Some Camera Shopping Advice for Friends (and Santa)

Carrie Sylvester
Dec 13, 2013

The lead up to the Holiday gift giving season is always a busy time as people start making out their gift giving lists or their own wish list for Santa. Being an analyst that tracks camera phones and digital cameras, this is also a busy time of year for me as I start getting emails, phone calls and text messages from friends asking me for camera buying advice. Since Thanksgiving I have already received many emails and texts from friends saying they need an opinion about what type of camera to buy.

I will admit I like being the one my friends and relatives turn to for an educated opinion about cameras. That role also carries some pressure with it, given the hundreds of camera models that can be found for sale from an online retailer or traditional brick and mortar stores. So as I prepare for the “what is the best camera to buy?” question I thought some of my ponderings would be helpful for others looking to answer the very same question.

Being true to my inner analyst, I first qualify the request with a series of questions. The first is always – What do you want to spend, are you on a budget or is price no object? Once I have an idea of budget, the follow-up questions include what will you/the recipient want to do with this camera — are you going to shoot landscapes, kids sporting events, or just need it to be an everything camera? Should the camera be pocketable or something a little more “fancy” like an enthusiast photographer might use?

There is an abundance of older models that can be found on retailers’ shelves or online stock lists, which I cannot possibly keep track of, so my best advice usually revolves around cameras introduced since the beginning of the year. Looking through the InfoTrends 2013 digital camera model tracker, we find that approximately 126 models have been introduced this year (16 since the end of Q3), and any one of them are wish list worthy. The rest of this blog will highlight some of my favorites, limited to the more reasonably priced models and leaving off the higher end DSLRs (a couple of which happen to be on my Wish List).

There is no shortage of models to choose from — point & shoots, interchangeable lens, or rugged waterproof cameras – with resolution ranging from 10 MB to 36 MB (average resolution is 16 MB) in 2013. Nikon, Sony, and Fujifilm are the brands that top introductions so far this year but Canon and Panasonic also came out with a respectable number of models.

Source: 2013 InfoTrends Quarterly Digital Camera Model Tracker

Some of the more notable cameras (introduced between January 1 & Nov 30, 2013) include:

Point & Shoots (P&S) — 73 models introduced

Although this is clearly the most popular type of camera introduced this year and there are many that I categorize as “good cameras”, there were no models that stood out in my mind. This year’s P&S introductions top out at 20 MPs (4 models — 2 from Nikon & 2 from Sony) and the lowest resolution camera introduced was 10 MPs (1 model Nikon Coolpix S31).

Compact Interchangeable Lens Cameras (CILCs) — 22 models introduced

This category has certainly taken off since its market entrance in 2008 but all in all the technology is still in its infancy compared to the other categories that make up the camera industry. The vendors that made announcements in this category include Fujifilm, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony.

Nikon introduced 3 CILC models this year (so far) but the one that really stood out was the Nikon AW1. The AW1 is the first “rugged” CILC and features a 1-inch CMOS sensor that renders up to 14 MP resolution. The AW1 is waterproof to 15 meters and shock resistant from a fall from up to 2 m. It also has a 3-inch LCD and is capable of shooting HD video (1920 x 1080 – 60i, 30p) for an MSRP of $799 (with 1 kit lens).

Sony introduced its flagship CILC the Alpha a7R, which features a full-frame CMOS sensor that can capture 36 MP photos. It has all the bells and whistles one could hope for in a CILC model, but according to the specifications it does not feature image stabilization, which is a feature many buyers expect on newer models. The price for the a7R is a little steep, $2,300 (body only) which will put it out of reach for the average consumer.

Large sensor P&S cameras — 5 models introduced

Although there were only a handful of models introduced into this category, two major camera brand powerhouses entered this market in 2013. The powerhouses that entered were Leica with the X Vario and Sigma introduced the DP3 Merrill. Rounding out the category was Fujifilm with one 16 MP model and Sony with two Cyber-shot models featuring 20 and 24 MP resolution. Leica and Sigma both have APS-C sized CMOS sensors with 16 MP and 15 MP resolutions respectively. Leica’s model definitely tops out the category in terms of price — where an online price search shows prices ranging from $2,550 – $2,850. On the lower end of the price spectrum, Sigma’s DP3 can be found for $700-$900.

Wrap It Up

There is a camera for every flavor of photographer and that can fit any budget. Although most camera shoppers should ask themselves the basic camera shopping questions I outlined earlier, I also stress to friends that a good price doesn’t mean everything and just because you might like a particular brand, you may not love a particular model. I recommend doing all the research leg-work needed to find a “good deal” but before I would actually buy a camera you need to get a feel for it, see if it feels good in your hands and is comfortable to shoot with. For that, friends, there is no replacement for visiting a brick & mortar store. The big box stores may have an array of models you can touch and feel, but the security tethers can hinder a real hands-on test. For that I suggest going to a local camera specialty store where you usually get better hands-on time and although they might not offer the best price, if you go in with your pricing research in-hand they can oftentimes match or beat an online retailer if they are given the opportunity to do so. Online is good but sometimes in-person can be better. Shop wise people and have fun while doing it! Happy camera shopping!


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