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The Best Way to Capture Your Memories

Former Crutchfield staff writer Woody Sherman spent years working as an editor and manager in the video industry at the national level.

More from Woody Sherman

Have you ever wondered if you’re getting the best possible results from the scenario you’re shooting? It's not always easy to know what makes a camera (or camcorder) well-suited to a specific challenge.

Could you use a specialist?

With time, planning and luck, almost any digital camera can generate acceptable keepers. Even camera phones can deliver winners with time and patience. But prepare yourself to be throwing away a lot of missed, blurry moments along the way. Figuring out the most appropriate camera/lens for the situation at hand can make the difference between an ordinary snapshot and a picture — or a video — that you'll cherish for a lifetime.

The three-scenario challenge

To help shed some light on this process, some of Crutchfield's experienced photographers took three popular cameras — each representative of its class — and compared them in three common scenarios. To level the competition, we chose standard kits, fresh out of the box in full auto mode. After we'd tried them all in each situation, we evaluated which cameras delivered the best image results and shooting experience in each instance. To learn more about our experience with these cameras, check out our video.

Right job, right tool

Nikon%20Coolpix%20P500%20Panasonic%20DMC-G3K%20Canon%20EOS%20Rebel%20T3Left to right: Nikon Coolpix P500, Canon EOS Rebel T3, Panasonic DMC-G3K

We took the cameras shown above, representing high-zoom, SLR, and hybrid categories respectively, and tried them in three typical scenarios in full automatic mode. Which one matches your lifestyle?

high-zoom%20shotCrutchfield graphic desginer Erica snapped this far-off photo of a bird from a beachside resort.

Outdoor Vacations: We recommend high-zoom

Every vacation delivers the same challenge: outdoors, you need a camera that can reach out over distance while remaining portable. Both SLRs and hybrids can deliver the range, but they can't match the no-fuss nature of today's high-zoom cameras. High-zooms do a great job of managing visual space while remaining lightweight. Crutchfield designer Erica had no trouble capturing the shot to the left with the Nikon Coolpix P500.

Subdued Light Indoors: We recommend hybrids and DSLRs

You'll need a camera that makes the most of the light you have to get the best results here. Bigger sensors and lenses on the hybrids and DSLRs give them better low-light performance than you'll find on high-zooms. Hybrids are more portable, but DSLRs can have the quick-reaction edge. Here, our designer Josh set the Panasonic DMC-G3K hybrid to automatic and grabbed this intimate, no-flash shot in seconds.

low-light%20photo%20for%20SLR%20and%20hybridHybrid and SLR cameras perform very well in low-light conditions, even without a flash.
SLR%20and%20hybrid%20action%20shotAn SLR's fast response time makes it perfect for grabbing quick-action shots.

Outdoor Action: We recommend DSLRs and hybrids

Sporting events present two challenges: conquering distance between you and the subject, and freezing the action in still shots. DSLRs and hybrids have bigger lenses and fast-action continuous modes that really shine once you've become familiar with your camera. Erica froze her friend's Taekwondo exercise with the Canon EOS Rebel T3.

Later, I tried to take some action shots with these three cameras on a dark, cloudy day. I didn't have the same luck Erica did. Remember, we were using these cameras in full auto mode, and, not knowing what I was specifically shooting, all the cameras obliged my difficult low-light situation by slowing the shutter speed. Sadly, that led to a lot of well-exposed but motion-blurred pictures.

This was a case where full-auto simply wasn't the best choice. Picking a sports-specific shooting mode, or a shutter-priority mode would have led to much better results. If you think you'll be shooting a lot of fast action, do yourself a favor and get to know your camera's scene settings choices. Learn more with our article on improving your outdoor action shots.

Resolution and Sensor Size: Do I need more megapixels? Or a larger sensor?

Pixel counts and sensor sizes are just part of the complex formula of electronics and optics that determine your final image quality. If you're taking informal snapshots, almost everything on the market today, including most phones, have enough pixels to make a decent image. However, fewer pixels on a sensor can sometimes enhance overall picture quality by making the camera less susceptible to noise and other digital artifacts.

Bigger sensors can host bigger, wide-aperture lenses; they isolate focus on a subject in an artistic way. It's also true that they can have the ability to be more efficient in low-light. However, the way the manufacturer designs the entire camera to work as a sum of its parts — lens, sensor, body, processor, mechanics — is often more important than simple measurements of megapixels and sensor size.

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