Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Photo Tips 1: Choosing your camera

One of the biggest myths I hear and read over and over again is that you need a great camera to take a great picture.

Not so!

Composition, lighting and most importantly, skill of the person behind the lens, will all trump less than perfect equipment. I have taken some of my favorite photos with a circa 2002, 2MP Kodak point 'n shoot.

I think a lot of this comes from the increasing availability of "pro-sumer" cameras, and the natural bottoming out of price as technology becomes more affordable. 

I have a Canon Rebel 300D digital SLR that takes great pictures (though, since it is 10-year-old technology, it has been completely outpaced by better DSLRs). So, when I started my Etsy shop, I naturally used my Rebel. It took terrible photos of my earrings! 

My camera!

Currently, I am using a Panasonic Lumix ZS15. It cost around $200 and takes really gorgeous photos. It also doubles as my regular snapshot camera.

The most frustrating part of camera shopping is making a decision. There are so many great camera brands out there that I found it really difficult to narrow it down. Reading online reviews helped, and especially seeing comparison/demo photos. I also like going into stores and checking out how the camera feels in hand, ease of operation, etc. But eventually, you'll just have to pick a brand and go!

Some terms to be familiar with:

DSLR: stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex camera. The simplest explanation is a camera with removable lenses.
Point 'n shoot: Your basic pocket camera. Non-interchangeable lenses.
MP: mega-pixels, or how many pixels per inch (ppi) a camera is capable of taking. Anything over 8MP is excellent.

Zoom: There are two types of zoom, optical and digital. Optical is the physical movement of the lens. The glass in the lens moves, and in non-SLR cameras, your lens will jut out from the camera body. Digital zoom is simply in-camera cropping. You don't get any closer to the subject, and sometimes it even lowers image quality. A camera that brags about high digital zoom isn't really giving you a lot of bang for the buck.
Macro: means extreme close-up, important if you're selling small objects like jewelry.

Step 1: What kind?
The first thing you need to decide is whether you're going to get a DSLR or a point-and-shoot (P&S from here on out).

Buying a DSLR
• versatile
• extremely high quality photos
• excellent resale value
• easier to have repaired

• bulky to carry around
• buying multiple lenses can be costly
• expensive
• expensive
• and did I mention expensive?

Buying a P&S
• inexpensive
• easy to transport
• extended warranties are affordable

• more breakable
• technology improves quickly, leaving camera with little value after a few years
• difficult to have repaired

Step 2: What brand?

For P&S, I recommend Panasonic or Canon. Canon PowerShots are particularly good quality and have a large range of models for your budget. Panasonic cameras use Leica lenses, which are excellent quality, and typically have high quality macro. No one brand is the best — Nikon and Fuji also make well-reviewed P&S cameras. This is the hardest part, I think, because there are so many "right" choices.

For DSLR, there is Canon and Nikon. They are equally as high quality, used by professionals, and it's really a matter of personal preference.

When I was researching cameras, my priorities were 1. good zoom lens, 2. good macro quality, 3. DSLR-like settings (ability to shoot in aperture priority, shutter priority and manual) and 4. 12MP or higher.

Digital Photography Review is the most thorough website I've ever found for reviews by knowledgeable photographers. It is a bit heavy on the technical terms, but they give great, unbiased looks at thousands of models. If you are not an experienced photographer, check out Amazon for reviews. There are more Average Joes there who post valuable information.

Step 3: How much?

Expect to pay $800 to $1,500 for a camera body and lens. Most DSLRs have kit options that include a basic lens. Zoom lenses run $600-$2,000 and macros (extreme closeups) will be $300-$800.

P&S: You can spend as little as $150 on a really good P&S camera. Expect to spend $250-$350 on a great one.

Step 4: Where to buy?

Once you know what camera you want, it's much easier to shop! The best places to look online are Amazon, B&H Photo Video and Adorama. I purchased most of my camera equipment at B&H, and I can attest to their excellent customer service and lightning fast shipping. Read Amazon's policies very carefully, sometimes their orders are fulfilled through a third party and they may have less-than-forgiving policies.

Check out cameras in person at Best Buy, Target and Walmart. Shop around for price — there tends to be a TON of variation from site to site. I am a fan of extended warranties, as I'm a massive klutz, but that is definitely a personal preference.


My personal recommendation is that if you are ONLY looking for a camera for Etsy, buy a nice P&S and invest more money in your setup. Only buy a DSLR if you want to learn photography as a general hobby, money to spend, and/or you plan on earning money from your camera.

Helpful links

Camera reviews from DPReview

Thanks for reading! Please feel free to ask any questions in comments. Next week, I'll be talking about how to use your camera's settings for product photography.

— Jocelyn | paragraphloop.etsy.com

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