Any time a friend or family member considers buying a camera, they always seem to ask my opinion on the matter. This time of year, those numbers seem to escalate dramatically.

I am honored that someone values my opinion on the matter. I think because I have been taking pictures for 13-plus years, they think I know the most about cameras. I want to make sure you know I am not an expert on all cameras. But, I have shot with my fair share of cameras.

I started shooting with a Pentax ME Super and later got a Pentax K1000. I shot mostly black and white film. I later moved to a Canon EOS ELAN II – I have been with Canon ever since. Not because I prefer Canon to Nikon, it’s simply that I started investing in lenses and flashes for Canon, and it was cheaper for me to stay within the brand.

I later bought a Canon 10D after college and then have mainly used the cameras available to me at the newspapers I have worked for. At work, I shoot with a Canon 40D and a 1D, and for my personal work, I have a 5D Mark II.

So when someone asks me what I think of a Casio Exilm point-and-shoot camera, I really have no idea what to tell them.

“It has 12 Megapixels, that’s good, right?” they ask me.

I feel picture quality from a point-and-shoot is substantially different than that of an SLR camera. My Canon 10D was a 6.3 MP camera and I had no problem enlarging my prints to 20”X30”, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing the same with a Casio Exilm that has 12 MP. This is mainly due to the lenses on those cameras.

I am usually asked if I think they should buy a small, simple point-and-shoot, a middle-range camera that has a bigger lens, and has some customizable features like control over f-stops and shutter speed, or if they should buy an SLR camera.

I personally don’t like the middle-range cameras, with the exception of the Canon G12, or the Nikon Coolpix P7000. The middle-range cameras seem to be over complicated and menus upon menus to get to customize the way you want to take a shot.

If you don’t know what SLR stands for, have no interest in learning about ISO, f-stops and shutter speeds, and how they all relate to each other I would suggest getting a point-and-shoot. In my experience, people get frustrated with the complexity of the camera and don’t use it or shoot on auto mode.

If you would like to learn about photography, are thinking about taking some decent photographs, and really finding out what the art of photography is all about, I would suggest getting a fairly inexpensive SLR camera.

You don’t need to jump right out of the box and buy a $2,000 camera. Buy a camera and see if you really like it.

If it turns out you do like photography, I strongly suggest looking into some expensive decent lenses.

I always tell people, “If you have the greatest eyes in the world, but are only wearing sunglasses that you got at Target, you aren’t going to see things as clearly as you want.”

You can get a 10D now for under $200, but if you put on a 16-35mm f/2.8 lens ($1,200), you are going to get some fairly decent pictures opposed to the one you might get with the 18-35mm f/3.5-5.6 lens ($100) that comes with most cameras.

As far as which point-and-shoot to get, I would suggest going to Best Buy and seeing which one feels best in your hands, and which one you think looks the best. They all pretty much do the same thing – they just have different looks, buttons and knobs.

Point-and-shoot shooting tip: If you are anticipating a shot that is about to happen, press and hold the shutter button down half way. This locks in the exposure, flash charge and focusing. When the moment happens, simply press the shutter button down the rest of the way. A lot of complaints about point-and-shoot cameras are geared around how long it takes to take a photo from the time you press the button to the time the photo is actually taken. That lag time is created because the camera is trying to focus, figure out the exposure and charge the flash all at the same time. Load that info with pressing the button down half way and wait for the moment – you’ll have a better chance of capturing it.

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