The number of camera models and features for digital cameras is overwhelming. It is important to know which of the features matter to someone who is going to use the camera for family history and research and which do not really matter. Do you need to purchase an expensive high-end single lens reflex camera or will an inexpensive point and shoot model work just as well?
Here are Five Questions you may want to ask yourself before purchasing a camera:
1. How am I going to use the camera?
The two extremes are someone who will use the camera to take casual snapshots of family members to the professional photographer who makes a living taking pictures. Most of us interested in genealogy probably fall somewhere in between. Fortunately, most of the point and shoot variety of cameras available today are perfectly adequate for most research uses, such as taking pictures of pages of books and records and documenting cemetery markers. Even cameras costing less than $100 can have a resolution of 8.2 megapixels or more. Generally, the higher the number of megapixels, the more detailed the image.
Think about whether you want to learn how to use a camera with literally hundreds of settings and features or if you just want to pull it out of its case and take a picture? Then go to a camera section of one of the major retailers, like Costco or Best Buy and pick up the cameras and look at the view screens and feel the weight. This brings us to the next consideration:
2. How much camera equipment am I willing to carry with me?
It doesn't matter how good the camera is, if you don't want to carry it around and make excuses to leave it in the car or at home. Unless you are used to lugging around a lot of equipment, if you find that getting the camera out for a shot is too burdensome, you just won't do it. Buy a camera you are willing to carry with you. But remember, if you want to take pictures of documents in a library or other repository, you must have something that will take a good picture and can be held steadily, not an iPhone or other cell phone camera.
3. Am I willing to learn how to move the pictures from my camera to the computer and use them in my research?
Printing off copies of the pictures you take for research purposes, as opposed to family photos, defeats the purpose of using the digital camera and certainly erases any advantage from cost savings for film. Most genealogical database programs, like Personal Ancestral File, Ancestral Quest, RootsMagic, Legacy Family Tree or Family Tree Maker, support attaching digitized images directly to a source and creating scrapbooks of images about an individual or family. These functions are all done digitally on the computer and if you will have to learn how your particular program works to use the images you take with your digital camera.
4. Will I have to upgrade either my computer or my disk storage capacity to store images?
As the quality of digital images increases, there is a steady increase in the file size of the images. It is not unusual for images to exceed 10 megabytes in size or even much larger. However, there has also been a dramatic increase in disk size i.e. storage capacity. But all of this increase in size is lost if your computer system will not process these huge images. If you load a picture and the computer has to draw each line, one at a time, you can tell there is a problem. You probably need to address the storage capacity and speed of your computer system if you are going to seriously take a large number of digital photos.
5. How much am I willing to spend on all this new equipment?
Some people become obsessed with equipment and must have every accessory and every lens available. Although in over fifty years of taking pictures I have purchased about every possible piece of camera equipment available at any given time, I probably have 15 or 20 cameras in boxes and drawers, with all the new lenses and cameras this is now an impossibility. You can literally spend thousands and thousands of dollars on camera equipment or you can purchase a relatively simple point and shoot camera, that will take perfectly adequate pictures for under $50. Personally, I have messed up too many pictures with point and shoot or view finder cameras, I must use a single lens reflex camera. My present camera is a now dated, Canon Digital Rebel Xti EOS camera. Frankly, I would buy a newer camera with higher resolution, but the present one is adequate and versatile and I don't want to spend another $1000+ on cameras right now.
Often when I am at a touristy type attraction, especially like the Desert Botanical Garden, I see people carrying these bulky cameras with these huge lenses and I take comfort in the fact that up to a point, it isn't the camera that takes the picture but the person holding the camera. All the equipment in the world won't teach you how to take good pictures.