Monday, 23 February 2009

Camera Equipment Buying Tips

X Marks the Spot, originally uploaded by Me (?).

I am in the market for a new camera lens because I am getting rather annoyed with my Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM. At the wide end it gets huuuuuuge barrel distortion and quite bad chromatic aberration. So I have decided it is time to change. After much consideration and dilemma I have decided on investing in a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM instead. I have one other "L" series lens and I swear that it is hard to take a bad picture with that lens so it is time to upgrade. I have done all the donkey work so I thought I would summarise my usual Internet haunts for camera based research.

For the newby photographer out there; these are the five key sites you need to know about when looking for new equipment:

1) Flickr
There are 3 aspects to Flickr that make it a great resource:
(i) The discussion forum search. A great place to get real world opinions on equipment.
(ii) Lens tagging. Perfect for finding examples of shots taken with your particular lens. See the Canon DSLR User Group and Nikkor Flickr groups for details.
(iii) Camera finder. Not sure which camera body to go for? Check out the rankings and example shots.
2) Digital Photography Review
Without a doubt *the* best place to go for in depth reviews of camera bodies. They have been a bit slow at doing lens reviews (2 or 3 lenses a month across all brands) but there are an awful lot of lenses out there and they have limited time!

3) Fred Miranda
This is the best place to go for a 'crowdsourced' view of the best lenses out there. It is all based on the scoring from real users and therefore opinions can be quite polar. My advice is to look at the aggregate score and take the individual comments with a pinch of salt.

4) SLR Gear
This is a new find for me as I only found out about it this week. In a similar way to these guys are doing lab tests of all SLR lenses out there. In addition they also have a user forum for end users to score (similar to Fred Miranda). The lab reviews are not as in depth as but they do currently have better coverage. If you want to compare lab results graphs between lenses this is currently the best place to go.

5) Camera Price Buster
This is also a new find for me this week and it now my new favourite. The site aggregates prices from a number of online dealers and displays the best prices for each piece of equipment. Price aggregators are not new but I like this site's specific UK camera buyer's focus. Another great feature is the price tracker graphs. They act like stock price trackers to show the price history and trending. If you are not in a rush to buy then keeping an eye on the graphs is a great way to keep on top of the best prices. I would really like to see some sort of price alert capability where you can get an email alert if a particular product drops below a price threshold. The site *does* offer a 'price drop' RSS feed which you can subscribe to which does go some way towards this. Note it is a UK only site.

So there you go, five places to go in order to make sure you always make the best camera purchases.

One final note of caution. Due to the financial meltdown and the crappy £ verses the Yen, lens prices have all gone up recently and show little sign of dropping in the near term...

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