How To Measure How Good Your Camera Really Is

The internet is awash with camera reviews, either objectively trying to help us find the camera that might best suit us, or more subjectively trying to sell us the latest camera from a certain manufacturer, depending on the review’s source and motives.

Many articles are crammed with technical specifications, sample shots, graphs, charts and more to guide and influence our buying decisions.

Which means when choosing a camera we straddle a fine line between reviews that are informative and useful, and sheer information overload.

But over the last seven years, through trying hundreds of different cameras, I eventually found a much easier method to determine how well my camera fits my needs.


Quite simply, I ask, how often does this camera put a smile on my face?

Some cameras do this even just glancing at them, and certainly once I pick them up, before even switching them on.

This is a very positive sign.

Personal favourites I’ve settled on include the Ricoh GX100, Ricoh GRD III, Pentax Q and Panasonic Lumix LX3 compact cameras, and Pentax K100D and Pentax K-m DSLRs.

These special six all make me smile just looking at them, and smile even more once I start using them again.

By this measure, all of these cameras are some kind of wonderful in my opinion, regardless of their specification, age or cost.

How about you? How do you measure how good your camera is?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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11 thoughts on “How To Measure How Good Your Camera Really Is”

  1. I think camera technology hit “good” over 10 years ago. For anyone who isn’t a Pro, 10MP is more than enough resolution for viewing on a screen.

    My personal definition of a good camera is how easy it is for me to switch up my flow. Often, I’ll switch from a landscape to a portrait or from shade to light. This means things like exposure compensation and shutter/aperture/ISO adjustments have to be made quickly and without fuss. For me these days, it’s more about the software.

    My Olympus E-M10 Mk II is the gold standard for me. I can adjust more than 20 settings using only the OK button and the two control dials under my thumb and index fingers. The neat trick is that I can do it either with the screen or the EVF.

    Discovering that definitely put a smile on my face!

    1. Rob, I agree about the 10MP. In fact I can’t tell the difference between pictures made with my 10MP Pentax K-m DSLR and the 6MP K100D, aside from the physical size (ie dimensions of the image in pixels) if I looked at the EXIF, but even the 6MP photos are plenty big enough for my needs.

      The ergonomics and user interface of cameras are so crucial to the overall experience I think. You can have the most beautiful lens and sensor, but if the camera is frustrating and awkward to use, it’s unlikely you’ll ever truly enjoy it!

      1. but even the 6MP photos are plenty big enough for my needs.

        Ken Rockwell wrote a pretty good post about this back in 2008. Specifically he referenced work by Joe Holmes shot on a Nikon D70 (6MP) that were being sold in 13″ x 19″ sized prints.

        A few months ago I bought my son a Nikon D40 as a cheap knockabout camera for when he doesn’t want to take out the Olympus I passed down to him. I bought the D40 with both kit lenses in perfect nick for $45.

        When I tested the D40, I had to “pixel peep” to tell the difference between it and my K-5 at anything below 800 ISO, so yeah – I’d say 6MP is plenty for a good photograph. As a bonus, the D40 is super compact and lightweight for a DSLR (almost too light!) so it makes for a pleasant experience.

      2. Do you have a link to the Ken Rockwell post?

        Back in August I bought a Pentax K100D, but in the weeks before I was looking at different options for an old 6MP CCD DSLR, after being a bit disappointed with the images from the Pentax K30 I’d bought (basically too sharp, and too good and the colours lacked something…)

        I considered one of the first Sony Alphas again (I had a couple before), and kept coming back to the Nikon D40, with the 35/1.8 lens that was designed for APSC crop sensor DSLRs.

        I came close to buying a couple of times, then in the end reverted back to Pentax, mainly because I know and trust them (I’ve had more Pentax cameras than all other brands combined) and I already had some lenses. I didn’t want to start another new system with a Nikon, even if I did only intend to buy one lens for it. Plus I ended up paying just £26 for the K100D and had lenses already, whereas a D40 would have cost around £50, plus a lens perhaps another £100. Ever the cheapskate, I saved my money!

