These days, the plethora of options with which to take photos and videos is overwhelming. Why do you need a camera when there's already one on your phone? Why do you need a camcorder when your camera already shoots HD video?
To make sure you buy something you need and that you can figure out how to use, ask yourself two questions:
- What's most important to me - great photographs or videos?
- Am I a casual picture taker or a serious/aspiring photographer?
Casual: The compact "point and shoot" digital camera is for you. These will give you far better image quality over your cellphone camera, and come with options for sharing, taking videos and editing. On the upper end of the point and shoot spectrum you'll find some pretty advanced models, including an emerging line of "Hybrids" which venture into the $500 range and mirror SLR camera functionality in many ways, but are smaller and lack an optical viewfinder (a big downside).
Serious/Aspiring Photographer: If you're interested in getting into more advanced photography, a Digital SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera is the way to go. These give you superior image quality, even when they have megapixel ratings that are similar to point and shoot cameras. Plus, they're faster so you'll catch that smile before it dissolves into a frown and capture the jump from a diving board in mid-air. SLR cameras give you the ability to change lenses and perform advanced features like defocusing the background on a portrait photograph. Downsides? Weight, size, and cost ($500+).
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Casual: If you want something compact, lightweight, and inexpensive to shoot videos with on the go, consider a "pocket" camcorder or even the video function on a point and shoot camera. Most cameras now will take high definition videos, although the picture won't look as sharp as those from a full handheld camcorder, especially if you're catching a tennis match or shooting fireworks.
Serious/Aspiring Videographer: If you want to take crystal clear videos or are considering advanced editing, you need a handheld HD camcorder. Most work well in low light and have fast frame rates that make for fluid motion. The cons: Prices start at around $500 and they're a bit clunky in comparison with their "pocket" counterparts.
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The Bottom Line:
- Regardless of your constraints, camera phones are great for quickly texting pics of an afternoon at the zoo to Dad, but you should have a dedicated camera or camcorder to get photos you'll want to frame for the mantel, or videos of the family to watch on a TV for years to come.
- Although cameras shoot video, and camcorders take still photos, each is really designed to perform its intended primary function best. Invest in a dedicated device to capture the moments you treasure most.