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Step 2Digital Camera Buying Guide - Choosing

Digital Camera Choosing

Keep reading this page to learn how to Choose a Digital Camera. To learn about basic digital camera concepts, head back to Digital Camera Basics which is the first step in our 4-step Digital Camera Buying Guide.

The Medium

Paying attention to megapixels is only important now if you intend to make truly large prints. Resolution determines the maximum print size which can be made from a single image without degrading image quality. All modern digital cameras have at least 12 megapixels which is more than enough for a 12" x 18" print.

It is critical to get enough megapixels for a desired print size. Otherwise, printed images will appear unsharp. Getting significantly more megapixels than needed may degrade image quality though due to increased image-noise. Unfortunately, consumers are rarely given the opportunity to choose fewer megapixels.

For uses other than prints, so few megapixels are needed that there is little point checking if a new camera has enough megapixels. It always does. Even the highest-resolution HDTV never requires more than 2 megapixels. The highest resolution computer monitor currentlyIBM used to have one with 9 MP (T221) but it has been discontinued. in production has 4 megapixels.

Since displays and printers produce pictures using tiny dots, giving them more pixels than they use is futile. In other words, the extra pixels are ignored! Look at the following table to see how many megapixels are needed.

Standard Prints Large Prints Other Media
4"x6" 2MP 15"x20" 18MP E-Mail 1MP
5"x7" 2MP 16"x24" 22MP General Website 1MP
8"x10" 5MP 18"x24" 24MP Photo Website 1MP
9"x12" 7MP 20"x30" 34MP HDTV 2MP
12"x16" 11MP 24"x32" 44MP 12"-27" Display 2MP
12"x18" 12MP 30"x40" 70MP 30" LCD 4MP
Megapixels:

Subjects

Different subjects require different things from a digital camera. While all digital cameras manage well with daylight-lit outdoor pictures, other subjects and situations require certain features.

High ISO Taking indoor pictures under typical household lighting demands high ISO sensitivity or at least use of a flash. Most photographers use flash because high ISO sensitivities make pictures look rather noisyEven with 35 mm films, high ISO means larger, more visible grain unless a relatively expensive large-sensor camera is purchased. High ISO sensitivities are preferable to preserve the mood of lightingUnless using a tripod for photographing still subjects. and the sense of depth.
Hot-Shoe A built-in flash must reach far enough to light a subject completely, otherwise an external flash will be required. In such case you must get a camera with a hot-shoeOr a sync-port for studio-flashes. to connect the external flash.
Night Photography Night photography requires slow shutter speeds. Preferably longer than 4 seconds. Control over shutter speed is critical, otherwise it is quite difficult to obtain desired results.
Sports Photography Sharply photographing moving subjects requires fast speed shutters. For people doing sports you need at least 1/500. For faster subjects such as race cars, horses and speedboats look for a camera with 1/2000 or faster shutter speeds. To ensure a fast shutter speed is obtained a camera must have a shutter priority mode or a fast-shutter subject programSometimes called sport or action mode.. Indoor sports require a camera with high ISO sensitivity which is most likely a DSLR.
Ultra Zoom Wildlife photography requires the use of long zoom lenses because most animals don't easily let people get close to them. Even insect photography is better with a long zoom because of their small size. If you intend to photograph wildlife either get an Ultra-Zoom camera (10X or more) or an ILC with a long zoom lens (300mm or longer).
Continuous Drive A continuous drive mode is frequently used to get good pictures of moving subjects. Cameras that have a continuous drive mode take pictures in rapid succession. The number of frames- per-second (FPS) is the number of pictures taken in one second. The burst length is the number of pictures that can be taken consecutively at the maximum frame-rateBefore the camera stops taking pictures or slows down dramatically..
Manual Controls Special situations like fireworks, moving light-trails and artistic photography absolutely require having manual controls. A camera with full manual-controls lets the photographer control aperture, shutter-speed and ISO independently.

Location

To take a picture of a subject, you must have your camera near it. To get it there, you must transport it. This is why it is extremely important to get a camera of the right size. Unfortunately not all features are available in every camera sizeManual controls are rarely found on small cameras, for example. and picture quality is better with a bigger sensor, which usually means a bigger camera and bigger lens.

Camera sizes fall into 6 categories:

  • Ultra-Compact: Fit in most pockets and are easy to transport unnoticeably anywhere.
  • Compact: Easy to transport, fit in purses and waist-pouches.
  • Medium: Too big for the average purse, these can be kept in an small camera bag.
  • Large: Definitely too big for a purse, fits in a nap sack or average camera bag.
  • Mirrorless: Interchangeable lens cameras which can be Medium size when paired with a slim lens. They can get large with a long or bright lens.
  • SLR: Large enough to need a dedicated camera bag, they are easy to notice and may feel heavy to carry over extended periods.

Other location considerations:

  • Waterproof - Submersible under water up to a certain depth.Waterproof - Submersible under water up to a certain depth. Underwater photography requires a waterproof camera or an underwater camera case. A waterproof camera or case is rated to a certain maximum depth. Most waterproof cameras go deep enough for swimming and snorkeling but not sufficiently for SCUBA diving. For SCUBA diving, an underwater case is always needed.
  • Weatherproof - Seals protect from dust, humidity and light splashing.Weatherproof - Seals protect from dust, humidity and light splashing. A few cameras are splash-proof for taking pictures in the rain or in dusty environments. Some are also freezeproof which lets them operated below freezing, usually down to -10C, without a significant change in performance.

Camera Quality

Some cameras are better than others even if they are the same size and have similar features. There are different aspect to camera quality and even more to image quality:

  • Picture quality: Good cameras produce pictures with less noise or other problems such as distortion, chromatic aberrations, blurring, color shift, etc.
  • Ergonomics: Well-designed digital cameras are comfortable, easy and efficient to use.
  • Build quality: Some cameras are more sturdy than others and will last longer.
  • Performance: The speed at which a camera focuses, takes pictures and updates its LCD all affect its usability. Faster subjects are more demanding of camera performance.

When looking at camera models in the next step look for these icons which indicate quality:

  • Excellent +Excellent +
  • ExcellentExcellent
  • GoodGood
  • AverageAverage
  • PoorPoor

Next

There are a few more choosing basics for completeness in More Choosing Basics or look for digital camera in step 3 of this Digital Camera Buying Guide: Camera Models.

Proceed to 

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