Jason’s guide to buying a digital camera

“What camera should I buy?” is right up there with “Do you shoot weddings?” in terms of common first questions I receive when people find out that I’m a photographer.  The answers are “It depends” and “yes” respectively, but we’ll focus on the camera question and  point-and-shoot cameras specifically.  I’ll let you know what I think is important when looking at a camera and what resources you should use to make your decision.

Here’s a picture of my Canon S95 in it’s current state: canon2

It costs $170 to have Canon fix the camera, which is only slightly below what you can find a used Canon S95 for on eBay.  I wasn’t sending the camera in for repair, so I thought, how hard is it to fix a misaligned lens. It turns out that the answer is very hard.  With this camera incapacitated and a baby on the way, I needed a new point-and-shoot camera.  This gets me to the most important part of the equation: how much money do you have to spend on a camera?  A couple weeks ago,my wife and I bought a house, and as I said, we’ll be having our first child very soon.  These factors put me in a different price range than I previously have been in.  My past three digital cameras have been in the $350- $450 range, but now I’m looking to spend $50-$150 without sacrificing much quality.  Instead of buying a new camera, I turned to eBay.  My strategy was to find a Canon Powershot camera that was top-of-the-line 3-4 years ago.

I had a top-of-the-line Canon SD850 IS, which I purchased in 2007 before my Canon S95.  The Canon S95 has many more features and is better in low light, but overall, the image quality is very similar.  When ballin’ on a budget, a used previously top of the line camera will give you the best bang for your buck.

Features that I find important:

– Image quality-  This has many  variables including lens quality, sensor type, flash, low light capability, etc. I turned to Amazon for reviews and relied on my previous experience that Canon Powershot Elph series cameras are pretty darn good.  In my opinion, top-of-the-line cameras from a couple years ago take much better pictures than new baseline cameras.  You can tell the level of the Powershot cameras by the letter or letters in the model number.  Go here for a list and description of the Canon series Canon Wikipedia.

– Rechargeable battery-  I shoot a lot of pictures, and I don’t want to have to worry about the cost of replacing batteries all the time.

– Wide and bright lens-  A lens with a low f/number allows you to shoot in lower light.  My Canon S95 has a f/2.0 28mm wide lens, which is ideal, but I had to compromise and picked a camera with a f/2.8 lens and 35mm lens.


– CCD sensor- This wasn’t a deal breaker to me.  Apparently the CMOS sensors have been getting much better.  But from what I’ve read, the CMOS sensors have more noise at higher ISOs.  Since I like to shoot without flash,  I use a lot of high ISOs.

-Size- I wanted something that could fit in my pocket.  The G series are probably the best Powershot cameras out there, but they’re a bit bulky for my taste.  I already have a digital slr, and my whole reason for having a point-and-shoot is the capability to take it anywhere.

Unimportant features-

Megapixels-  I think that megapixels are overrated.  You can easily print an 8 MP image out to 8×11 and can probably push it even further.  Unless you like to turn your images into 16×20 prints, 8 or 10 megapixels is more than enough.  Also, more megapixels can make for a noisier picture.

A long lens-  I guess that it’s mostly my style, but I don’t like to zoom in a lot; I like to get close.  This is mostly just a personal preference.

Best Resources:

Wikipedia–  List of all Canon Powershot cameras, when they were introduced, and specs.

Amazon–  This gave me a ton of reviews on each product and also allowed me to see what I could purchase the camera for new and used off of Amazon.

CNet–  I liked that Cnet gives short and to the point pros and cons of cameras, as well as the original selling price.

Ebay–  I stalked eBay until I found the best deal.  There is risk in purchasing equipment used, but you can minimize this risk by finding a reputable seller, reading all information, looking at pictures closely, and  checking out your purchase closely when you receive it.

Conclusion:  I scoped out a camera that I liked on eBay, and with 5 seconds left (last second is key) I made my max bid of $60.  I am the proud owner of a Canon SD790 IS with a winning bid of $46.  This camera has tremendous reviews on Amazon, and I couldn’t be happier.

Please let me know if you have any questions, comments, or concerns and thank you for reading.




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