Profiling your photo needs is a task that should be taken seriously. It would be wonderful if you could do this before you bought your first camera, but most people can't. You will probably buy one or two cameras before you begin to understand fully what your photo profile is. There are five aspects of your personality and photography tastes that should be considered when creating a description of your needs. Until you can answer all five of the questions comfortably, you will not know for sure what you want from a camera or photography system.
When will you be taking pictures? Are you going to be exposing film in low-light conditions, such as early morning or late evening? Wildlife and nature photographers often work with these dark conditions. Will you be using your camera during special events, such as school plays, ball games, or similar situations? If you will, you must assess needs that are specific to your uses. For example, a built-in flash on a point-and-shoot camera may not be powerful enough to illuminate your subject at a distance. Are you dedicated enough to be out in rain or snow with your camera? If so, you must look for equipment that is made to withstand the rigors of inclement weather.
When you use your camera has bearing on the type of camera you should buy. If you are a grab-and-go photographer who responds to photo opportunities on short notice, you need a system that is lightweight and easy to use. This could be the case for parents who wish to record magic moments with their children at the most unexpected times. On the other hand, if you will be staging your shots in a studio, you can opt for more extensive equipment.
Where will you do most of your photography? The simple answers are either inside or outdoors. But, this is not enough of a breakdown. Let's start with indoor photography. Is your home the primary location for your photography sessions? If so, you will be dealing with incandescent lighting that will require the use of electronic flash or a filter to retain true colors on color film. If the camera you buy can't accept filters, this may prove to be a problem for you. Most simple cameras don't allow the use of filters, but they overcome this obstacle by making a built-in flash available.
Indoor photography in large buildings can be too demanding for small flash equipment and short focal-length lenses. While a pocket-size, point-and-shoot camera can do fine on a museum tour, it will not produce satisfactory results at a sports arena. The key to success with short lenses and small flashes is in getting close to your subject.
Many people like to photograph flowers and other set-ups in make-shift studios. If your interests run along this line, consider buying a component system that will allow you full flexibility. A fixed, on-camera flash is seldom a good choice for any type of studio photography.
Outdoor photography can be very demanding on both the photographer and the camera. There are many situations when using your camera outside will result in disappointing images. How many times have you seen people taking pictures at the beach? Would you believe that most of the pictures taken will have poor and irregular exposures? They will. The bright background fools an in-camera light meter and causes subjects to be darker than they should be. Light reflecting off of sand or snow will fool the best in-camera meter, unless a spot-metering system is employed.
A photographer who is standing in sun and photographing a subject in shade will get poor exposures. People feel that electronic flash is rarely needed when taking pictures with good sunlight available. Not so. Natural light often creates shadows on a subject. If the subject happens to be a person, this can result in one side of the person's face being too dark. Fill flash should be used light a subject evenly when shadows are present. A full flash will be overpowering and create a harsh effect. If you expect to do much work outdoors, you should consider getting a flash system where you can adjust the power of the flash.
Why are you taking pictures? Most people take pictures to memorialize trips and family members. If you want to go to a zoo and come back with a selection of pictures that will remind you of the animals you saw, almost any camera will get the job done. But, if you have aspirations of seeing your zoo shots on the cover of a magazine some day, you will have to invest in some serious component equipment. Getting a close-up shot of Uncle Fred and the big trout he just caught is easy. Framing the eye of a grizzly bear in your viewfinder is not so simple.
When you ask yourself why you want to take pictures, you open the door to more questions. Is your goal to have a camera around the house for when the kids do something cute, or are you looking for a hobby interest that you can grow with? A point-and-shoot rig is all you need for fast family photos. If you want to build a serious hobby around your passion for photography, a component system is in your future.
Who will you take pictures of? Are your subjects going to be fast-moving children or relaxed adults? Will you be taking group photos at family reunions and similar meetings? Are you going to pin on your press pass and go in search of celebrity photos? Define who your subjects will be before you commit heavily to any type of camera system.
What will you take pictures of? People are a frequent subject for photographers. Any decent camera can handle the requirements of people photography. Landscapes are a popular subject with outdoor photographers. If you are into this type of work, you will need a component system with a variety of lenses. Maybe your idea of fun is crawling around in the woods in search of rare insects to photograph. If this is the case, you will want a component system that can handle macro lenses and bellows.
The subject matter that you will seek with your camera often dictates your needs. It's not reasonable to think that you can take quality pictures of wildlife with a pocket-size camera and lens. Neither is it rational to consider using a large-format camera to record the movements of butterflies. While a view camera works well in photographing the Grand Canyon, it's a bit clumsy to set up for home photos.
It is difficult to find one camera that works well for all needs. However, few people experience a desire to do all aspects of photography. Once you define what you want to achieve with your camera, deciding on the right camera to buy will be much easier.