Take Control of
Buying a Digital Camera
By Lawrence Chen
eBook in PDF format, 53 pages, 2.6 MB download
Dec 9, 2004, US $5 (Free Excerpt)
- What the Book is About
- This book holds the reader's hand
while buying a digital camera. Chen certainly fills a need; last holiday season,
digital cameras were the #1 Christmas gift. Without some preparation beyond comparing
pixel counts, when you step up to the digital camera rack at a Best Buy store, you'll
be immersed in a sea of choices with strange-shaped lenses, unfolding display monitors,
buttons, dials with arcane symbols, and labels touting features of indecipherable
value. No more ironic symbol of modern technology exists than the point-and-shoot
digital camera with the 150-page manual.
The author restricts his book largely to point-and-shoot cameras. Fancier cameras,
specifically digital single-lens-reflex (SLR) cameras, on which lenses can be changed,
are relegated to an appendix at the end. These third-tier cameras cannot be ignored
altogether; chances are this audience includes a number of people who use film SLRs
and have to decide whether investing in a digital version of what they're used to
is worth the cost. But an appendix is sufficient introduction, since his audience
generally will be happy with a fixed-lens digital camera. Most people who buy a DSLR,
even experienced film SLR owners, first owned a digital point-and-shoot.
- Target Audience
- Chen aims his book specifically
at aspiring digital photographers, whether experienced with film photography or getting
into picture-taking for the first time. Its prepares them to take the big first step.
The book does not get into photography fundamentals. It assumes readers understand
picture taking. People who already have gone through the process of shopping for
and purchasing a digital camera may not find a lot of value in this book. If it's
of use to long-time digital camera owners at all, it's as a model of how they could
assist friends making the plunge -- which digital photographers inevitably do these
Chen could add experienced digital
photographers to his target audience by adding a chapter on what's really out there.
To start with, the image sensors in consumer and prosumer digitals, apart from the
pixel count, differ significantly in pixel quality. I divide them roughly into three
categories: the <$500 cameras, the $500-$1,000 cameras, and the <$1,000 cameras
(most of which are DSLRs). You don't see much difference in image quality in emailed
images and "snapshot" prints (4" by 6"); but it's noticeable,
even stunning, for projections and larger custom prints. I have a 20x30-inch enlargement
from my low-end DSLR, printed on canvas by a professional lab, that seems impossibly
sharp, subtle and vibrant. My comparably sized traditional enlargements look soft
and pale by comparison.
- What to Expect
- Having just purchased a backup
digital SLR body, I am on my fourth digital camera (plus the the one I use occasionally
at work as a photographer). But Chen's target audience will get a great deal out
of the tome. It demystifies the technologies and features that distinguish digital
from film photography and are very likely to perplex a prospective buyer.
The book is broke into the following chapters:
- Quick Start for Buying a Dgigital
- Set a Realistic Camera Budget
- Understand Camera Usability
- Compare Camera Features
- Read Between the Lines of Camera
- Evaluate Picture Quality
- Buy the Camera
- Find Camera Accessories
- Look at Pictures on Your Computer
The book includes four appendices as well:
- Camera Buying Worksheet
- Feature Roundup
- Buying a Digital SLR Camera
- Improve Your Photography
Chen's structure is good, but some of the key information needed for making a decision
is buried in later chapters when it should be presented up front. He makes an excellent
point in the "Understanding Camera Usability" chapter: Before checking
out the features of cameras, you need to decide what you want to do with yours. What
are you going to photograph, and how good do you want the photos to be? Unfortunately,
he totally under-develops (no pun intended) that point, taking a mere couple of paragraphs
to divide prospective buyers only into two very general groups: snap-shooters vs
artistic photographers. This implies that once you decide whether you're casual or
serious about your picture-taking, you're ready to check out camera features.
Having already been down this road, I believe that you won't be ready to shop until
you define your intentions and your needs beyond just casual vs serious. Some questions
- Will you be taking action pictures
such as kids, pets or sports, or less mobile subjects?
- Will you be shooting primarily
outside or inside?
- Will you be shooting extreme close-ups
such as individual flowers?
- Do you need a wide-range telephoto
- Will you be carrying a camera
all the time, perhaps shooting in circumstances where you need to pack light, such
as backpacking? Or will your photo treks stay close to home base, making bulkier
All these issues impinge on the next step Chen outlines, which is to study the features
of various cameras to determine which ones best meet your newly identified needs.
At the end of the book, Chen acknowledges the need to define your intentions more
thoroughly; his Camera Buying Worksheet in Appendix A starts with Pictures and Priorities,
a table that lists seven categories of pictures and the camera features that matter
most for each. These categories should have been discussed in the first chapter.
One critical issue that is overlooked altogether: What will you do with the pictures
once they're taken? In the film era, camera buffs had two choices: Take slides to
project, or make prints from negatives or slides. These options have grown! Now we
have the Internet, email and digital projectors (including TV sets) along with prints.
Even printing has variations, from camera-to-printer 4x6-inch prints, to image files
for the drug store photo lab, to the personal computer-driven digital darkroom. Deciding
the preferred medium for sharing images should precede and be a factor in what camera
you buy, yet it comes up nowhere in Taking Control of Buying a Digital Camera.
If Chen would comprehensively summarize camera features by model in one chapter --
say, in a table -- he would expand his book's target audience several times over.
Incorporating that kind of detail in his book entails risk, because the pace of camera
improvements is dizzying; any summary could possibly be obsolete in months. On the
other hand, frequent updated editions are much easier and inexpensive for ebooks
than paper books; each of Tidbits Publishing's In Control series, in fact,
has a button to find updates. Such updated information would create a great incentive
for even jaded digicam buffs to buy new editions frequently just to see what the
camera makers are up to now.
- The most valuable facet of this
book is its structure, laying out the camera-buying process step by step. That process
brings home the key point: A buyer needs to start out by analyzing what he needs
a camera to do rather than simply buy a camera for its bells and whistles. Unfortunately,
this is not presented strong enough in the first chapter, reducing it to a simplistic
decision: Are you a casual or serious photographer? Fortunately, he spells it out
quite well later on in the book. The first table of Appendix A lists seven kinds
of pictures a person might prefer to take and the camera features needed for each.
The worksheet condenses the critical first step into a concise to-do list. With that
point made, the subsequent steps in later chapters become transparently sensible.
- Mac Guild Grade
- B (Very Good)
- Final Words
- Chen breaks the decision-making
down into a very logical order:
- Decide first how much you're prepared
to spend, and shop in your price bracket;
- clarify how you're going to use
the camera, primarily what you're going to photograph;
- learn the features of the various
cameras, concentrating on those capabilities that serve your uses;
- read Web reviews that transcend
hype, compare sample images, and try out cameras in stores;
- buy the camera;
- shop for accessories; and
- once you start, maximize your
investment: Analyze the pictures you take (in the camera and on a computer), learn
from what you see, and protect your precious image files.
The Camera Buying Worksheet alone boils the process down to a compact to-do list.
Overall, the appendices pack lots of supplemental information in a small space, often