Complete How To Buy a Digital Camera Guide
7 must know digital camera buying tips - Updated for 2022

Digital camera buying guideDigital Camera Guide

This free, complete, online, step-by-step, how to buy a digital camera guide will help you find an amazing camera at a rock bottom price! Okay, all joking aside, this post will help you make a good decision when choosing the best digital camera.

Finding just the right camera can be like finding just the right partner in life. There are a lot of okay choices out there, but you really want to find just the right fit.

I'll bet you might be wondering where to start.  It can be overwhelming. This article will give advice on buying a camera, tips on what to buy, and a simple, step-by-step strategy of choosing the best digital camera for your situation. The simple, step-by-step formula is called the SLAP System

best digital camera size comparison

It's kind of crazy, isn't it?  You have dozens of digital camera brands to choose from. And if that’s not enough, you have several different formats and sizes to pick from each of those different brands. Seriously, How do you know where to begin? Okay, so let's dive in right now.


Today's digital camera buying advice

One of the separators for many photographers is the decision on whether or not to get a camera with interchangeable lens. If this article was strictly written as a camera buying guide for beginners, I'd say keep it simple and go with a digital camera that has a decent zoom lens and you'll have no need to ever change your camera's lens. That's a good option for some newbie photographers.

But before we get into that too deeply, I've got to tell you something that's much more important. It's a word of caution. There are 3 costly mistakes you want to avoid. It's easy to get drawn into making any one of these mistakes, but stay with me here.

Digital camera buying choices

The biggest mistake of all is falling for the Megapixel Comparison Trap. That's followed by the Shiny New Object Syndromeand I call the third mistake The Michael Jordan Shoes Mistake. Avoid these 3 missteps and you're much more likely to find that perfect mate we talked about earlier. 

1. the megapixel myth

Megapixel myth button

Don't compare cameras by megapixels! Virtually all recently built cameras have plenty of megapixels.

Only as of a few years ago camera sensor technology was just maturing.  It was very important to make sure your sensor had enough pixels to give you quality prints or photo enlargements.

Here's the problem.  That's ancient history now.

Some of the digital camera buying guides will do comparisons of each camera's mega-pixels number as the first comparison between different cameras. Now that all the sensors have plenty of pixels, they'll all give you decent quality photos.

You only need to look at megapixel count if you are doing high end, commercial photography for large print output. My first digital camera had a 4.0 megapixel sensor and it was plenty big enough for large wall portraits, provided I used the entire sensor and didn't have to crop the image before printing. 

digital camer sensor size comparison

The actual size of the sensor, not the number of pixels that have been squeezed onto it, is more important in determining image quality. I'm sure you'd agree that image quality is more important than boasting about the number of megapixels your camera has.

mistake #2 - Buying your camera as soon as it comes out

Don't buy the newly released model. We've all been there. The shiny new digital camera gets announced and we want to pounce on it like a hungry lion who comes across a freshly discovered serving of delicious meat.

The desire to get the brand new, just released, improved and latest edition of a product is human nature.

Many brand new electronic items have a few bugs to be worked out. If you have just a little patience before you do your digital camera buying, you can use the on line reviews of people who have already purchased one.

This will alert you if there are any problems with a newly released digital camera.

I wrote the original version of this article way back in the middle of July 2010, just after the release of the Apple iPhone 4. Do you remember all those unfortuneate problems surfaced. Think of all of people who waited in line to buy an iPhone because they just had to have it right away. To top it off, prices drop on a camera model as soon as its newer version is released. If you've done your research and it's what you want, you can save a lot of money.

Some digital camera buying guides will give you specifications for digital zoom. Digital zoom is worthless. It is a feature that has no value. Using digital zoom really means that you are only using part of your digital camera's sensor. It's the same as cropping your image after you take your pictures, when you do photo editing.

3rd mistake in chosing the best digital camera

Here's a question for you.

If you go buy those pricey Michael Jordan basketball shoes, will it instantly transform your basketaball playing abilities to the same level as pro NBA player?

