Although there are probably wealthy genealogists, I don't happen to know many at all. I think that people who are really involved in family history don't have time to spend making a lot of money. However, in comparing various cameras to use in research and for taking pictures of everything from grave markers to relatives, cost is not the only or even the most important factor to consider.
Current digital cameras have a huge price spread, from simple point and shoot cameras from under $50 to extremely high quality cameras costing more than $35,000 dollars.
At the high-end extreme, is the Hasselblad CF-39MS Digital Back for Medium Format Cameras. If you don't know what this is and you don't know know how you would use it, you probably do not want to pay the $37,995.00 price. If you want to actually see one of these, you can check it out at B&H Photo.
Now, to get back to real life, here are some comparison factors to take into account when considering a camera for genealogy. If you can, at all possible, actually try out some of the cameras before purchase.
How much am I willing to pay for a camera? Since there is practically no upper limit to the cost of cameras, this is a major concern. If you view the camera as tool that will help you do your work, you will want to find one in the price range you can pay that will actually do the job. Point and shoot cameras are generally less expensive for a reason, they give you much less control over the photo process. At the top of the quality and at a reasonable prices are the Canon Powershot Camera models beginning at about $80 and the Panasonic Lumix camera models starting at about $100. The Nikon Coolpix camera models, also high quality, start at about $120.
Single lens reflex cameras (SLRs), on the other hand, start at just over $400 with Olympus, Nikon, Panasonic and Canon trading models and prices up to thousands of dollars.
What do I want to carry around? If you don't want to carry it, you won't use it. Going to a library or other repository with a single lens reflex camera requires a carrying case or camera bag. With a point and shoot camera, you can put the smaller versions in a pocket or purse. I use a Canon SLR, but I am used to carrying a camera and don't mind the extra weight and size.
What about lenses? Interchangeable lenses should only be a consideration for higher quality and more versatility. Generally, if you do not want to be primarily a photographer, instead of a genealogist, I wouldn't be concerned about additional lenses for a camera. The lower priced point and shoot cameras come with one lens, the one sold with the camera. If that lens doesn't do what you want the camera to do, you have no other choice. With SLR cameras, especially those from Canon, Olympus, Nikon and Leica, there are hundreds of lens choices. However, the lenses that come with the standard kit and usually quite adequate for all genealogy purposes.
If you have never used a camera with interchangeable lenses, there is a steep learning curve. The number of options and models is overwhelming. For example, there are over fifty Canon lenses offered from Canon alone, not counting third party models available for Canon cameras. Also, high quality specialty lenses alone for a Nikon or a Canon camera can cost much more that the original camera. One concern with the less expensive cameras is their limitation to take close up images. Some of the less expensive cameras have a limited focal length and will not take close up images at all well. Getting close enough for a good quality picture is usually not a concern with an SLR camera.
Most of the single lens reflex cameras come with some kind of zoom lens. For example, the lower priced Nikon D40 kit comes with a 18-55mm zoom lens. With lenses, the lower the number the wider the view. An 18 mm lens would be considered to be a wide angle, a much higher number, like 200 mm, would be considered to be a telephoto lens.
Note: For you who want more technical information, there is not a 1:1 relationship between digital camera designations and traditional film cameras. The difference between a 35mm film camera and digital cameras is the size of the sensor as opposed to 35mm film size. The digital sensor is generally smaller. It's just like taking a 35mm slide (or negative) and cutting off 1/4" or so all the way around. What's left, if magnified to the original size - as in making a print - looks like you used a longer lens.
Purchasing a camera with interchangeable lenses is not necessary to take very useful pictures, especially for research, but it does give the camera a lot more flexibility.
Stay tuned for Part Two.