Digital Cameras: Choosing the Right Model
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Choosing between digital cameras can be mind-boggling, as different digital camera models have unique specifications, options and limitations. While more basic digital cameras cost around $150, professional quality digital cameras can be well over $1,000.
Buying a digital camera can be confusing unless you have an understanding of digital camera terminology. Similarly, before you go shopping for a digital camera, decide how you'll primarily be using the camera. A photographer planning on using a digital camera mainly for family events has needs that are very different from those of an avid landscape photographer.
SLR or Optical Viewfinder?
Just as traditional cameras come equipped with an optical viewfinder, some digital cameras come with traditional viewfinders. Others replace the optical viewfinder with an electronic viewfinder (EVF). Electronic viewfinders are also used in camcorders. Choosing between an EVF or traditional viewfinder comes down to personal preference. If you're not used to an EVF, try out the EVF equipped camera in the store.
Most digital cameras also come with an LCD screen that shows the entire image seen by the lens on a larger scale. LCD screens have advantages and disadvantages. An LCD screen can aid in composing pictures by minimizing squints that are more prevalent with the viewfinder.
On the down side, LCD screens consume a great deal of battery power. Digital cameras with LCD screens require more frequent battery changes. Given this fact, many digital camera manufacturers provide both an EVF and an LCD screen, allowing the photographer to disable the LCD screen in the camera's option menu.
The efficiency of LCD screens depends on a scene’s lighting. In dark conditions, an LCD screen stands out clearly and helps the photographer center the image. Yet, bright conditions can make LCD screens ineffective.
Lens Choices for Digital Cameras
Digital cameras provide several lens options that can be divided into four general types:
- fixed focus digital cameras : A fixed focus lens has no optical zoom, although it may have digital zoom capabilities. Fixed focus digital cameras tend to be less expensive than cameras with better lens capabilities. The occasional photographer can function quite adeptly with a fixed focus digital camera. A good fixed focus digital camera should include autofocus, macro (close-up) and landscape modes.
- retractable zoom digital cameras : This digital camera lens extends from the camera when the camera is on and retracts when the camera is turned off. Unlike fixed focus lenses, a retractable lens provides some degree of zoom (usually no more than 3x magnification). The retractable function makes the camera more compact than a fixed lens camera.
- fixed zoom digital camera : Less convenient in size than a retractable zoom camera, a fixed zoom lens does not retract into the camera. Yet, a fixed zoom digital camera offers a zoom as high as 12x. The lens can often be fitted with lens converters. The fixed zoom lens is a good choice for the average photo hobbyist.
- interchangeable lens digital cameras : Interchangeable lenses are the best choice for the serious hobbyist or professional photographer. These lenses can be unscrewed from the digital camera and replaced with other lenses, allowing for a greater versatility in shooting. However, the variety of lenses requires the photographer to carrying bulky lenses. Similarly, he must have some knowledge of manual focusing to use the interchangeable lenses correctly.
Image File Options
Depending on the camera’s make and model, digital cameras store images using JPEG, TIFF or RAW formats:
- JPEG files are small because they use file compression. A JPEG can affect image quality.
- TIFF files are larger than JPEGs and take up more memory. Although shooting time is longer, a TIFF file generally provides better photo quality than JPEGs.
- RAW files are best reserved for serious hobbyist or professional photographers. Smaller than TIFF files, RAW files allow the photographer to do more retouching. TIFF files are offered as options on fewer camera models.
Digital Camera resolution is measured in mega pixels. Cameras can range from three to seven mega pixels (any less will provide poor quality photos). The more mega pixels, the more a photo can be enlarged without degrading picture quality.
Camera model (and price) determines digital camera flash options. Most digital cameras come with red-eye reduction and automatic flash.
Digital cameras may run on AA batteries, universal rechargeable batteries or batteries designed to work only with a particular digital camera.
AA batteries and universal rechargeable batteries tend to be preferred, given that they can be bought in most locations and are easily replaceable. Because digital cameras run down AA batteries quickly, photographers should carry an extra supply when on a shoot.
Batteries specific to digital cameras are rechargeable lithium-ion or nickel-metal hydride batteries. The battery life of this variety tends to be much longer than that of AA batteries. While a model-specific battery makes the initial cost of digital cameras higher, the photographer ultimately saves money because he doesn’t have to constantly buy AA batteries.
Model-specific batteries do have a disadvantage: if the battery runs down or breaks, the photographer will have to buy another one of these specialized batteries that may not be available in all locations. Serious photographers carry at least one extra charged battery just in case.
Multimedia Digital Cameras
Digital cameras come with a number of multimedia options. Many allow the user to take small video clips with the camera—a process that can consume a great deal of memory. Others can be hooked directly to a television for slideshow viewing.
While remote controls are available for some digital cameras, others come with timers that give the photographer time to get into the picture himself. Recent models even come with the ability to play mpeg music or function as voice recorders.
Most of these options are extra accessories that aren’t essential to digital camera function. Whether they're needed is a matter of personal preference and budget.
Digital cameras come in a variety of models to accommodate different users. A serious hobbyist or professional needs a more advanced camera with many advanced features that tend to be cumbersome to someone who just wants to take family snapshots. The features you choose affect the price of the digital camera.
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