Can too many choices lead to buying the wrong digital camera? Here are a few tips to help you choose


posted Thursday, August 2, 2012 at 3:31 PM EST

Too-many-choices-logoA few days ago, I was standing in front of 50 different camera models on display at my local big box shop. My current digital cameras are ancient -- over two years old -- and recently I got the itch to replace them. But looking at all these cameras something odd happened: I froze up.

I stared at them and felt disoriented. I knew a lot about these cameras, I had even written about a few of them. However, just thinking about choosing between them threw me off balance.

Later, I discovered that I am not alone in this experience.
Here at Imaging Resource, cameras are tested, poked and prodded, all in the name of helping readers find the right equipment. I read most of the camera reports and some days sit at my laptop squinting at the IR Comparometer and its 100% comparison images until my eyes start to bleed.
Twenty years ago when you wanted to buy a film camera, there were just a few SLRs to choose from; the top of the line Nikon F model for instance and whichever smaller Nikon FM was current.

Now there are nearly a dozen Nikon digital SLR bodies and B&H PhotoVideo lists dozens of Nikon point-and-shoots, which is downright miserly compared to Panasonic’s over 50 models. Furthermore, there are over 100 different DSLRs (and mirrorless cameras) on the market overall along with several hundred point-and-shoot cameras.

Facing only 50 models at my local big box shop, I went into brain freeze. Having so many choices made feel as though I stepped into The Simpsons’ "Monstromart," the place where "shopping is a baffling ordeal."
The French expression for this is, "Trop de choix tue le choix" or "Too many choices, kills the choice."
The paradox of choice
Marketing research supports this idea. Through repeated studies, behavioral scientists have found that when shoppers have too many choices, they buy less and when they have fewer choices they buy more.
In a classic experiment, shoppers offered 24 different jams bought jam only 3% of the time after sampling them. When the samples were reduced to just six jams, shoppers bought jams 30% of the time.

Repeating these experiments with other products from chocolate to hairspray, the results were the same. The researchers’ conclusion was that “too many choices are demotivating.”

“Autonomy and Freedom of choice are critical to our well being, and choice is critical to freedom and autonomy. Nonetheless, though modern Americans have more choice than any group of people ever has before, and thus, presumably, more freedom and autonomy, we don't seem to be benefiting from it psychologically,” the psychologist Barry Schwartz writes in The Paradox of Choice, 2004.
This echoes what researcher Professor Renata Saleci says in her book “The Tyranny of Choice” and in her video on YouTube. (View it below.)

“With an abundance of choices, expectations have been inflated to the point that people begin to think that there’s a 'perfect' choice. But they then refuse to make a choice fearing that the item won’t be perfect," she writes.

In a way she is speaking of photographers who are looking for the perfect camera and yet when new gear is introduced, quickly get online to say, “Why did they have to put that button so close to that switch?” or “The real deal breaker, is the independent lens cap. There's no built-in lens protections, so you've got to mess with the darn lens cap every time you want to use the camera.”

The researchers also discovered that when faced with an abundance of products, people look to others for guidance if not an actual choice. That’s part of Imaging Resource’s raison d’être: to provide readers with objective information about cameras, lenses and printers.

However, the challenge for most people is the cacophony of cameras. At my big box store, there was a Panasonic Lumix GF-3 ($365) alongside the new Lumix GF-5 ($599). In the display case the two cameras looked identical and looking at the simple point-and-shoot cameras that varied a little in size and a lot in color, I wondered how any consumer could make a sensible choice between them.

Tips to narrow down the options
I think that there are some simple tips that can get you through the labyrinth of cameras.

1.   What’s your budget? Decide exactly what you can afford to spend.

2.   How will you use the camera, in general? If you want a camera for grab shots of the grandkids, you hardly need a $4,000 DSLR.

3.   What will you do with the photos? If photo sharing is your thing, almost any modern digital will do a great job. But if you want to print 16x20 prints for display and sale, it is a whole other ballgame.

4.   What do you not need? Decide what features you need and what you can easily live without. There is no reason to pay extra for a camera that shoots HD video at 60 fps if you never make videos.

5.   No matter what camera or cameras you settle on, go to a camera store or a big box shop, and hold the camera in your hands. Play with it, see how it feels and how it works, I say this because digital cameras are getting tinier. This may make them great for tossing into a pocket, but if you have large hands it could make them nearly unusable.

Finally, remember what I realized, despite their individual differences, today’s digital cameras are all great choices. Most are made solidly and all take very good to excellent pictures.

However, best of all, none of them are perfect. They are like all things of value, quite shy of perfection.