Buying a Digital Camera

So many choices when buying a digital camera. So many options. So many prices. How do I know which camera is best for me. This guide will explain the differences between various digital camera features and help you to know what's best for you when buying a digital camera. You want a digital camera that lets you easily take and use pictures. Would you be better off with a camera loaded with bells and whistles or a simpler point and shoot type of camera. Digital camers in hand

There are some questions you should ask yourself before buying a digital camera. First of all, what's important to you? Megapixels? Camera Brand? Optical Zoom? What's your price range? What kind of photography will you be doing? Portraits? Close-ups? Landscapes? Fast action sports? Just general family photography?

Start with the End - How Will You Use the Photographs?

The best way to begin shopping for buying a digital camera is to begin with the end. What do you want to do with your photos after you've taken them? Are you going to store them on CD-ROMS or DVDs? Do you plan on printing them to photographic paper? If so, what size print is important to you. Can you get by with 4" x 6" or do you want to print 11" x 14" prints or larger. Figure this out and everything else will fall into place.

Buying a Digital Camera
Point and Shoot Cameras or Single Lens Reflex?

What type of photographer are you? Are you always well prepared, camera bag on shoulder, tripod at the ready, in position to get that great shot? Or, do you always have a camera nearby to quickly pull it out and get that candid shot at home or work. Digital cameras generally fall into one of three categories.

Point and shoot digital camera

Point-and-Shoot Cameras

Point-shoot-cameras are small, compact, highly simplified and automatic and are usually in the $200 - $400 price range. They're designed to travel and to be easily accessible when you need to grab the camera and quickly snap a shot or two or you don't want to lug around a camera bag with lots of accessories.


Advanced Digital CamerasAdvanced Digital Camera

The advanced digital cameras are typically more expensivethan the point-and-shootvariety, come with a few more features, and are usually have a larger camera body. They look more like the traditional 35 mm single lens reflex (SLR) camera, but they usually come with a single zoom lens that can't be removed or adjusted. These cameras will offer you more control over setting like manual focus adjustment, exposure, and ISO settings.


Digital Single Lens Reflex (SLR) CamerasCannon SLR Digital Camera

Digital SLR cameras will be very familiar to those of you who have experience shooting 35 mm film through SLR cameras with adjustable lenses. They're bigger, heavier, and will be in the $700 to $2,000 range for a top of the line digital camera body. The lenses are usually extra. If you've got an older 35 mm film camera with interchangeable lenses, you might find this an attractive choice as they will usually accept the lenses from the same brand film camera.

This was my choice as I was moving from a Nikon 80s 35 mm film camera for which I had several lenses. It was an easy choice to move to the Nikon D100 digital body that allowed me to keep and use my SLR lenses.

Megapixels - How Large do you want to print your pictures?

Or do you just want to view them on your monitor?

Another consideration when buying a digital camera is how many megapixels do I need. A megapixel (MP) equals one million pixels or picture elements and is usually the first number you see in descriptions of digital cameras. You can choose from 1 or 2 megapixel cameras all the way up to 8-12 megapixels. Megapixels are the little light sensitive photo sensors or colored dots that a digital camera uses to record a picture. They are important because they indicate how much resolution, or detail, a camera can capture. My original Casio QV10 was lucky if it had 250,000 megapixels. You can buy high resolution digital cameras today that have 8 to 12 MP.

Why are megapixels important? More megapixels mean better image quality with sharper detail, plus the ability to print larger enlargements. A 6-megapixel camera, for example, has better resolution than a 4-megapixel one. How many megapixels you need depends on how you want to view and display your photos.

More megapixels are also important if you want to crop your images. Crop means to keep only that part of you picture that you want to print. Cropping reduces the resolution of the picture you begin with. It affects how big you can print while still keeping image quality.

For truly photo-quality prints, here are approximate equivalents between image resolution and print size. Think about the typical photo enlargements you want and that will help determine your needs for a high resolution camera.

2 megapixels
Print 4" x 6"
3 megapixels
Print 6" x 8"
4 megapixels
Print 8" x 10"
5 megapixels
Print 11" x 14"
4x6 Photo 4x6 Photo 4x6 Photo

4x6 Photo


6 megapixels
Print 16" x 20"

8 megapixels
Print 20" x 30"

4x6 Photo 4x6 Photo

Display Photos on Paper or Your Computer Screen?

If you plan only to view and share your digital photos on a computer screen, then megapixels isn't that important. A 2-megapixel camera produces a 1600 x 1200 pixel image, which is larger enough to more than fill most computer monitors. If that's all you want to do, you can get by with a $100 camera.

Buying a Digital Camera - Lenses
Optical Zoom - How close do you want to get to your subject?

Optical zoom lensMost of today's digital cameras feature both an optical zoom and a digital zoom. You'll see cameras advertised with a 3X/20X Zoom lens. The first number usually refers to the optical zoom and the one after the dash is the cameras digital zoom capability. The first number is the important one.

Most professionals will tell you to forget about the digital zoom because all it does is degrade the quality of your photo.

The most important of the two is the optical zoom by far. Optical zoom brings your subject closer by moving the glass lens to adjust the field of view, also called the focal length. It increases the magnification, but it doesn't degrade the image quality. The number tells you how many times the lens can magnify the distant image.

