Over the years, the question I am most often asked is, “What kind of camera should I buy?”  My comeback is usually, “It depends on what you want to photograph!”  While this is pretty obvious, it deserves some further discussion. 

It’s very possible you may already have the best camera for you.  If you have a smartphone that was made in the past three to four years, you have a camera which, if used within its limitations, is capable of taking really great photographs!  I intend to write specifically about getting the most out of your smartphone camera in a future column. It may be the only camera you will ever need.

On the downside, taking photos with your smartphone will drain your battery quickly, and if you are traveling, you will be hard-pressed to get a full day's use before the battery dies. Also, smartphone screens are very hard to see in bright light.  Two other problems for me are getting a finger in front of the lens and inadvertently changing camera settings by brushing my finger across the screen.

To overcome these shortcomings, you may want to consider a “point-and-shoot” camera.  These cameras have much better battery life and the batteries are generally removable, so you can carry a spare.  Your photos are recorded on a removable memory card. With a spare card or two in your pocket, you should never run out of storage space.  Cameras in this category also have physical controls, which nearly eliminates the chance of accidentally changing a setting. To get past the screen viewing problem, consider getting a camera with an Eye-level/Electronic Viewfinder or EVF.   

You may want to consider one of the more advanced point and shoot cameras on today’s market. They typically have very powerful zoom telephoto lenses, which are especially nice for travel, or snapping bird photos in your yard.  And the really good news is you can get all of this in a very compact package.  Due to competition from smartphones, a very good camera can be purchased in the $250 to $400 range. 

While these cameras have a lot of advanced capabilities, you get the best of both worlds. You can start out using them in a true point-and-shoot mode, much like a smartphone. But they also have more advanced features, waiting in the background, in case you want to use them in the future. The only possible downside is you will need a computer or tablet for editing and/or sending photos along to others.

When shopping for a camera, I usually go to Amazon, not necessarily to buy, but because of their wide selection and detailed descriptions. Search “point and shoot digital cameras.”   This will give you an idea of what’s available. 

For camera reviews, check out www.dpreview.comor www.steves-digicams.com.  These sites usually provide very detailed reviews, but if you go to the “Summary” pages, you will get a plain English conclusion and rating.  Drop me an email and I will be pleased to provide further thoughts on selecting and buying a camera.

Note: Several weeks after I wrote this column, my June issue of Consumer Reports arrived in my mailbox. In it, there is an article titled “Why Your Next Camera Should Be an Advanced Point-and-Shoot.”  Go to www.consumerreports.org and search for the above article.  No login or subscription required, although camera ratings are only available to subscribers.

Now, I’d like to hear from you.  If you have a question, comments, or an idea for a future column, please send me an email at PhotographyForEveryone@hagedon.net.   I want and need your feedback to make sure this column is relevant and worth reading in future issues of Saddlebag Notes.

Jim has a Fine Arts degree with a major in Photography and more than 50 years’ experience in a wide range of photographic disciplines.