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Welcome to the Photography FAQ. Below you will find some advice on how to select a camera, followed by numerous links to various questions about photography, and finally a few book recommendations from board members.

So you want to buy a camera...

And you want to know which one to get...

There is no one answer to that question. It very much depends upon you. What you want to do with your camera is key to knowing which camera to get. Let's start with the type of camera. All discussion hereafter is going to be about digital cameras, not film cameras.

The two general choices you have are a "point and shoot" (P&S) camera, and a "digital single lens reflex" (DSLR). The P&S is, as the name implies, a fully automatic camera. You turn it on, point, shoot. They typically are pocket-sized with a large LCD screen on the back. There often is a view finder, but it's just a small window on the back. Some offer more advanced features as well. This camera is ideal for those who want something simple, "no muss no fuss", to take snap shots of life's moments. It is light, compact, and easily carried. It is also generally less expensive.

The DSLR is a bigger and heavier camera, and is probably what you think of when you think "professional" camera. However, not all DSLRs are truly "professional", so don't let that scare you. It also has an LCD screen on the back, but the viewfinder is more than just a window. It actually allows you to look through the lens so you see exactly what the lens is seeing (this is called "single lens reflex", or SLR). The lens is typically removable allowing a variety of lens choices. You might want this if image quality is a concern because these lenses are typically of higher quality than that found in a P&S. The camera also will feature a variety of settings from fully automatic (making it a fancier P&S camera) to fully manual (where you adjust EVERYTHING). This style of camera can take general snap shots, but is geared towards those who want the ability to do more. It is heavier, bulkier, more expensive, and more versatile. There is a learning curve with this camera. Most hobbyists favor this type.

There are a variety of manufacturers of both styles of camera. This board typically favors either Nikon or Canon. It is generally acknowledged here that you can't go wrong with either brand.

So how many megapixels (MP) do you want? Again, depends on you. Marketers like to use that number to tout their products, but often it really doesn't matter much. Except to them (since more MP usually means more money). If your interest is just snaps of the kids to view on your computer, you probably would be wasting your money to buy anything more than a 6MP camera. If you want to go more into the hobby and perhaps hang enlarged pictures on your wall, you probably want to go with 8-12MP. One of the links in this FAQ takes you to an article about "MTF". This is not basic, but I mention it because the conclusion is that "more" MP is not necessarily better. Once you are above perhaps 10MP you are unlikely to be able to see much difference in your images. So save your money.

Then it's time to actually hold one before you take the plunge. Within the Canon and Nikon product lines, there are cameras with similar functionality and price. A key element in selecting which camera is how the camera feels and is it easy to use. As part of making your selection, identify the features which match your needs and price, then go to a camera shop and try the cameras. Determine which feels more comfortable to hold and which set of controls is easier to use and understand.

To summarize, if you are interested in portability and snapshots, the P&S is probably for you. A P&S can produce fine photographs. If you are interested in more than that, and want the versatility and range of interchangeable lenses, the DSLR may be for you. Then hold the actual model in your hands before buying to be certain it "feels good" to you. And don't pay for more megapixels than you are likely to need.


For the new photographer, here are links to more discussions on topics surrounding digital photography. Obviously you can read the entire threads, but these posts contain key points.

ISO: http://boards.fool.com/Message.asp?mid=28223897

DPI (photo software): http://boards.fool.com/Message.asp?mid=27937517

RAW format: http://boards.fool.com/Message.asp?mid=27801872

histograms: http://boards.fool.com/Message.asp?mid=27034421

aperture (f/ratio): http://boards.fool.com/Message.asp?mid=26749073

exposure: http://boards.fool.com/Message.asp?mid=26561684

megapixels: http://boards.fool.com/Message.asp?mid=25861559

MTF (lens resolution): http://boards.fool.com/Message.asp?mid=26837292

Plus some external links:

visualizing the scene: http://www.ronbigelow.com/articles/previsualization/previsua...
pushing your limits: http://www.ronbigelow.com/articles/secret/secret.htm
light: http://www.ronbigelow.com/articles/light/light.htm
the "magic" hours: http://www.ronbigelow.com/articles/magic/magic.htm
composition (advanced): http://www.ronbigelow.com/articles/adv_comp/adv_comp.htm

(Lots more good stuff at ronbigelow.com.)

And here are some books members find worthy of your consideration:

"Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with a Film or Digital Camera"
http://www.amazon.com/Understanding-Exposure-Photographs-Dig...

"The Digital Photography Book" vol 1,2,&3 by Scott Kelby
http://tinyurl.com/6zqhna (Kelby has more than just the one book: http://www.kelbytraining.com/books/index.html)

"National Geographic Photography Field Guide: Secrets to Making Great Pictures"
http://tinyurl.com/yejsy6c (get a used one...a lot cheaper!) There are several NG photo guides: http://tinyurl.com/yb6cuun
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