Yes, you can save a few dollars on a new camera by scrambling for a Black Friday deal at a huge retail store this holiday season. But why sacrifice wider selection, expert advice and continued support to buy photo equipment that almost matches your dream list when you can get exactly what your heart desires at a specialty store?
"The biggest advantage would have to be the ability to handle the product and ask questions," said David K. Hauver, the high-tech guru at Samy's Camera, a photography store and online market based in Los Angeles.
"It's very difficult to determine the size and feel of a camera based on a picture on the Internet. In a camera specialty store, the sales staff tend to be end users that have many useful tips they themselves use to create the images they want and are more than happy to share that knowledge."
Opting for a proper camera shop also means getting to see expert demonstrations of a camera's many features, saving you the time and frustration of trying to follow printed instructions.
Because photographic needs vary widely among camera users, the "one size fits all" approach doesn't apply when it comes to buying new photo equipment.
"The decisions that are made by the consumers regarding what camera and camera equipment is to be purchased should come directly from the type of photography they expect to be doing," Hauver added. "A new photographer that would like to take nature photos would have different needs from the photographer that is trying their hand at headshots."
It's easy to get caught up in the latest and greatest camera models and photo accessories. But sometimes simpler is better, especially if you are just starting out or making the
transition from cell phone to interchangeable lens camera.
Beyond the basic question of how much you want to spend, anyone shopping for a new camera should ask themselves the following questions before visiting a retailer.
• What type of photography will you be doing (portraits, nature, sports)?
• Where will you be doing most of your photography (indoors, bright light, etc.)?
• How portable do you need the photo equipment to be (do weight and size matter)?
• Do you require special features (zoom, stability, lenses, filters, etc.)?
• How many accessories do you really need (camera case, large memory cards, monopod, external flash, reflectors, etc.)?
If you're upgrading from an older camera rather than buying an Single lens reflex rig for the first time, take a list of your existing equipment to the camera store. You never know -- you may be able to save money by purchasing new equipment that's compatible with your existing camera.
Another big issue when it comes to buying a camera is how many megapixels you need. Rather than capture images on film, modern digital cameras capture them in tiny squares called pixels. Megapixel count is a main factor in determining camera quality and image detail.
Buying a camera with a low megapixels (anything below four) means you probably can't blow the photos up very large without losing sharpness and detail. On the other hand, too many megapixels can also be disadvantageous because the shots require more space on memory cards and computers, making it difficult to upload to websites and social media. An in-person expert can help you decide what will work for you given your setup and how you intend to use the photos.
The zoom lenses are another point of differentiation. While digital zooms enlarge the pixels in your shot, optical zooms use magnification to hone in on the subject before pixels are ever captured. In other words, optical zooms deliver a much sharper, more detailed image.
Again, you have to decide what you need. There's no point paying $700 for a top-of-the-line camera body with 24 megapixels and 18-55 millimeter optical zoom if your photography is really more attuned to a point-and-shoot with 20 megapixels and a smaller optical zoom.
Either way, the expert help that you'll find in a camera store like Samy's will guide you to a much more informed decision than a mad post-Thanksgiving rush.
-Joe Yogerst for Samy's Camera