I don't think so. Nor will buying a $500 tennis racket enable you to hit tennis balls as well as Serena Williams or Novak Djokovic. The same point holds true for your digital camera. Buying a good camera will not automatically mean you will take award-winning digital pictures.

Michael Jordan "Retro"
Basketball Shoes

We all know that. But we also know that having the right tool makes the job easier and a lot more fun, too. You'll need a little practice and a little instruction, but here's the good news. It's a great time to be interested in digital photography because of all of the technology and options we now have.

Your new digital camera is just a tool for you to use. Don't get me wrong here. I know what you're thinking. It is important. Just like when you get a high performance autombile, you've got to learn how to drive it right too.

digital camera buying tips

It is very tempting to buy a digital camera based only on a special sale or offer before considering what kind of camera you really want. To help you choose I came up with a simple system to follow. It's called the SLAP system and you can use it to choose your next camera.

The slap system of choosing a DIGITAL CAMERA
The Step by step formula to getting it right

camera choosing banner

Have you ever found yourself getting confused on where to start? You freeze in your tracks and don't take any action because you've been bombarded with advertisements and prices and features that you don't even know if you need. We've all been there.

Here's the good new. I came up with a system that's easy to remember and will get you where you want to go. It's called the SLAP System of Camera Selection, but just remember the S.L.A.P.

That stands for Size-Lens-Accessories-Price. These are the 4 critical features you focus on and you'll know how to buy a digital camera the right way. Remember to pay attention to these 4 factors when choosing your camera. It's that simple.

S is for size

Second perhaps to price, the size of your camera is one of the first things camera shoppers should focus on. If it's too big and uncomfortable for you to carry, you've wasted your money if you're not taking it with you. Like Goldilocks who was looking for just the right size bed when she was looking for a place to sleep, you want to find the right size camera.

Similar to the automobile choices we have now, there are crossover features in different sizes, but here are the 8 basic kinds of cameras, shown approximately in order of size. 

Cell phone cameraCamera Phone

Ultra commpact digital cameraUltra Compact

Compact digital cameraCompact

large sensor compact digital cameraLarge Sensor Compact

Bridge cameraBridge
Digital SLR CameraDSLR
Professional Digital CameraPro DSLR

 There are basically 8 different camera sizes.

Admittedly, if you want a bigger sensor, you need a bigger cameras and a bigger lens that will be large enough to cover the sensor.

The overall size of the camera is the important consideration. Are you comfortable carrying it with you when you are taking your pictures? Do you want something that can slip easily into your purse or pocket?

If you want the look and of an accomplished photographer, a DLSR is your best bet. Fact: you'll gain more respect automatically if you have a DSLR in your hands. Can you imagine the look on the bride's face if the hired pro was using a little point-N-shoot camera as she was walking down the aisle.

L is for camera lens

camera lens angle comparison

Zoom Zoom Zoom.

The biggest limitation is not the size of the sensor, but how well you can capture your subject with the lens focal length choices you have.

Here's the thing. The quality of the lens, its size and its zoom range are all important aspects of lens you want your camera to have, but the zoom range is likely the most important factor of all. Let's face it. All the light that hits your camera's sensor must travel through the lens to get there. 

Don't forget you can save money by buying a perfectly functional used lens too. Here's the How To

Maximum aperture is important too. Creative photos with intentional narrow depth of field are tougher to get when your lens only opens up to f/5.6. For more on zoom range and what it means, here is information on Camera Lens comparison.

A is for camera accessories

Let me be honest with you. If you're looking for something simple and you don't want to be able to add any camera accessories, you can skip this section. I'm a camera geek so I love testing out lots of accessories. Point and shoot cameras don't have many options at all if you want to expand your creativity with.

Mirrorless and DSLR cameras have some interesting options for accessories. Also consider whether you will be buying any standard accessories like extra memory, camera bag or camera case, batteries, or perhaps a tripod. See what comes with your new purchase and see what extras you may want to include when you invest in equipment. More on camera accessories.

