Guide to Digital Cameras

by Fotopages.com

A lot of Fotopage users have asked us questions about digital cameras, so I thought it would make it easier to collect all the relevant information in one place. This guide will attempt to explain the various features differentiating digital cameras from one another, and will hopefully make your buying decision easier.

The main features that differentiate between digital cameras are:

  • Resolution
  • Lens
  • Digital media type
  • Connectors
  • Battery

    Resolution

    The resolution of a digital camera defines the quality and maximum size of the images that you can take. Resolution is measured in megapixels, the higher the number the better the image quality. The resolution of a camera has a direct relationship to the price of the camera, and in todays prices (2004) cameras generally cost about $100 per megapixel of resolution. This price-resolution relationship is constantly dropping and cameras are getting better and better all the time.

    For most people who take snapshots that will be used either on a computer or printed onto regular sized prints, a 2 or 3 megapixel camera will do the job. For people who like to be able to enlarge their images, advanced amateurs, and professionals, a 4 or 5 megapixel camera will probably be a better option. Today there are even cameras with 8 megapixels, but this is more than most people will ever need.

    Lens

    For most people, the most important factor in their digital camera lens is whether it is a zoom lens or not, and if so, how long a zoom it is. If it is a zoom lens, then it generally will be described as 2X, 3X, 4X or even more. This means that the widest angle view is 2, 3 or 4 times as wide as the telephoto view (the close up). Generally cameras with a wider range are more expensive. So far we have been talking only about optical zoom, which is purely via the optics of the lens. However there is also something known as digital zoom, in which the camera simply enlarges the picture digitally. Some cameras say they have 10X or 20X zoom, and what this usually means is that the camera has a 2X or 3X optical zoom, and then the rest of the zoom is performed digitally. This is not recommended as it will lead to a distorted and grainy image. Cameras that do not have an optical zoom sometimes have only a digital zoom.

    Another differentiating factor in the lens is the maximum aperture, measured in F-stops, e.g. f2.8 or f4. In this case, the lower the number, the better. A lower number means that the camera will be able to take pictures in lower light.

    There are lots of other factors that you can read about in photography magazines, e.g. barrel distortion, but in most modern cameras by well known manufacturers the lenses are very good and you shouldn’t really have to worry about them unless you are a serious photo freak.

    Digital Media Type

    Digital cameras store the images onto digital media (memory cards) of different kinds, such as Compact Flash, Smart Media, Memory Stick, and others. These all do exactly the same job, and the only time that this should be of any interest to you is when you buy an extra memory card, or if you have two cameras and you want to share the memory cards, or you have one of those new photo printers that have a slot for digital media. In these cases it is important to make sure that you buy the kind of memory card that your camera uses, or that the cameras use the same type of memory card, or that the printer can take the memory cards that your cameras use.

    Memory cards come in different sizes, measured in megabytes, or MB. In this case the larger the better. If you take photographs at a relatively high resolution, they can end up taking up 1 or 2 MB of memory. As an example, if you buy a 64MB memory card you will be able to store either 64 or 32 images. You can buy memory cards today with up to 1GB (1000 MB) of memory.

    Battery

    As digital cameras are electronic devices, the battery is pretty important. When the battery dies your camera turns into a useless lump of metal and plastic. One thing to note when you buy a camera is whether or not it uses a proprietary (also known as “expensive”) battery. The advantage of the proprietary batteries is that they are often smaller and last longer on one charge. Generally you will want to own at least two, i.e. you should buy an extra one when you buy the camera, as the camera usually comes with one. Some cameras use regular AA batteries, the advantage being that when you are stuck in a canoe in the Amazon and your set of rechargeable AA batteries dies, you can take out the batteries from your Walkman or flashlight, and put them into your camera and you will be able to continue taking pictures.

    Connectors

    Digital cameras today generally come with both a USB connector which allows you to download the images to your computer, and a TV connector, that allows you to view a slideshow directly on your TV set (it’s actually more fun than it sounds). Some cameras have USB II connectors, meaning that they can download the images faster, if your computer has the appropriate connection. In general, nearly all computers and laptops today have USB or USB II, and connection your camera to your computer will not be a problem.

    Where can I learn more?

    You can start by searching the web for photo guides and review sites. Check the google ads on this page for links to sites that might give you more info regarding camera options and reviews.