        But I’m still curious about the D40 and wouldn’t mind picking one up one day. Maybe next year…

  2. Before I discovered your blog I probably would have said “The newest” or the one with the most pixels was “The best”. In fact I had about given up on digital when I started reading. It never occurred to me that the best camera for me could be the one that is the most fun to use, no matter the age. So, thanks for that. On my vacation this year I only brought a 10 year old, 10 mp camera and two lenses, one of them being a toy “body cap” lens, and had a ball. I think I only used the “real” lens for about 6 pictures, and I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun with any camera.

    1. Jon, this is so good to hear, I’m delighted I’ve given you some encouragement about older more humble cameras and how much fun they can be!

      As you might recall I have a similar body cap lens (called a Shield Mount Lens in this case) for my Pentax Q which makes it the ultimate fun point and shoot. Fixed focus, fixed aperture, just compose and shoot…

  3. Coincidentally, I just did not buy yet another camera this week. This is because I determined it probably wouldn’t add anything to my efforts, it cost a fair amount of money, and it wasn’t likely I’d use it. These are my tests. The cameras I have all contribute some specific quality to the repertoire, aren’t terribly expensive, and get used a lot.
    In fact the one that doesn’t get used, the Nikon W100, is currently for sale. I bought it at the same time as the Canon T100. The Nikon has 55 pictures to its credit, the Canon over 2000.
    Sometimes it’s hard to know in advance how much you’ll use something. Best to cut losses and move on.

  4. Dan, you can find Ken’s post here:

    Here’s a cool, albeit unscientific study that the New York Times did in 2007:

    The analog to this debate is that television makers convinced so many people to shell out the extra hundreds of dollars for a 1080p TV when there was no perceptive difference when viewing a 720p TV of the same size at the average TV viewing distance.

    The only real advance, IMO of camera sensors is their low light capabilities. That was a big reason I chose the Pentax K-5. Its DxO Mark scores knocked the competing Nikon and Canon cameras out of the park. That, and I already had a nice collection of Pentax lenses to use on it.

    Why people turn their noses up at Pentax amazes me.

    1. Very interesting articles Rob, and exactly what I’ve found from my own experience.

      I think what first influenced choosing an older camera for me was that pictures with a newer camera were looking too clinical and sharp, too perfect, especially compared with film.

      So I started reading about older cameras that looked more like film, discovered ones like the K10D and Samsung GX-1S (Pentax *ist DS2 clone) with their lovely CCD sensors.

      Then I naturally followed the CCD trail to try all sorts of other, older, cheaper cameras too.

      I like Pentax because they are not one of the traditional big two, Canon and Nikon! I always like to steer clear of the mainstream!

      (Though I saw a headline the other day that said Sony have now overtaken Nikon in sales, no shock at all…)

  5. Though I saw a headline the other day that said Sony have now overtaken Nikon in sales, no shock at all…

    Every once in a great while, the industry is ripe for a disruption. This has happened numerous times:

    Nikon’s F knocks the German camera makers back on their heels.
    Canon’s AE-1 brings high quality automated photography to the masses.
    Minolta’s Maxxum/Dynax 7000 is the first camera with in-body autofocus and film advance. Canon follows in 1989 with the EOS 650. First real threats to Nikon’s dominant position.
    Canon’s EOS 1 Establishes Canon’s takeover as the dominant camera maker.
    Panasonic and Olympus release the first mirrorless cameras, Pentax/Ricoh, Fuji and Sony follow soon after

    In every case, by being behind, the disruptors were free to innovate. Nikon was a victim of its own success. If they were too daring, they risked alienating their established customer base. This allowed them to get blindsided by Minolta and Canon.

    Sony have benefited greatly from their Minolta DNA, but have also been tremendous innovators in Sensor technology. My K-5 has a Sony sensor, as do quite a few Nikons.

    All this to say that camera technology has mostly been evolutionary with a few revolutionary periods. The camera makers really aren’t going to try to dispel the megapixel myth because it benefits their bottom line.

    Those of us that know better will get along happily with our cheap used gear, making beautiful pictures along the way.

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