A New Parents' Guide to Choosing the Best Camera

John Biggs
Good News
8

Car seat? Check. Booties? Check. Camera?

Coming home from the hospital with my older son, K, I realized I didn't have a good camera at the house. I was a gadget blogger, yet, for some strange reason, I had never invested in anything beyond an old Canon point and shoot that lay, unloved, on a shelf. I figured it was time to invest in something and found the choices and styles and specs alarmingly complex.

Every parent needs a good camera. Off-the-cuff photos of the little ones are a treasure, and they're fun to show off and share. 

Now that I know a little bit more about photography, I'm pleased to report that there is no right answer to the question "Which camera should we buy?" However, here are a few things to consider when shopping for a snapper for your snapper.

Size

The pros always say that the best camera is the one you're carrying when the action happens. However, there are different cameras for different occasions, and for baby's first steps, you're going to want something that takes lots of nice pictures quickly, and for the playground, you'll want something portable and unobtrusive.

That's why I usually recommend getting two cameras -- a larger one with a nice zoom (preferably a DSLR, but more on that later) and a smaller one to carry around in a purse or diaper bag. The trade-off between a bigger, ultrazoom camera like the Canon EOS Rebel and a tiny camera like the Nikon Coolpix P300 is pretty stark and you want something that fits your budget and your lifestyle. If you can only get one camera -- and there's no shame in it -- consider a some of the mid-sized models I describe below.

Zoom

No other spec is more important than optical zoom. Camera makers tout megapixels, storage space, and screen size, but if you can't get close to your subjects without fuzzing out the picture, you're not going to get very many good shots.

Pay no attention to digital zoom -- it's a trick manufacturers have used for years to up-sell some fairly bad cameras. There's also no real benefit to looking at megapixel numbers at this point -- anything over 10-megapixels is overkill in many ways.

Price

Here is where the rubber meets to road. Your average point and shoot costs about $300, while your average entry level DSLR -- the kind of camera that has removable lenses -- costs about $900 with lens. You can buy a used, older model DSLR for considerably less than that, but you risk getting a faulty device.

Unfortunately, I wouldn't recommend looking below $200. Most cheaper cameras are just that -- cheap -- and if your goal is to create lasting memories of the wee ones, you might as well invest a few hundred. Why not add it to the baby registry?

Why should you get a more expensive DSLR? Look: they're only little once. You're going to want some photos of them looking cute and natural rather than stiff and overexposed, as many point and shoots are wont to do. If you're tired of red-eye and lots of annoying shadows in your snapshots, it may be time to take the higher-end plunge.

Again, if price is an object, then there are plenty of smaller cameras out there worth looking at. Here are some of my favorites.

My Picks

Compact


Canon S95 - $400 - The Canon S95 is the perfect portable camera. It has an excellent sensor, takes great pictures in low light, and you can pop it into a purse or backpack after taking a quick snap or two. One of the best cameras of the year, in my opinion.

Sony Cyber-shot Digital Camera TX100V - $380 - Sony makes some of the slimmest compact cameras you've ever seen. The TX100V is small enough to fit into a shirt pocket and supports a few clever features like background defocus for nice portrait shots and a bright, big touchscreen on back.

Mid-sized

Olympus E-PL2 - $600 - This camera balances on the edge between full-sized DSLR and compact shooter. It uses a large, DSLR-type sensor and removable lenses with excellent zoom, but it is small enough to fit into a diaper bag. This is my go-to shooter when I'm traveling as it offers the best of both worlds.

Canon Powershot G12 - $500 - This workhorse of a camera looks like a brick, but is surprisingly light and well-made. Designed as a "second" camera for professional photographers, the G12 has a swiveling screen and takes excellent action shots.

Full-sized

Canon EOS Rebel T3i - $900 - This entry-level Canon DSLR comes with a zoom lens and is simple to use in Auto mode, but features a number of impressive -- and slightly scary -- manual features. If you decide to go this route, invest in a good "For Dummies" book on DSLR photography.

 

Nikon D90 - $900 - Another impressive DSLR, this Nikon can grab amazing stills and video for a little less than $1,000. Like the Rebel, you can take multiple snaps per second, allowing you to keep shooting while junior does his thing in the high chair. 

In short, you need a good camera. What you choose is up to you. Try a few models at the store (before baby is born) and then have the camera fully charged and ready to go at all times. There's no telling when something cute may happen and you, as a plugged-in parent, have to be ready.

 

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