What to Focus on When Buying a Digital Camera -- Savings Experiment

How to Save on a Digital Camera
How to Save on a Digital Camera

Are you looking to buy a digital camera, but unsure where to start? When it comes to point-and-shoots, paying more won't necessarily give you a significantly better picture. Check out our tips on how to save money on your Kodak moments.

There are a lot of cameras out there, but if you stick with the top brands, you'll get a high-quality camera. PC World picked models from Canon (CAJ), Nikon (NINOY) and Sony (SNE) as the top five point-and-shoot cameras.

Michael Ip, staff photo editor for the New York Daily News, agrees. "Any company that makes professional gear tends to integrate that into their consumer gear because they've done their research," says Ip. "They make their consumer goods the highest quality possible while making them affordable."

Know What You Need

Features that increase the cost of cameras, like higher megapixel count and greater zoom, are just marketing tactics. If you're using a point-and-shoot, higher megapixels and zoom don't necessarily translate into a much better photograph.

In fact, when it comes to image quality, the average amateur photographer only needs four or five megapixels for good quality four-by-six photos. The market standard these days is around 10 or 12 megapixels.

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"The marketplace keeps upping the number of pixels in these cameras without increasing the size of the sensors," says Kay Kenny, photography teacher at New York University. "It is really just about marketing and not about picture quality."

Another thing to keep in mind with megapixels -- the higher the count, the more memory each photo will take up. This means you may need to buy a more expensive memory card.

When you consider zoom, only look at optical zoom, which is the result of the lens moving closer to your object. Digital zoom is the same as resizing an image on your computer: The more you zoom in, the blurrier your picture becomes.

"If you look at professional grade lenses, the lenses that have really big zooms are massive. With a point and shoot zoom, they're trying to cram everything into a little lens so they're cutting corners," says Ip. "Some of the best point and shoots out there have no or very little zoom."

Test In-store, Buy Online

Some characteristics of a camera can only be experienced -- like the speed between pictures. To understand how your camera feels, you should check it out in a store that allows you to handle the equipment and put it through its paces.

But, according to a Consumer Reports study, the best online stores outranked the best walk-in stores on price, and PCWorld identifies Amazon.com (AMZN) as the best place to start. If you want to shop around, go to Nextag.com, where you can compare prices from different vendors.

To get the best of both worlds, try out your camera in-store, and shop for a good deal online. That way, you know you're getting what you want and also getting a great deal.