How to Buy the Best Camera

The Best Camera for you is one that does what you want and feels right in your hands.

These five questions will help you buy the best camera for your interests and budget.

Before you start, ask yourself:

1) What Will You Do With Your Photos?

This determines how sophisticated a camera you will need.

Here are possibilities:

a) Send photos in e-mails to your friends.
– Image quality: 72 dpi
– Image size: 600 by 400 pixels (or larger)
– Processor: Any
> Camera: Basic.

b) Make small prints.
– Image quality: 200 dpi
– Image size: 4 by 6-in or 5 by 7-in – or 1400 pixels on the longest side
– Processor: Any
> Camera: Basic

c) Make large prints.
– Image quality: 200 dpi
– Image size: 8 by 10-in or larger
– Processor: 16 MP or larger
> Camera: Intermediate to advanced

d) Enter contests.
– Image quality: 300 dpi
– Image size: as large as possible, depending upon the contest
– Processor: 16 MP or larger
> Camera: Intermediate to advanced

e) Sell photos.
– Image quality: 300 dpi
– Image size: as large as possible, depending upon the client’s project
– Processor: 16 MP or larger
> Camera: Intermediate to advanced

f) Publish articles or make books
– Image quality: 300 dpi
– Image size: as large as possible, depending upon the publication
– Processor: 16 MP or larger
> Camera: Intermediate to advanced

Note: These parameters are general guidelines.

For example, some prints will appear acceptable at resolutions at low as 100 dpi. Some products require only small images. Some publishers will accept lower quality photos than others.

2) What Is Your Budget?

We all have limited funds.

Thus, your purchase represents a balance between what you can afford and what you want.

Note the Performance (P) versus Price ($) graph.Price - Performance Curve, Image by Steve Kaye, in How to Buy the Best Camera for yourself

This plot shows:

a) On the Left Side of the Graph:

A significant amount of performance can be bought for a small amount of money.

b) On the Right Part of the Graph:

Small increments of better performance become increasing expensive.

Note: Better performance equates to:

a) Photos that are sharper, clearer, and more colorful.

b) Cameras that that focus faster and have more controls, options, and features.

The amount of quality depends upon the next question.

3) What Do You Plan to Photograph?

Squirrel, (c) Photo by Steve KayeWhat you photograph depends upon:

a) How far away is your subject?

Different subjects require different types of photo equipment.

The main considerations are:

• Landscapes can be photographed with any type of camera.

A telephoto lens can be useful because it lets you to take photos of distant details, and a wide angle lens will allow you to include more of a landscape in a photo.

• People are usually close enough to be photographed with any type of camera.

• Wildlife generally requires a telephoto lens.

They run (or fly) away when you move too close to them. And it’s wise (i.e., safer) to stay far from wild animals. Even small animals have teeth and claws.

b) How large is your subject?

Very small subjects (such as tiny flowers) will require a macro lens. Otherwise, most subjects can be photographed with any type of camera system.

Anna’s Hummingbird, Female, (c) Photo by Steve Kaye

c) How fast is the subject moving?

Any type of camera can photograph stationary subjects.

Moving subjects, require fast shutter speeds.

People (athletes, children, performers) may require shutter speeds of 1/1000 sec or faster. Flying birds require shutter speeds of at least 1/2000 sec.

In addition, a high frame rate (number of times the camera can take a photo in rapid sequence) helps capture action. This can range from 3 frames/sec for basic cameras to 20 frames/sec (or more) for professional grade cameras.

I took this photo of a flying Anna’s Hummingbird, female, at f/6.3, 1/4000 sec, and 12 frames/sec.

4) How Much Do You Want to Carry?

Size and weight become important if:

a) You want to carry a camera with you everywhere. Then you might want a small one that’s easy to carry.

b) You travel and want to minimize how much you have to pack. There are exceptions: I know professional photographers who pack over 40 pounds of camera equipment for a trip.

c) You plan to take your camera on long hikes.

d) Your ability to walk long distances.

So consider how large and heavy a camera you want to carry.

5) How Do You Like to Think?

Although last on this list, this question is perhaps the most important.

Your camera should be your partner. So it should work in ways that seem natural for you.

This means:

a) The camera’s logic should work the way you like to think.

b) The controls should be placed where you expect to find them.

c) The camera’s body should feel natural in your hands.

You can determine this only by holding the camera.


a) Visit stores.

b) Borrow a friend’s camera.

c) Rent a camera, which may make sense before buying an expensive camera.

d) Go to a photo expo.

e) Visit a photo club. Often members bring their cameras to meetings.

f) Participate in a photo field trip where you will be able to see almost every current model. Photo clubs, Sierra Club chapters, and Audubon chapters often organize such activities.


I hope this helps you find the best camera for yourself.

And welcome to the wonderful world of  photography. There’s a lot of fun waiting for you.

What I Use

Find a list of my current camera equipment at: Steve’s Photo Equipment


Use these web sites to find clubs or chapters near you.

Sierra Club organizes hikes and other outdoor activities.

Audubon organizes bird walks and tours.

Find more at:

Publications  – Index for the text articles on this web site

Blog Posts  – Blogs about birds, photography, and other subject

Bird Photos  – Index to photo articles that show birds

More Photos  – Index to photo articles that show flowers, landscapes, and more