Digital Camera Buying Guide


This is what I usually say when my friends ask me about digital cameras:

  • Pick a model and look it up at DCViews. Then follow the links near the lower-right corner to the reviews on other websites listed below. Check out the ratings for the camera on DPReview and in the Conclusion / Our Opinion page.
  • Use Flickr Camera Finder to see the quality of the pictures that (amateur) users are taking with the camera.
  • If you are a CostCo member, don't forget to check the price at
  • Just spend the amount you can spend every few years on a camera. If you become fond of taking photos, you will buy another camera in a few years. If you don't, there is no point in leaving an expensive camera at home.
  • If you are buying a digital SLR, put more weight on the budget for the lens than the body. You are more likely to buy a new body and keep the lens than the other way after several years.
  • Other products and services I use: Lightsphere II (flash diffuser), Digital Foci Photo Safe II (portable hard drive for on-the-road flash card backup), Lowepro Fastpack 250 and Velocity 7x 5767 camera bags, and Smugmug photo hosting service.


Digital Camera Buying Guide

Read the reviews - Skip to the "Our Opinion" / "Conclusion" page

There are so many models coming up so fast and I don't even try to catch up. Even reading the reviews is too time-consuming and confusing for most buyers. So, just find the cameras you are interested in and see the scores or "conclusion" at the end of each review on DPReview and DCViews is a great portal site. The page for each camera model includes the links to the review sites mentioned above.

The sample images on the review sites are taken by professional photographers in most cases and they don't reflect the kind of pictures you can take at a party with a shaky hand. Flickr Camera Finder is very useful because you can see the photos taken by amateur photographers.

Don't spend a fortune!

Think about a digital camera from 4 or 5 years and how old it looks. If you get a digital camera and keep on using it, chances are you will replace it with a new one in 4 years ;) Don't spend a fortune as if this will be the last digital camera you would ever buy.

If you are buying a digital SLR and if you have a little more budget than the entry level body-lens combo, then spend the extra money on the lens rather than the body. Good photos only come from good lens. With today's technology, the body will become outdated faster than the lens. So, in a few years, it will be better to ebay the body and get a new one than keeping the body and replacing the lens.

Check out CostCo

If you are a CostCo member, don't forget to check out They carry few models but their prices are often comparable to Internet prices (like Amazon).

The Cameras I Use

In April 2007, I sold my Rebel XT (+ one lens and flash) and bought Nikon D80. There were a few reasons.

  • The 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR zoom lens is so versatile and high quality. Canon didn't come up with the equivalent until 2009.
  • Rebel XT's auto focus was always on the soft side. Let's say it was just the way I was using it ...
  • My impression is that Nikon does flash photography better in general.
  • I have a friend at Nikon :)

My point-and-shoot camera is Panasonic DMC-FS20 (10MP, 4x zoom, $179.95). For a $180 camera, the image quality is not bad. It's just one-inch thick and its response time is very quick. Perfect for a point-and-shoot to carry along. What amazed me was that Panasonic has so many models and they all seem to have very good user interface. I was surprised to see exposure compensation and auto bracketing on this camera.

Other Products I recommend

Gary Fong's Lightsphere is basically a diffuser dome to put on the flash. For a $50 product, it works amazingly well, especially when the ceiling is white and not too high. I bought Lightsphere II P1 ("clear" for Nikon SB-800) from Amazon.

Digital Foci - Photo Safe II (PST-251) (160GB, $149)
Besides being a regular USB external hard drive, this product can suck all the photos from your flash memory card on the road. It can also work as a flash card reader when it's connected to the PC.

Lowepro - Fastpack 250 is backpack. Tamrac Velocity 7x Model 5767 is a shoulder bag. Both bags can be carried on your back and allow you swing the bag to the front and take out the SLR within a few seconds. The Lowepro backpack can also hold a laptop PC. The important feature of the Tamrac Velocity is that it opens toward you, not away from you, so the camera would never fall out.

Smugmug is the photo hosting site I use. You get unlimited store for $39.95/year. If you use my personal coupon code xgUN9VgfTELiI then it will save both you and me some lunch money but that is not the reason I recommend Smugmug. Look & feel is gorgeous and photo managing is very easy. Plus their staff are photo nerds like we are and they respond to your questions vigorously.

Flickr (Yahoo) gives you unlimited storage for $24.95/year.  Google's Picasa Web gives you 10 GB ($20/year), 40 GB ($75/year), etc.  These two probably are not going away but I'm not sure about other ones, especially the ones that are free. I believe they can do whatever they like (for instance, removing your photos) if their business climate changes. You can try Flickr or Picasa Web first before trying Smugmug.  Smugmug has a migration tool called Smugglr [I love the name :) ] that would help you copy the photos from other sites.

April 19, 2009 - Komei Harada