A number of my friends have asked me about my opinion on buying a digital camera, assuming that I know something about them! Well, I did some research when buying a camera myself and found that you need to look deep inside your brain and answer some thought-provoking questions before you plunk the money to get the camera.

Here's my decision tree to use once you have made the fateful decision to buy a digital camera. Before we delve into the questions, let me start with some definitions surrounding digital cameras. A rough idea of these definitions will go a long way in honing in on the right camera.


Terms and Definitions

Megapixel This defines how many pixels are stuffed inside the sensor of the digital camera. By far, this is the most popular term used in ads. In general, you need more megapixels only if you plan to blow up your pictures to gigantic proportions.
  • If you do not plan to print your pixels and only view them on the computer, 3MP is more than sufficient.
  • If you plan to make 6x4 prints, 3-5MP is good enough.
  • If you plan to make 5x7 or 8x10 prints, 6MP - 8 MP is more than sufficient.
  • You need 8MP or more only for prints bigger than 8x10". This is normally used only by professional photographers, submitting their pictures for billboards, etc.
Sensor Size This is the most important, but most unadvertised parameter. The size of the sensor has a big impact on how good your picture quality is ultimately going to be (considering other factors, of course). Crudely put, the bigger the sensor size, the more your camera can capture, and hence better your picture will be.
  • Most compact cameras have a sensor size of 1/2.5".
  • Most prosumer cameras have sensor sizes ranging from 1/2.5" to 1/1.6".
  • Most digital SLRs will have sensor sizes measured comparatively to 35mm film cameras.

What are your intentions and long term goals?

First, determine what your intentions and long term goals are. Are you planning to buy a camera just to take pictures, because of a genuine interest in photography, to make photography as a hobby, or to take professional pictures and to make a career in photography in future?

If you plan to take point-and-shoot pictures to capture memories of a trip or family, strongly consider buying either a compact camera or a prosumer camera.

If you plan to mostly use the scene modes in a camera, but plan to use the camera to learn more about photography, but not really plan to go too deep in photography, consider buying a prosumer camera.

If you plan to consider photography as a serious hobby down the road but just don't want to put money right away into it, buy a compact camera now and get a DSLR later. This is very important, as we shall see later.