Buying a digital camera can be disorienting. There are hundreds of cameras available at many different types of retail outlets (online and in traditional stores), with prices ranging from $75 to several thousand dollars.
Some cameras are small enough to fit in a shirt pocket. Others are large and can weigh up to two pounds. Some are easy to use. Others look like you need an engineering degree to operate them. And almost all are advertised with abbreviations that can be confusing.
Consumer Reports offers these shopping tips:
Beware the sales pitch. You can’t always depend on sales staff to help you to choose the right camera. Consumer Reports’ readers indicate that the quality of in-store help is all over the map. Indeed, when the magazine’s reporter shopped at mass merchandisers, as many consumers do, a member of the sales staff told him that there was no difference between digital and optical zoom (optical is far more useful). Another couldn’t explain the differences among mechanical, optical, and simulated image stabilization (optical and mechanical are superior).
Also, despite the prevalence of 16-, 18-, and 20-megapixel cameras, 10 megapixels is all the resolution most people need. But if you often crop or drastically enlarge your images, consider a higher megapixel camera. Higher resolution doesn’t necessarily produce better prints, so don’t let sales staff push a camera solely based on its megapixel count.
Shop by brand. Before diving into specific models, consider some characteristics by brand, culled from our years of digital-camera tests. For example, Fujifilm offers image sensors with proprietary technology that produce high image quality at high ISO settings. Canon, Nikon, and Olympus offer full lineups for every type of user. Samsung offers cameras with high styling and multimedia features. Panasonic uses image stabilizers and Leica lenses throughout its line. Sony often uses Zeiss lenses, a well-known brand.
Try it out. The smallest, lightest models aren’t necessarily inexpensive. And the biggest and heaviest aren’t necessarily found at the high end. If possible, try cameras at a store before you buy. That way, you’ll know which one fits your hands best. In Consumer Reports’ tests, some of the smallest didn’t leave much room even for small fingers.
Keep your other cameras in mind. If you own a film camera with interchangeable lenses, you can often use the lenses on digital SLRs of the same brand. But there are exceptions. For example, some new Nikon bodies only operate autofocus on its AF-S or AF-I lenses.
Forgo the extended warranty. Overall, digital cameras have been among the most reliable products in Consumer Reports’ subscriber surveys. About 4 percent of those bought from 2008 through 2012 have been repaired or had a serious problem. Yet in its latest survey, 60 percent of camera buyers were pitched an extended warranty, and 16 percent of those bought one. Consumer Reports doesn’t think it pays for most consumers.
Consumer Reports writes columns, reviews, and ratings on cars, appliances, electronics, and other consumer goods. Previous stories can be found at consumerreports.org.