P is for camera price

If you have a budget on what you can spend, it makes no sense to even look at cameras out of your price range. If you do not mind buying slightly used equipment, you can get more bang for your buck.

When the newest model comes out prices drop for two reason: 

  1. Manufactures and sellers want to get rid of the "older models." 
  2. Buyers who have the older models are willing to sell them so that they can buy the latest and greatest.

digital camera price dropPrice trend for digital cameras a few months
after the release of a new camera model

when to buy your digital camera

We all want to get a good deal on our cameras and knowing when to buy will help you save money. I dove deeply into this topic and wrote an entire detailed article about The Best Time of Year to Buy Your Camera.

Fact: You don't have to spend a fortune to get a digital camera that takes good pictures. Can you tell me how expensive the camera was that I used to take this photo in Northern Ireland?

Inexpensive camera photoTaken with photo enthusiast level DSLR Camera

I am going to let you in on a little secret my friend. It is a very under-utilized tool.

Many people go online to buy after they've made the decision on which is the best camera to buy.

Why not go to the leading online review site and read the reviews before you choose which one to buy?

You can get unbiased opinions from the consumers who already have purchased and used your prospective camera.

Digital Camera Reviews on Amazon.

additional camera buying tips


Less expensive, modern plastic cameras with auto-focus, zoom lenses and electronic shutters break easily even if you take good care of them. Rapid technology advances makes the newest fall out of favor rapidly.

The cheaper they are made, then the easier they break. It is not worth the expense to repair. It's better to buy new again.


I read tons of articles on digital camera buying tips that focus on the technical features only. Get a digital camera that is easy to use and carry. Can you envision yourself carrying a big camera bag around with you?

It's convenient to carry extra lenses and accessories.  If not, maybe you want something lightweight and compact that will slip easily into your purse or pocket.

For a few people the cell phone really is the perfect solution. A zoom lens or a quick shutter may not matter to you.  Your camera should be easy to use- or if it is more complex, you should be able to know how to use it properly before an important photo is attempted.

where to buy a digital camera

There are so many opinions on the best place to buy a digital camera that I won't dive into that topic too deeply. This site gets some of its funding by being an affiliate of Amazon. That means if you click through from a link to a product and purchase it, I receive a small financial thank you from Amazon, which in turn helps me host and run this site.

There are plenty of other places to buy, mostly online, where you can get a good deal on a digital camera. I don't think there is any better place to get a variety of customer reviews than Amazon. Surely, a small number of reviews can be faked, but that is true on any review site.

I do recommend you read several reviews, both postivie and negative on any product you are considering purchasing. It's a great resource of information. Just remember that the percentage of people who take the time to write a review is a small perscentage of the number of people who have actually purchased a product.

final comment on how to buy a digital camera

Don't sweat it, baby. The techology is so good now that you'll enjoy just about any decent camera, provided it was made in the last 3 years. Things change rapidly in the world of digital camera buying. If you keep on waiting, you're just gonna miss out on more fun.

There is no such thing as the best time to buy a digital camera. Just read this article from PC magazine on point and shoot cameras: Choosing a point and shoot camera in 2012. Cheap point and shoot cameras are perhaps good for those few people who don't have a smartphone with a camera. Other than that....well.

Have a blast when you buy a digital camera, but more importantly remember to enjoy your camera, use it a lot, and use those photos for something right away!

Article published by Bruce Lovelace


Bruce is the publisher of this website. He is the author of the book "Improve Your Photography Instantly."  Read more on Bruce on his Bio Page. He's been known as The Traveling Photographer ever since 1994. Read more about this website.

View some of Bruce's photos on Instagram.   Visit the Facebook Page. Watch him on YouTube.  Bruce runs photo workshops for kids and adults, and provides one-on-one photography coaching.

Digital Photography Education Location on Google My Business

You might like these

related articles

Shark Tank favorite digital camera
Digital photography tips website
How to photography articles