In my buyers guide for backpacking cameras, I identified the pros and cons of various options and discussed the optimal user profile for each. The guide is designed to help you settle on a specific form factor: smartphone, point-and-shoot, enthusiast compact, or interchangeable lens.
Camera shopping does not necessarily get any easier from there, however. Within each category, there are dozens of prospective models to consider; interchangeable lens cameras have an additional variable, lenses.
To narrow the list of candidates and to eventually settle on just one, I found it helpful to ask two questions:
- What price is unjustifiable for a camera?
- What features are must-haves, versus those that would be nice to have or that might be useful in the future?
With cameras, you generally get what you pay for. If you spend $50 more than your baseline price, you get feature X. And if you go up another $50 (now $100 more total), you get features X and Y.
Quickly, you can find yourself migrating into uncomfortable price points. Last week, for example, I started at $400, and soon I was looking at $750 models.
I saw what was happening, and made a smart move: I established an upper bound, i.e. “I will not spend more than $X.” Price tags beyond $X just seemed stupid to me.
When calculating a budget, don’t forget to account for a spare battery, carrying case, memory card(s), and an extended warranty (which I always get and which has paid for itself with every camera that I have ever owned).
Shopping for a camera is like shopping for a lot of outdoor gear: It’s tempting to buy the product that is capable of fulfilling your dreams, not just your current or realistic needs. If you buy that $400 shell with the helmet-compatible hood, you’ll learn to ice climb, right? Or not.
In my case, pricier models had 4K video, burst shooting with auto-focus, better performance at 3200 ISO, and inputs for swiveling flashes and higher quality microphones.
Would I use these features? Maybe some, but they’re not must-haves, barring some change in my photography interests. And, if that were to happen, I can always sell my under-powered camera and upgrade.