Digital zoom only enlarges the size of each pixel in the center portion of the image. This creates a telephoto effect, but reduces the quality of the photo. It looks like it's enlargement our photo, but it's really just degrading the image quality. In general, I recommend not even using the digital zoom.

Buying a Digital Camera
Memory Cards - Which Card is Right for You?

Another consideration when buying digital cameras is the type of memory card they use to store images and what size card you need. Memory cards typically fall into five categories.

Facts to note:

Resolution: The higher the resolution, the bigger the file will be
Compression: Your camera might give you the option of choosing a compression format (such as JPEG or TIFF) or taking uncompressed photos. Uncompressed files are the largest, and compression formats vary in size.


CompactFlashCompact Flash - CompactFlash cards are the larger of the five types, but also the most rugged and durable, and probably have the most universal use in computer technology. For example, they are also used in digital audio recorders to store sound files. They are available in capacities up to 8 GB. Because of their size, they are usually found in the larger cameras.

Secure Digital Memory CardSecure Digital (SD) - Secure Digital cards are also found in Palm PDA's and MP3 players, SD cards are very small and are available with storage capacities of up to 2 GB.



sony memory stickSony Memory Stick - The Sony Memory Stick provides storage media used in many Sony devices including digital cameras, video camcorders, and laptop computers. This type of storage is fine if you're using lots of Sony equipment, but you won't find much use for them with other brands.

Sony memory stick proMemory Stick Pro - Sony's Memory Stick pro is the newer version of the Memory Stick that holds more memory in the same sized card. Pro sticks are available in capacities up to 4 GB, but these may not work in older cameras that use the older version.

xD Picture Card Olympus and Fuji CamerasxD-Picture Card found on newer Olympus and Fuji cameras. The xD-Picture Card is probably the smallest of all digital camera memory storage, they are relatively expensive compared to the ones above and are proprietary to Olympus and Fugi cameras. Another downside is that they don't fit into most memory card slots on printers or card readers.


How many photos will your memory card hold?

The number of photos your memory card holds depends on the resolution of your camera and the size of the photos you are taking. Many cameras let you determine what size photo to shoot. The table below provides approximate numbers of images that memory cards will hold. The more memory, the higher the price of the card. To determine your needs, think about how many photos you want to shoot before you off load them to a CD-ROM or your computer hard drive.

Camera Resolution 2 MP 3 MP 4 MP 5 MP

6 MP

Photo dimensions 1600 x 1200 2048 x 1536 2272 x 1704 2592 x 1944 2848 x 2136
Individual file size 0.9 MB 1.2 MB 2 MB 2.5 MB 3.2 MB
Card Capacity - How Many Pictures will fit on a memory card?
128 MB 142 102 61 49 38
256 MB 284 203 122 98 76
512 MB 568 406 244 195 152
1 GB 1136 813 488 390 305
2 GB 2272 1625 975 780 610
4 GB 4544 3251 1950 1560 1219

Buying a Digital Camera
Camera Batteries - Where will You be Using Your Camera?

Another consideration when buying a digital camers is what kind battery do I need. Digital cameras with LCD screens can eat batteries! Having your batteries go dead will be the only limiting factor in your digital photography. When the battery dies, you photo shoot is over. Here's a list of the typical options you'll find for camera batteries.

Built-in Rechargeable Battery - Some digital cameras are so small they can't accept AA batteries. Instead they come with a proprietary built-in battery packs that sometimes must be charged in the camera. These are fine for short photo shoots around home or during the holidays, but when you're traveling or away from home on vacation, you can't just run down to the drug store and pick up a couple of AA batteries.

Rechargeable batteries

AA batteries - AA batteries are the most convenient battery types, but don't use the disposable AA batteries. Digital cameras guzzle battery power. Over the life of your camera, you'll end up spending more on batteries than you did on the camera. Invest in a set of AA size rechargeable nickel-metal-hydride batteries (NiMH). They'll last much longer and they can be easily recharged with simple portable charger that can be purchased with the batteries.


Nikon Lithium Ion Battery PackRechargeable Lithium Ion Battery Pack - Many digital cameras come with a separate, external battery charger. This is a good feature to look for, because these cameras also come with a removable and rechargeable lithium battery pack. Extra batteries are usually available and you should purchase at least one, so you can always have one in your camera and the other in the charger. While it's still not as convenient as AA batteries, they make up for it and how long you can go between recharging.


Other Features to Look For When Buying a Digital Camera

Image Stabilization

Newer digital cameras are offering built-in image stabilization. Unless you're shooting with a tripod, which I highly recommend, you're hands are going to cause some level of shake or jiggle when you're trying to hold your camera still.

Image stabilization improves your photos' clarity by attempting to smooth out the little shakes caused by holding your camera in your hand. This is especially evident when you're zooming way in on a close up, or in low light situations when your camera lens is open for the longest period of time.

LCD Flip ScreensCamera with flip LCD screen

Some newer digital cameras offer LCD screens that can be flipped or swiveled around to you can view your picture without being directly behind you camera. This is a nice feature it you're trying to get some interesting camera angles by shooting from the floor or over your head. You can swivel the LCD screen so that even when sitting the camera on the floor or holding it over your head, you can still see how the shot is going to be framed in the camera.


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