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Digital Camera Buyers Guide

As digital cameras become increasingly their popular features and capabilities become more advanced and varied. The broad range of technical specifications makes it important for you to choose a camera that is best suited for your needs. Digital cameras provide you with the ability to preview, edit, correct, and save pictures, then send and print images using your computer. While digital cameras tend to cost more than conventional cameras, they save you the cost of film and processing. Here is a guide to help you understand important features to look for when shopping for a digital camera.

Resolution:

The resolution of your camera provides sharpness, contrast and color fidelity.

  • Resolution is determined by the number of pixels that make up a digital image.
  • A "pixel" is the basic unit of a digital image.
  • The number of pixels determines the size of picture you can take while maintaining photo quality.
  • Images intended strictly for e-mail/computer use do not require a high resolution
  • The higher the resolution the more memory space is taken up.
  • Resolution is measured in megapixels: 1 megapixel = 1 million pixels.

This chart shows how many megapixels are recommended for intended uses.

# of MegapixelsRecommended For:
less than 2Saving and emailing images on your computer
2 - 2.9Creating good quality 4 x 6 and 5 x 7 prints
3 - 3.9Creating higher quality pictures up to 8 x 10 size
4 - 5.9Users who want refined, highest quality pictures in all sizes up to 11 x 14 prints

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Memory:

The memory of a digital camera determines the number of pictures and the resolution and picture quality capability. If you intend to take a lot of large, professional quality high-resolution pictures, you'll need a larger memory source. If all you want to do is take standard pictures to download to your computer, you'll only need small amounts of memory.

Internal Memory:
Cameras store images in a non-removable chip that is integrated into the design.

External Memory:
Can come in the form of a disc, card, memory stick, etc and can be used to expand your camera's memory. Here are some examples of forms of external memory.

  • Secure Digital Cards: An increasingly popular form on external memory comes in the form of Secure Digital Cards. The cards are small in size and boast large storage capacities. They can also be used in selected PDA's, organizers, phones, and MP3 players.
  • CompactFlash(TM): A common type of digital memory that works with many digital camera types and provides high transfer rates
  • Memory Stick®: A memory device exclusive to Sony®, these cards can have large capacities and work with some additional Sony® devices such as PDA's and MP3 players.
  • SmartMedia: A common form of memory, these cards tend to have a more limited storage capacity

Though there is no fixed number of exposures per memory card here is a table to provide you with a rough estimate:

Memory Card (in megabytes)# of 2 Megapixel Pictures# of 3 Megapixel Pictures
32 MB5035
64 MB10070
128 MB200140

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Compression:

This reduces the amount of memory needed to store images.

  • Compression allows you to greatly reduce file size and as a result, increase storage capacity
  • This causes a small loss in image quality but is necessary for quickly saving and downloading image data
  • Most cameras allow for varying degrees of compression
  • Some cameras are capable of taking uncompressed photos for the highest quality images possible, but they can usually only fit a few images per memory source
  • The most common format of compression is JPEG

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Connectivity:

Digital cameras can be used with personal computers to display, edit, save, and send images. Today, you have several options to connect to your computer. Make sure your system can support the connection methods your camera offers.

Connection Methods

  • USB Cable: Common, fast and easy connection with your PC's USB port
  • PCMCIA: An interface that can be connected to a laptop computer
  • FireWire Cable (IEEE 1394): Common, fast and easy connection
  • A/V Output: Allows for viewing images on your television set
  • Wireless: Some higher-end models use a wireless transfer that requires a receiver on your PC
  • Docking Cradle: Model-specific unit that holds your camera and interfaces with your PC
  • CDs/Floppy Discs: Can be inserted into PC drives.

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Lens:

Most digital cameras have lenses with equivalent focal lengths to conventional 35mm-camera lenses. The standard lens generally captures what is considered a normal field of view of the closest approximation to the range of view you get from your eyes. Some lenses can also offer wide-angle, telephoto and zoom capabilities. If you require more viewing capabilities than the basic lens offers, consider these features:

  • Wide-angle lenses are used to capture wide-view shots such as landscapes.
  • Telephoto lenses are used for close-ups and for zooming in on distant objects.
  • Some zoom lenses can take you from wide-angle to telephoto views. There are 2 types of zoom capability.
    • Optical Zoom : This allows you to get a closer view of objects while maintaining quality resolution
    • Digital Zoom: This allows you to zoom in closer than optical zoom, but is achieved by simply cropping off edges of the image and enlarging the center. This results in a reduced resolution
  • Some more advanced cameras come with additional lenses that fit on the existing lens with a lens adapter. This option offers the advantage of versatility but requires you to carry additional gear.

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Viewfinder/LCD:

One of the most convenient features of a digital camera, this allows you to preview pictures on a small screen integrated into the camera.

  • View an image before you decide to take it or decide after you take the image whether you want to save or delete it.
  • Screens usually range in size from about 1 inch to about 3 inches diagonally.
  • Some cameras display all your photos in a thumbnail format.
  • LCD use can quickly drain the battery.
  • The LCD can be difficult to see in bright light.

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Movie Mode:

Many cameras offer the ability to record short movies

  • Movie modes can range anywhere from 10 to 90 seconds depending on the camera memory
  • Movies are usually low-resolution to conserve memory
  • Some cameras offer audio to go along with the movie
  • Movies can be stored on a PC hard drive, on a CD or on the Internet

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Extra Features to Look For:

  • Built-in Flash: Flash in necessary for taking pictures in lower light conditions and a built-in flash is standard on almost all digital camera models
  • Auto or Manual Focus: Just like with conventional cameras this is a matter of personal preference depending on the intended usage
  • Slide Show Playback on the LCD or Using a TV: Offers an organized presentation of your images
  • Included Photo Editing Software: Most digital cameras come with software that allows you to manipulate, crop, and edit your images on your PC
  • Rechargeable Batteries: Digital cameras go through batteries quickly so it will save you money to have batteries that can be recharged

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Choosing a Camera to Fit Your Needs:

Now that you know what features to look for, choose a camera that best fits your intended use. Here are some basic tips to help out:

Type of UserResolutionMemory AmountLensOther Features
Beginning users; 'Point and Shoot' camerasA lower megapixel rating usually affords you affordable and easy-to-learn equipment, but still allows you to save and send images on your computer; Higher resolution "point and shoot" cameras provide better quality 4 x 6 and 5 x 7 prints.32MB to 64MB memory card will provide plenty of room for dozens of good quality photosA basic lens will suffice, but also consider one w/ zoom capabilityCameras that come with basic photo editing software provide you with an easy way to view, save, and send photos
Intermediate usersChoosing a middle ranged resolution allows for creating high quality computer images and prints without spending a lot of money.64MB cards allows for more memory to store more higher-quality imagesFind a camera with good optical and digital zoomFor more advanced users, movie modes and advanced LCD screens help you manage your images better.
Expert/Professional users; 'Performance' camerasLook at cameras with the highest resolution that take the highest quality images and prints.128MB memory cards and higher provide ample room to store the highest quality imagesDepending on preference, telephoto, wide-angle and zoom lenses are great additions for doing more advanced work.Advanced features such as auto-focus, additional lenses, and movie modes let you do more with your camera.

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