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Baumgarten: So you want to buy a camera?

Spring is here finally. It just seemed like this weekend that winter finally decided to give way to its sibling, and that means I can finally get out and do what I love most — photography.

0 Talk about it

I’m probably not the only one that will do this. Every year, I see more people out with cameras, whether they use DSLRs or point-and-shoots. Though it pains me to admit it, I’ve even whipped out the iPhone for some creative shots. I can say that I’ve never used an iPad for taking photos, because we all know everyone buys those for their amazing photo quality.

Every once in a while someone comes up to me for hints on being a better photographer or what to buy for a camera. I’m not going to say that I’m an expert, but I can give some advice. After all, spring is the perfect time to capture some memories, and what better time to help some potential photographers out?

What do I want to shoot?

Before you buy a camera, you have to ask yourself: What am I going to use it for and how often?

If you want something simple, and something that can take a beating without freaking out that you dropped it, I would suggest a point-and-shoot. This is the type of camera that you use for trips, parties and goofing around. They are compact, so you can slip them into your pocket or purse without worry. They will only be able to zoom in so far and the quality isn’t made for those award-winning shots, but they are good enough for memories. You can find one in the neighborhood of $75 to $400.

If you are intending to make photography a hobby, then you may want to look at a DSLR. They have the basic functions of a point-and-shoot, but they also have more setting to give you a better photo — ISO, shutter speed, etc. Depending where you go — and make sure you shop around for the best deals — a good DSLR will set you back $400-$3,000. That’s why I caution anyone thinking about buying a camera to think about what they intend to do with it. You may look like a professional when you snap a group of friends with that Nikon D5300, but your checkbook will know the truth.

Shop around

The next step is looking for the camera. Like with any investment, shop around for the best deals. Best Buy or Walmart may have the best price, or that shop on the corner may be able to help you. Take your time.

Also, get a feel for the camera. Pick it up and pretend you are taking photos. That way, you know if you will be comfortable with it. See what the options are. If you can, ask a friend if you can try out theirs if they have the model you are looking at.

Nikon vs. Canon

You will also probably ask what is better: a Nikon or Canon. There have been massive battles over which is better.

Honestly, neither camera shoots a better photo. The main objection is in the features and preferences. I went through college using a Canon Rebel for Jamestown College’s newspaper, and that’s what I bought. Then I got to The Press, where I used Nikons. Even now, I switch back and forth depending on what is available, but I like to stick with Nikon.

You just have to try them out and find which options you like. My only advice is that if you go with one brand, stick with it. The value of cameras drop dramatically over the years, and buying a different brand of camera will not only be hard on your preference; it will be hard on your wallet.

The musts

The camera is only half the battle. The only way it will work is if you have three things: a battery, memory card and lens.

I recommend finding a camera that doesn’t take alkaline batteries, if you can help it. They are a pain to replace and you can’t recharge them, unless you get the rechargeable ones — and even those don’t last. Find the camera with a battery pack you can plug into a wall. You piggy bank will thank you.

The second must is a memory card. Cameras come with a SD card, but it can usually only hold a dozen photos. Spend the extra money on a card with at least 4 GB so you can take as many pictures as you want.

Finally, think about the lens. There are so many options in this category. Use the same philosophy you used in choosing your camera and decide what you will use it for. Do you want a fast shutter speed to shoot sports or do you want to take wide-angle photos of the sky? Most cameras come with a basic 20-50 mm lens or something similar.

No magic camera

Just remember that, no matter how many lenses you buy or how expensive your camera is, no camera is going to instantly make you a professional photographer. It took me 10-plus years to get where I am at today. You can’t expect to take your new toy out and get photo of the year.

That’s where using the camera comes into play. You have to read the manual and learn the functions. Get out into the world and take photos. It’s going to take a lot of experimenting and practice to get those “perfect shots.” Many of them will come by chance.

But don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s a hobby, so it takes time. Just get out and take photos. Most importantly, have fun with it. That’s why you picked up a camera in the first place, right?

Baumgarten is the assistant editor of The Dickinson Press. Email her at and read her blog at Her column regularily appears Saturday in The Dickinson Press Opinion page.

April Baumgarten
April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, as the news editor. She works with a team of talented journalists and editors, who strive to give the Grand Forks area the quality news readers deserve to know. Baumgarten grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family continues to raise registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college,  she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as the Dickinson city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.