Friday, June 18, 2010

Digital Camera Buyer's Guide: Part 2

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We left off a few weeks ago from Part 1 of our Digital Camera Guide discussing the different format cameras to choose from. Next area you should look at are the key features to ask about.

The first thing most people check is the number of mega-pixels a camera has. Mega just means million, and a pixel is a picture element, basically a small dot of detail in a photo. The more mega-pixels, the more detailed the photo. Ten megapixels may be enough for many photographers, but a higher resolution camera will allow you to enlarge your photos to poster size, or crop your pictures and not wind up with a fuzzy picture. Choose a higher mega-pixel camera if you can foresee wanting to print big. You should be aware though that the additional picture clarity means you are capturing more ‘data’ or picture elements, so you will need more memory per picture.

Optical Zoom
Optical zoom refers to the length of travel of the zoom; 18-270mm is a 15x optical zoom (270 divided by 18 equals 15). Same idea, if you have a 25-75mm zoom it is a 3x optical zoom (75/25=3). Where this gets a bit tricky is figuring out the magnification - a 3x zoom doesn't necessarily mean 3x magnification. You need to use 50mm (35mm format) as a baseline - 50mm is what you would normally see with your own eye. If you go from a 50mm lens to a 100mm lens, you would increase the magnification of your subject 100%. So if that's true, let's look at the 25-75mm example we mentioned before. Going from a baseline of 50mm, to 75mm, you would only be increasing your magnification 50% (50 to 100 is 100%, so 50 to 75 is 50%). So even though the 25-75mm zoom has a 3x optical zoom, the magnification is only 50%.

You really don't need to get into all the nitty gritty about magnification to choose the right optical zoom camera though. All you need to ask yourself is, how far away from my subjects do I plan to be? Should you want to take pictures of subjects further away than about 10 yards, you definitely need some zoom. This is a feature for which you can get a lot more capability for a relatively small investment, and more is better.

Wide Angle Lens
Some point and shoots come with a wide angle lens. This is a great feature if you want to take pictures of a large group of family and friends; (you can get more people in the picture!) or a broad landscape. Many cameras now come with this excellent feature, we highly recommend you consider getting it.

Video Modes
All point and shoot and many detachable lens cameras come with video capability. This is another feature that you can get at a very reasonable price, and the ability to capture a short video clip without carrying a separate camcorder makes this an obvious feature to require in your next camera. Many cameras now have HD video mode available. Whether to insist on HD, well here the answer depends on the user. If you are sure you are uploading your video only to YouTube or Facebook, the HD capability is of no use since these websites do not accommodate HD formats. However, if you are taking video to share using a TV with a high definition screen, the detail you can get is breathtaking and well worth the extra cost. Be forewarned though, you will need A LOT of memory and a high transfer speed in your memory cards to take advantage of HD video.

Battery Type
Some point and shoots still take disposable batteries, usually AA. These are great if you are worried about your rechargeable running out at a key moment. However, the extended cost in batteries, impact to environment, and slow shutter response(you will wait up to 3 seconds between shots with a AA battery camera) inherent in disposable battery cameras are all distinct negatives to consider. Many people get frustrated having to wait for AA cameras to be ready to take the next picture, you can miss a lot of great shots this way.

Touch Screen
Many people like the ease of use presented by a touch screen, and quite a few point and shoots come with this feature for a few extra bucks. If you like using touch screens, definitely buy a camera with this feature. You will use and enjoy your camera more.

Software Enhancements
Most cameras available today have software enhancements which enable you to get even better pictures with little to no effort required on your part. Red-eye reduction, automatic smile detection, and quick retouch are all examples of these. If you are looking at a very low end camera, however, these may not be present.

Making a decision
The basic decision is over your preference for smaller size and generally lower expense, in which case you are in the market for a point and shoot camera, or the desire to take better pictures combined with a willingness to carry a larger camera and spend some extra dough, making you a candidate for a detachable lens camera. Choose a long zoom if you are likely to take pictures from a distance and want the smaller size and cost of a P&S. Consider a micro four thirds DL camera if you want better pictures or the improved control over your pictures that DSLR’s provide, but want a smaller size. Choose a full frame DSLR if you are a pro on an advanced amateur photographer.