Tips For Buying a Digital Camera
Tips For Buying a Digital Camera
By Pat Lyne
Family and friends can be pretty far flung these days, so how do you keep in touch? Snail mail and phoning are good options, but it's fun to be able to share pictures. With the advent of digital cameras, it's easy to post pictures on a blog or website, or send pictures via email.
Of course, film cameras will work, as you can scan and convert pictures to digital files, but the easiest way to send pictures quickly and cheaply is to use a digital camera.
How To Find What's Best For YOU When Buying A Digital Camera
There are all kinds of digital cameras available these days, so the trick is to find the one that suits your needs and budget. If you are buying your first digital camera, the lingo and technology are a bit different than for film cameras, so before shopping take time to learn a little and figure out what you'd like to buy.
First, what kind of photographer are you? Do you like total control over the picture taking process, or would you rather just aim the camera and push the shutter button? Then it's also helpful to decide what you want to do with your pictures. Do you just want to put them online or send them via email, or do you want to be able to print them, and if so, how large do you want your prints?
If photography isn't your passion, and you just want to have pictures to share, buying a simple point-and-shoot digital camera is probably best. It has automatic settings, so all you have to do is aim the camera, press the shutter and viola! Instant picture!
However, if you prefer more control over the picture taking process, try buying a mid-range digital camera. There is a wide range in both price and features. For the more serious hobby photographer, there are "prosumer" cameras midway between point-and-shoot cameras and digital SLR cameras. They offer better lens quality and usually more features than a point-and-shoot, though those little cameras can come pretty loaded these days!
Digital SLR cameras are top of the line and more expensive. These work more like traditional cameras, having a body with detachable lens. This gives you more options with being able to change lens, but it's also much more expensive. Just one lens can cost as much as a point-and-shoot digital camera! There's also usually a steeper learning curve to figure out how to use all the options on a digital SLR camera.
However, if you're buying your first digital camera, intermediate, "prosumer" and digital SLR cameras probably aren't the best choice. All the settings and features can be a little overwhelming for the beginner, and your expensive camera may end up collecting dust somewhere. Try a low to midrange camera first and get a feel for digital cameras and what features are most important to you. Then when you're ready to move up and buy a Digital SLR, you'll have a better idea of what to look for before you lay out your hard earned cash!
What To Look For When You're Ready To Buy A Digital Camera
You can buy digital cameras in all sorts of places these days, from fancy department stores to discount stores, photography/camera shops and many stores online. While you can sometimes find great deals on-line, if this is your first digital camera, go to shops and look at different cameras if at all possible. It helps to pick it up and get the feel of the camera in your hand to see if it's comfortable and the controls are easy to use, and you can check out what features it has and how they work.
But what exactly are you looking for?
A pixel makes your picture....
One of the first things to check out when buying a digital camera is the MEGAPIXELS. A pixel is a single dot in a graphics image. A megapixel is equivalent to one million pixels. A 1-megapixel camera would produce an image roughly 1200 pixels wide by 900 pixels high, a 3 megapixel would be 2048 x 1536 megapixels, and so on. Higher megapixels mean better resolution, but aren't the whole picture. The main thing to keep in mind is the more megapixels, the bigger image you can print.
Approximate Megapixels vs. Print Size
-2 Megapixels prints well up to 4x6 inches
-3 Megapixels prints well up to 5x7 inches
-4 Megapixels prints well up to 6x8 inches
-6 Megapixels prints well up to 7x10 inches
-8 Megapixels prints well up to 10x14 inches
-12 Megapixels prints well up to 16x24 inches
For email, websites and printing snapshots, a 3 to 5-megapixel camera is a good choice. If you want to make high quality 8x10 prints or larger, you need more megapixels. Higher megapixels also allow you to crop down to a smaller portion of the picture while still retaining sharpness in prints.
One other thing to keep in mind when considering megapixels and resolution, be sure you are getting optical resolution. This is the actual number of megapixels the camera records. Some cameras offer interpolated resolution to get bigger pictures from the same number of megapixels by using software algorithms to determine what color pixels to add, so the picture becomes bigger at the expense of clarity.
Opt for optical...
Digital cameras have two kinds of zoom, optical and digital. In this case, focus on the optical zoom. It's the one that actually uses the lens' optics to bring the subject closer. The higher the number, the further away you can "pull in" your subject. The digital zoom merely takes the original information and makes it bigger, and once again, clarity is sacrificed. Most serious photographers turn off digital zoom. Stick to optical!
For Your Viewing Pleasure...
Digital cameras commonly use an LCD screen instead of a viewfinder to focus on your subject, though some come equipped with both. Check the size of the screen when buying a digital camera to be sure you can comfortably see your subject. It's also really handy to have a flip screen that allows you to hold your camera low or high, and still be able to see what's on the screen.
Many digital cameras offer settings for such things as burst shooting mode, which is handy if you want to take pictures of moving subjects. The camera shoots a series of pictures without pause, then writes the files to memory. Other features allow for manually changing settings, special effects, short digital movie files, using an external flash, and much more. Look over several different cameras, decide what features you just have to have, and which are on the "nice to have but not vital" list. No one camera will do everything well.
Get the Picture...
You've got to get the pictures out of the camera to share them. Usually the files are downloaded to your computer through a USB port, so make sure your computer has one. Also, keep in mind when choosing a camera, the more megapixels, the bigger the files. You've got to store those files somewhere, so how much memory is available on your computer? Does it have a CD burner?
However, you can still buy a digital camera even if you don't have a computer. Many photo labs, even in places like Walmart or Kmart, have machines with the capability of making prints and/or photo CD's from memory cards, and will make a disk of the files, sort of like digital negatives. There's also the option of buying a photo printer with a docking station for your camera. Just plug the camera into the docking station, and bypass the need for a computer to print.
Cash After Camera
When buying your digital camera, keep some cash in reserve, because there are two more important purchases you need to make.
1. Memory - The digital camera's equivalent of film, the amount of memory determines how many pictures you can take. Different cameras use different types of memory, so the first step is to find out what your camera uses. The most popular types are: Secure Digital (SD), CompactFlash (CF), SmartMedia (SM), Memory Stick (MS), MultiMediaCard (MMC), and xD-Picture Card (xD).
Cameras are usually packaged with a small MB-sized card. A second card of 64 MB is good, but of course the more MB and the more cards, the more pictures you can take before having to download and erase the images. The different cards are NOT interchangeable, so be sure to buy the right kind for your camera!
2. Battery - There's nothing more frustrating than being in the middle of snapping pictures and the battery dies. Get extras. It's worth the expense to have a second battery charged and waiting should the one in your camera lose power. The rechargeable ones are more expensive, but the ability to use them over and over makes them worth the initial outlay of cash.
That's The Total Package!
There you have the basics for choosing a digital camera. Decide what kind of pictures you are likely to take, what size prints you want to make, how much zoom, and are there any extras you can't live without? Look for the camera that most closely matches your list in your price range, buy a bigger memory card and an extra battery set, and you're good to go!
Have fun sharing those pictures with friends and family!