The idiot’s approach to choosing a new camera

This is intended to be part public service announcement, part cautionary tale. It can be viewed as a plea not to try this at home or, if you must, at least adopt a different approach.

I finally bought a new camera; it’s only taken 15 months. And there’s the first obvious flaw in the process: many of the cameras which were around 15 months back have already been consigned to the dustbin of history. The clue is in the title of the post.

By the way, this isn’t a camera review; I’ve barely got the thing out of the box and there are plenty of tested to destruction accounts by expert scrutinisers to be found elsewhere. There are people out there who actually know what all of the knobs (and symbols) on a modern camera do (and mean). They’re the ones to consult. I’m just here trying to save you from yourselves.

I had, still have, two functioning cameras – a Sony DSLR and an ageing Panasonic Lumix compact. The DSLR is heavy, bulky and invariably has the wrong lens attached when the time comes for a wildlife shot; it’s fine for a day on a preserved railway, or a couple of hours parked in a hide with sandwiches and flask, but on the move it quickly becomes cumbersome and irritating.

The old Panasonic compact has been a faithful and indestructible companion. It has a bombproof quality reminiscent of (for those old enough to remember) Volkswagen’s Mark 2 Golf, fits easily into the thigh pocket of walking trousers, or those on the hipbelt of the Golite Peak rucksack. Always available, hardly noticed, no lens switching needed. The only real downsides have been the camera’s relatively short zoom range and the absence of a viewfinder; the latter being something I’ve never quite got used to.

All of this information was available to me 15 months back; in other words I had everything I needed to make a reasonably informed choice – not too heavy, not too bulky, a decent zoom and a viewfinder. Should have been a piece of cake; all I needed was to find a few cameras meeting all of those requirements, make a shortlist, then a choice. This is where the process begins to disintegrate.

Firstly, there was no single camera meeting all of my preferences; apparently I’m not a sufficiently important customer for electronics giants to produce a bespoke product tailored to my whims. There are compacts with long zooms but no viewfinder; compacts with viewfinders but only short zooms; none with both, unless I’ve missed one. I needed to compromise on something, so I reluctantly started to look at the rather larger ‘bridge’ cameras, thereby rendering all of the foregoing research pretty much redundant.

I quickly compiled a shortlist of 14, mortified myself with the size of the task at hand and drifted into a period of inaction and apathy. Eventually, energised again, I picked up the threads of the search and found that some of the manufacturers had helped me out by discontinuing several of the cameras on the list, thereby reducing it to 9. This was a bonus and I rewarded myself with some more of that inaction and apathy stuff.

From there it gets a little easier: some of the bridge cameras with viewfinders are pretty bulky and heavy themselves, so they were eliminated. Others were simply beyond the outer limits of my price range and were also discarded. I know; if they were too expensive, why were they on the list in the first place? The clue is in the title of the post.

I did eventually make a choice – it’s a Nikon P510. The manual is formidable; I’ll report back – hopefully with pictures!