Thursday, March 10, 2005

How to Find the Right Digital Camera for You

In the technology age, it has become increasingly more important for photographers to keep up with the times. New technology means new techniques and devices to learn how to use effectively, properly and creatively. The world of photography has ushered in the age of the digital camera, where even the novice can point and click the perfect picture, even if that means deleting the 20 or so that aren't so perfect.

So, how does a novice go about buying the right digital camera? With some basic knowledge, even the most technologically illiterate can go to a store like Circuit City or Best Buy and walk out with a quality digital camera.

It is important to realize you cannot just walk into a store, point at a camera and except it to be right for you. Many shoppers enter electronics stores, thinking that sales assistance can guide you to the right product, but buyer beware, this isn't always the case. It's better to be prepared when you walk into the store, know exactly what you want, get it and be able to use it in the long run than getting stuck with a digital camera that is not for your level of skill.

Having said that, what does one look for when picking out the right digital camera?

First, focus on the main features, such as size, the resolution, types/amount of storage, zoom and power. Extra features, such as LCD viewfinders, timers, flash, and speed are all secondary to your purchase (or at least they should be).

The smaller the camera, the better in the long run. It is easier to carry around, easy to store and most importantly, probably packs a lot more of a punch than the chunkier, "older" digital cameras. Most digital cameras nowadays are palm-sized.

Resolution, for digital cameras and video recorders, is measured in mega pixels. Mega pixels are how many bits of data are stored when the photo is actually taken and projected back to you. The higher the mega pixels, the better quality a photo is when taken. For example, a four mega pixel camera can generally capture a good quality 8x10 photo.

Types and amount of storage vary from camera to camera. Keep in mind: You can always upgrade later. The memory card, where photos are stored in your digital camera, is equivalent to film in a box camera. There are many different types of memory cards, such as Compact Flash cards, XD Flash cards and memory sticks. Memory sticks are the most widely accepted form of memory out there; they can be used for your digital camera, for your MP3 player and for just storing files on your computer to transfer to another computer (think a CD-ROM or old school floppy disk). XD Flash cards are the most advanced memory storage cards on the market today, only recently released in the last year or so; they are also the smallest memory card out there. Compact Flash cards, however, are the most widely used digital camera-specific memory cards out there; they can be used for most cameras and support most formats.

Most memory cards will store a certain number of Megabytes. Manufacturers make many different sizes of memory cards and most digital cameras come with a very small memory card when first purchased; this is why most opt to upgrade and buy another memory card for their camera. Nowadays, the one Gigabyte memory card is a common upgrade digital camera owner's purchase.

Keep in mind when you buy your digital camera, it will typically tell you what size and style of memory card you need to purchase if you do upgrade. Be careful when you upgrade to purchase the right size/shape or else you will have to return it and reorder a new one which takes up a lot of your time and is generally quite a hassle.

Zoom comes in two forms: Optical and digital. Optical zoom refers to the size of the photo subjects; digital zoom refers to zooming in on a photo after it has been captured. Most first time buyers should be on the lookout for cameras with a 6x or higher optical zoom as most novices won't be using optical zoom any time soon.

Power on a digital camera varies, some are self-charged and some use batteries. If the camera charges, look for how long it takes to charge; if the camera uses batteries of the common variety (AA or AAA), it might be wise to invest in rechargeable batteries and a dock for them to save long-term in keeping your digital camera taking photos.

Now, once you figure out what will work best for you from the main features, if you have a bit of money to spare, it might be nice to look into some extra features for your digital camera. Note, an extra feature does not mean that nice camera bag or photo printer you've been slaving over on the internet. No, no, no, this means such features that actually are built into your digital camera.

Such features like a LCD viewfinder, which gives you a larger window to view the picture after it's been shot. Computer interfacing is also a great extra feature that will allow you to connect your digital camera to your home desktop and laptop to upload/download pictures; while most digital cameras come with a USB cord and software, sometimes they do not an this is when computer interfacing might be necessary. A timer might be a useful if you take a look of family portraits or pictures of yourself where you need the camera to set by itself and take the picture. Flash is also another feature you might need if you'll be taking pictures in varying types light; another feature that almost always comes with new digital cameras. Last but not least, the speed at which the camera takes the picture once you press the button to take it; most digital cameras can take pictures instantly, but sometimes, it takes a little longer than one or two seconds to do so.

So, when it comes down to it, careful research and buyer interest determines what digital camera will work best for the buyer. Just take your time, do your research and your new digital camera will be perfect for you.

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