LCD, or bump your base cost up high enough to afford a digital SLR that has both a viewfinder and a 3" LCD.

Sometimes the best camera for you is not the newest model. Camera companies release new models a couple times a year while the older models are still on the shelves and still in production. You can find many discontinued models by searching the internet. Sometimes these older models have a greatly reduced price and have the features you need.

One last pre-shopping thing you should do - look around the show hall for fellow cat fanciers with digital cameras and ask them how they like their camera. There are many amateur photographers at shows, starting with the President of CFA who uses a Canon digital SLR. It seems that every show I go to I find more and more people with digital cameras; there are many people you can talk to and get ideas for models to try. If you are considering a digital SLR and there is a pro-photographer at the show, don't be afraid to ask him questions. People love to talk about their cameras almost as much as their cats. You can benefit from the experience of others just by making pleasant conversation, and you will be amazed at how much more fun you will have at shows when you find people who share your interest in another hobby!

TTGS - Time to Go Shopping!

That is a lot to think about to buy a camera, and you may be tempted to just walk into Best Buy, pick out the cutest little pink thing and be done with it. But part of the fun of having any camera is the shopping. Take the time to read reviews, talk to people in show halls, handle cameras in stores, and search for deals on the internet. You will enjoy your camera much more when you know you have the best camera that fits your needs. So, go forth and shop, find a camera that makes you happy and start taking photos of your cats. CFA

Continued ...

Reprinted with permission, CFA Online Almanac, September 2009; December 2009


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