Camera Shopping For The Clueless
So, you want to buy a new digital camera. The options are endless, the specifications are baffling, and your budget is limited. How can you find the camera that is perfect for you if you can’t tell the difference between two models? Sure, you can tell a compact from a DSLR apart, but what do all these numbers on the specs table mean? More importantly, how do these numbers affect your camera’s performance?
Camera’s Resolution - The Megapixels
The first piece of information you will be provided with is the camera’s resolution: the megapixels. While manufacturers have gone to great lengths to convince buyers that higher resolution ensures higher image quality, this is only partially true. Unless you intend to make large prints or posters out of your photos, any resolution in the 5.0 – 10.1 megapixel range will produce clear and detailed prints. Instead of chasing megapixels that will raise the price significantly, invest in good overall quality.
The ISO indicates how sensitive the camera’s sensor is to light. In other words, the higher you set the ISO, the less light you need to take a photo. This is especially useful when you are shooting at night or in places with poor lighting conditions. However, there is a catch; when you increase the ISO, the image quality deteriorates. The photos gradually appear grainy and out of focus. In practical terms, therefore, a model that boasts an ISO range of 50-1600 will not offer much more than a model with half that range.
Zoom is a great feature that allows you to take a closer shot of your subject. While the optical zoom is achieved through the camera’s lens system and enhances the actual image, the digital zoom merely crops into a section of the image and then resizes it. If you want your camera to have a powerful zoom, opt in for the best optical you can get, as the digital zoom will steal away some of your photos’ quality. After all, you can always use photo-editing software to crop your images on a computer.
Various preset programs are available with different brands, the most popular of which include Portrait, Sports, Landscape, Night, etc. These programs offer optimized settings for each occasion and often produce better results than the camera’s Auto mode. Some cameras also offer a Manual mode, which means that you have to select the aperture and exposure settings yourself. Unless you are willing to learn a thing or two about the inner workings of photography, you will not need this extra feature.
Battery & Screen
Other features that are useful to know about your camera include the battery type it takes, the screen specifications, the memory types it supports and its video features. Li-ion batteries are generally long-lasting and easy to charge, which makes them preferable. However, if the camera you choose takes regular AA batteries, you can save big on their cost by using rechargeable ones. Memory cards come in different types and capacities, and you have to make sure that you buy the right type. Cameras usually have limited native memory, so you will need a card with ample capacity to store both photos and videos.
Finally, the most frequently ignored aspects of a camera are its physical characteristics. The material it is made of is extremely important because a plastic body will be more vulnerable than a metallic one. The camera’s dimensions and weight vary from model to model but the difference is often negligible. In any case, test before you buy. Hold the camera and pay attention to its weight, size and grip. It is essential that the camera feels “right” in your hands.
The “perfect” camera depends largely on your individual needs and the use you intend to make of it. If you want to take casual photos on your trips or family gatherings, a plain point-and-shoot camera will suffice. If you intend to explore the wonders of photography, you can invest in a more sophisticated model. As is the case with all electronic devices, camera prices plummet as soon as newer models are released, so you might be able to get more bang for your buck if you consider buying an older model. Research the market before buying and choose the camera that is best for you.