Wednesday, November 2, 2011

One way of choosing a camera

As I recently mentioned excitedly proclaimed to just about everyone I know, I am the new owner of a Sony Nex C-3 camera.

When I mentioned that I was looking to make a new camera purchase, in this blog post a few weeks ago, I was surprised at how many people reported putting off big technology-related purchases, or just being unsure of how to make them.

But then I realised that I had been pondering a camera purchase since June, and that my camera advise-seeking from the blogging world (along with friends, family, work colleagues, vague acquaintances, near strangers...) was proof that I experience exactly the same thing.

After all, parting with large sums of money for something that may break, be superseded, or otherwise provide a source of regret is always going to be challenging.

Given all of the above, I thought I would share how I went about this particular purchase. My process will never be quite the same as yours, and even if you went through the same steps as me you would very likely reach a different conclusion (unless you have exactly the same camera preferences and requirements as I do). However, given the number of hours I spent thinking about cameras, I thought I may as well document some of what I learnt.

It's quite long, and a little technical at times, but if you want to come for the ride I hope it may be of use.

Step 1: Start broad

I read a few camera buying guides that suggested starting by deciding what you want, in terms of the sorts of photographs you take and the sorts of camera features you require.

I didn't have a clue. Food photos? In mixed lighting, sometimes up close, sometimes not? But also sometimes landscape photos, or photos of people? I didn't think that vague list of requirements would get me very far.

Before I started searching, I didn't even know of the existence of the camera category I ended up picking. Starting broad was my only option. In effect, I just googled things like "best digital cameras", "how to choose a camera" and "camera rankings".

In my case, this turned up the following:
  • An explanation of the three main categories of camera:
    • Digital point and shoot, your typical digital camera
    • Digital single lens reflex (DSLR), with interchangeable lenses and optical viewfinders, renowned for good photo quality and bulkier camera bodies
    • The intermediate, hitherto unknown to me, compact interchangeable lenses (also known as micro four thirds system cameras), which feature changeable lenses like the DSLR systems, and have similar image quality in many instances, but are smaller, don't (usually) have an optical viewfinder, and have fewer manual and lens options.
  • Explanations of the importance of sensor size, not just megapixels, when judging the likely image quality of a camera (the larger the sensor, the more light captured by the camera and used for your photo - it is large sensors that largely account for the superior results of DSLR cameras).

Step 2: Narrow your focus

After my googling and reading, I started to develop a preference for compact interchangeable lens models. I also confirmed in my own mind that DSLR models were likely to be out of my price range, and that I probably wouldn't carry one around with me on holiday (many people do, so you might be completely different).

I then focused in on reviews of interchangeable lens models, as well as some of the newer point-and-shoot options, and used ranking lists, reviews and ratings to identify those that seemed to perform well.

Step 3: Do a detailed comparison

This is where I inevitably use a spreadsheet. These days I usually do so in Google Docs, but Excel would work just fine too (or even a table in Word, or on a piece of paper, if that's your inclination). I honestly can't imagine doing comparisons without one, but I am conscious that I may be more obsessive with details and tables than most people!

My comparisons went into a table like this...

You can see the full spreadsheet here , which lists 11 cameras in total. The greyed out columns were ones I discounted, the first two bolded columns were my final short list, and the highlighted Sony column is the one I bought.

Step 4: Shop, price check, and talk

Go (window) shopping. Up until this stage, I hadn't gone to look at the models I was considering. I didn't decide on my final two short listed options until after doing this, and had actually thought seriously about the Olympus Mini before doing so (I ended up not liking it so much in person). This allows for price comparisons across shops too.

As a side note, many cameras can be bought more cheaply online from places like the US than from Australia. I decided against doing this because (i) of the GST and customs implications for purchases over $500, (ii) the possibility of warranty / repair issues on an overseas bought product, (iii) a slight sense of loyalty to Australia, and (iv) a desire to get the camera on the day I paid for it.

Whilst shopping, I also talked to store assistants and subsequently asked opinions and advice from family and friends - and you!

Step 5: Think about it

By the time I got to this stage I had, obviously, already given things quite a lot of thought already. However, I still like to think and wait just a little bit longer. In my case I waited about 2 weeks after deciding on the Sony, and found that the fortnight convinced me I really did want it.

Step 6: Shop for real!

Go armed with confidence, a credit card, and hope that your camera will be in stock.

Go home with excitement, a depleted bank balance, and the happy anticipation of hours of fun ahead.


  1. great round up of your research - still don't really know what I want but when I want to think carefully about a camera I will have to come back here for advice - am also in awe of your google docs spreadsheet and how you can paste it into the blog post

  2. I got a Canon G12 for my birthday. I'm absolutely loving learning more about photography! Enjoy your camera Kari, I shall look forward to sharing photo experiences!

  3. You really make me want to buy a new camera! :-)

  4. Thank you! Except my head started hurting when it got to the table :P My Dad did a bit of this word for me (we've been talking about the top-of-the-line that isn't a DSLR, so maybe that's your intermediate category?) and he suggested either a particular Nikon or Canon. And then a friend of mine recommended the same canon, but I don't think it's on your spreadsheet. I think I need to go and talk to a camera shop (I KNOW I need :P ) to help me understand some of the more technical things you've talked about. Thanks Kari! I might save your spreadsheet :P

  5. Thanks Johanna - I hope it may be of use down the track :)

    The google docs spreadsheet into blogger trick is surprisingly easy once you've done it. If you're in your doc, you go to File -> Publish to the Web. You then get a pop up window with various options, and in the bottom half of that window (titled 'get a link to the published data') you can either choose to get a link to a web page with the table, or from the drop down menu you can select 'HTML to embed in a page'. If you select that, you then copy the HTML it generates and paste it into your blogger post (when in the HTML view in blogger). The table will even update in blogger if you update it in google docs.

    No idea if that makes sense or not but hopefully the points vaguely follow!

  6. I am terrible at this.. whenever I decide I will buy something, I want to find the perfect version and buy it right then and there.. no waiting and thinking for me!
    Congrats on the new camera.. I'm excited to see photos.

  7. Love this post, what a great way to show your process. I'm a fan, and completely jealous. It's my 30th Birthday in a few months and friends and family are asking me what I really want, me thinks a fabio new camera might just be on that list. :)

  8. It is certainly something I would recommend :)

  9. I think my tables have that effect :P

    I think there are so many good options out there - if your Dad is in the know, I would most certainly go with his advice (especially if it converges with that of your friend!). The one hesitation I had about the Sony was actually that it wasn't a Nikon or Canon, because they have such good reputations. If I'd stuck with point-and-shoot (and some of the fancier ones are just as good as dSLRs - possibly this is what your Dad found) I'd have got a Canon powershot, as Mr Bite has one and it takes great photos.

  10. Thanks Eleah :) And no waiting and thinking is fun too!

  11. Ooh, yes! I think that it should be on the list indeed :)

  12. Thank you darling! Much, much appreciated :)


I genuinely appreciate all comments and the time taken to post them. Occasionally, I may need to restrict commenting to registered users in order to halt large volumes of spam. If that happens, I will lift the restriction within a week.

Want other ways to interact? Bite-sized thoughts is on Facebook ( and Twitter (