I like to think I take care of my stuff but the reality is that I always seem to be breaking things. I got a new BlackBerry at work so bought a special case to protect it. It arrived this morning and two hours later I’d broken the case.
When it comes to cameras, I seem to have been through quite a few in my life, ever since my first camera – one with the film cartridge that you had to wind on – which I, very carefully, dropped in a dog bowl full of water.
In the past year, I’ve owned three compact cameras – a Sony, an Olympus and one that I had for such a short length of time before I broke it that I’ve even forgotten what brand it was.
Most recently, my last camera broke because I was taking photos while digging silt and got grit in the lens. True story.
Despite going through them so quickly, a camera is something that I couldn’t survive without. I’ve pretty much given into the fact that any compact camera I own is practically a disposable item but I get around this by always having another camera on-hand.
If you’re looking for a camera, my recommendation is to buy two. One cheap compact camera and one camera that’s as close to an SLR camera that you can get without being an SLR (and without being anywhere near as expensive as an SLR).
You may think that you should just buy a more expensive compact camera and take care of it, and if you really can then go for it, but I think the best approach is to aim for a camera that you don’t mind throwing around and getting dirty but then having another more expensive camera for those moments that really call for a great quality shot.
You can get compact cameras very cheaply these days. Look at this range of digital cameras and you’ll quickly see heaps in the $150 to $300 range. Modern compact cameras can actually take really good quality shots but the one thing that they fall short on, being so small, is a good zoom. Most are either 3 or 4 times optical zoom. Digital zooms vary but are basically pointless. Take a photo on your computer and enlarge it using photo-editing software and you do exactly the same thing as if you had used your camera’s digital zoom.
So for your second camera, get one with an optical zoom of around 14 times. It will be bulkier than your compact but that’s what reminds you to take extra care of it! You’ll buy it a big solid case for it to makes its home in and you’ll only bring it out in those situations that call for it. In the meantime, your compact camera will be bouncing around in your pocket or glove-box and can be called upon for those unexpected camera opportunities. The extra zoom has to be experienced before you can truly realise how handy it is and how much better your photographs would be.
Also, if you’re only ever planning on taking photos for uploading to the web or for printing for your personal photo album, don’t worry about going for larger megapixel sizes. I took all of the photos on this page using a camera that has a maximum of 8mp, and yet many modern compact cameras go right up to 14mp!
Finally, if you want a really great way of finding out what sort of photographs you could take with any given camera, use Flickr’s camera select tool to view only those photos that have been taken using the camera that you’re interested in buying. It’s a fool-proof way of seeing how well any camera performs (and it’s interesting to see that the Apple iPhone 4 is the most common camera of Flickr users!).