- Dec 12, 2003below from LockerGnome n'letter
Ken Colburn of Data Doctors has an answer for Lisa, who asks:
Q: I still don't own a digital camera but I think I am ready to buy one.
What should I look for?
A: Digital photography is experiencing explosive growth much like digital
music in the recent past. Surveys suggest that digital camera sales will
likely outpace film camera sales in 2004. With their ease of use, low cost
and flexibility, digital cameras make more sense than film cameras for most
The first thing that will likely be thrust in your face by camera
salespeople is the 'megapixel' rating. While this is an important feature,
it is not the most important. Digital cameras capture images in little dots
called 'pixels' which is why the more pixels you can capture, the more
detail is available - especially for printing. If you only plan to print 4x6
or 5x7 images, then you won't need as many pixels for an 'acceptable'
output. If you plan on printing 8x10s, even occasionally, be sure to get at
least 3.2 megapixels.
A feature that is just as important is the lens, as it will ultimately
determine much more about your image quality than its number of pixels. The
ability to capture light, the type of zoom, and the actual translation of
colors is determined by the lens.
In general, digital cameras offered by 'camera companies' have more
sophisticated lenses then those offered by 'computer companies.' Computer
companies that sell digital cameras tend to pack the camera with more
features and less technology because their typical customer is less
[photographically] sophisticated. Camera companies are trying to keep their
more knowledgeable film camera customers satisfied, so they tend to
concentrate more on the technology.
The zoom feature is another point of confusion. Typically, both an optical
and digital zoom specification will be listed. The only one that matters is
the optical zoom as it is a true, lens-based zoom. Digital zoom simply trims
the image electronically and can cause lower picture quality. In fact, as
soon as you get your new camera, disable the digital zoom so you don't use
If you plan to shoot things from long distances, the higher the optical zoom
rating, the better. Most cameras come with a 3x optical zoom, but some
cameras are now offering up to 10x in reasonably-priced packages.
The type of media that is used to capture the image is not that big of a
deal, unless you are trying to match the format with other digital devices
that you have. The only media that I am not thrilled with is the mini-CD
types that burn the images directly to the disk. They are convenient, but my
past experience has been that they are much more sensitive to being jarred,
causing the laser to become misaligned.
Finally, check the battery system and, most important, how it feels in your
hands. The battery system will have a huge impact on how usable your camera
is, based on cost and convenience. Some cameras use expensive disposable
batteries that can eat a huge hole in your wallet, especially on vacation. I
prefer cameras that have rechargeable batteries because you become less
concerned about how often you use the camera. (Some also allow emergency use
of alkaline batteries.) The LCD display that makes it easy to aim and review
your images is also a battery killer, so be careful how you use it. If you
really want to extend the battery life, turn off the LCD until you really
Camera manufacturers try to keep the form factor as small as possible, so be
sure to hold the camera in your hand and work with it to see if it's
comfortable. AND, don't buy a camera online if you have never actually
touched it, or you may be disappointed.
You can find exceptional cameras with lots of great technology and features
in the $200 to $500 range.
Judith Rempel, Webster
note new personal e-mail address: judith@...
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