Tips for buying a digital camera

So you have decided to get a new digital camera? Or maybe it is your first one? Like many other consumer electronic devices digital cameras change all the time. For the same amount of money you can get more and more features: mega pixels, storage space, zoom and more. In this article we will give you a few practical tips for what to look for and how to best pick your camera.

There are many things to consider when buying a camera. The first thing to do is to figure out what your budget is. Camera prices range from tens of dollars for low-end ones to thousands and more. Decide how much money you would like to spend and what the usage of the camera will be. Try to answer questions such as: Are you going to take family photos? Shoot landscape photos? Travel a lot with the camera? Use a lot of flash photographs?

Once you have decided on the budget and the usage, look for potential cameras and build a table with the price and features of each. Making the table is not hard but understanding what the various features practically mean and how important they are is trickier. Following is a list of important features and some explanations of wht they really mean to you from a practical point of view:

Megapixels: New cameras are packed with an ever increasing number of mega pixels. Is more mega pixels better? A quick answer would be yes – but a better answer would be “it really depends”. More mega pixels is important if you are going to print photos (especially enlargements) or if you are going to zoom in and crop fine details out of big photos. If you plan to watch your photos on your computer screen and maybe just print a few 4X6 prints every now and then than 2 mega pixels is more than enough (yes… just 2). Most screen resolutions are about 1024X768 so even when viewing the photo in full screen mode you can only view 1024X768 which is less than 1 mega pixels. A 2 mega pixels 4X6 photo print will have a DPI higher than 300 which is more than enough for a high quality print.

If you plan to print photo enlargements than a rule of thumb is to be able to print at least 300DPI resolution. The following is a table for different print sizes and the needed mega pixels for such print quality:

page 4X6 2MP
page 5X7 3MP
page 8X10 7MP
page 11X14 14MP
page 16X20 28MP
page 20X30 54MP

Unless you budget is infinite when you buy a camera with more mega pixels you make a compromise between mega pixels and other features. For example is it better to spend money on more mega pixels or on better lenses? Or maybe on an external flash? It all depends on how you will use your camera. Evaluate your usage and decide what is more important to you.

Zoom: In some situations it is very useful to have a good zoom capability. For example when you take a portrait photo you want to make sure the object’s face fills the photo frame while when you take a group photo you want to make sure everybody is in the photo frame. There are two types of zoom – optical and digital. Optical zoom works by physically moving the camera’s lenses and changing the focal length. By changing the focal length you can make objects appear bigger and fit the full photo frame. Digital zoom works by applying built-in software in the camera to define a portion of the photo which you are interested in. Once chosen the software crops the rest of the photo and enlarges the area you chose to fit the complete photo frame. The downside of this digital process is that the enlarged photo quality is lower than the original photo’s. The conclusion is that optical zoom is superior to digital zoom. In fact from a practical point of view digital zoom should not be considered zoom at all.

Some manufacturers state the camera’s zoom figure without specifying if it is optical or digital. This information is confusing as many consumers do not understand the difference between the two. For example if a camera supports a 5X optical zoom and 10X digital zoom advertising the camera as a “10X zoom camera” is confusing – 10X digital zoom can be done with any camera using simple PC software.

When you compare different cameras zoom always compare their optical zoom capabilities. You can totally ignore the digital zoom figures.

Know your battery: As any portable electronic device digital cameras are powered by batteries. There are different battery technologies each with its cons and pros. Knowing your options can help you get a camera that better suits your needs. The first choice is disposable or rechargeable. Some cameras support both usually when using standard size batteries like AA, AAA.

Disposable batteries can only be used once. They usually have a standard size and shape such as AA, AAA. You can buy these batteries at most stores and once they are empty you can simply dispose of them

Rechargeable batteries can be used multiple times. Some rechargeable batteries have a standard size and shape such as AA or AAA. Such standard size batteries can be used anywhere that a disposable battery can. More often than not however rechargeable batteries have a proprietary shape and are compatible with just a few specific cameras. Once a rechargeable battery is empty you can place it in a special charger that will recharge it. The time it takes to recharge a battery, the number of times it can be charged and the life time of the battery are dependant on the technology used to build the battery.

There are pros and cons to using disposable or rechargeable batteries. The main advantage to using a disposable battery is that you can always buy a few to have with you to replace the ones that are empty and you can always get one in a store close-by in case you are stuck with empty batteries. The disadvantages to using disposable batteries are the cost of buying new batteries every time your batteries are empty and the capacity (in most cases a disposable battery will not last as long as a good rechargeable battery). On the other hand rechargeable batteries require only one purchase. When the battery is empty you can simply place it in its charger and after an hour or so you will have a fully recharged battery. The disadvantage is that if you run out of batteries during a photo shooting session or somewhere away from home or a power supply you can not just buy another battery. The solution to that problem is to buy one extra battery and to always carry it with you fully charged.

If you choose to use a rechargeable battery-powered camera, make sure that your camera uses the latest battery technologies. There are many type of rechargeable batteries usually named after the chemicals used to build them. Such technologies are: nickel cadium, nickel metal hybrid, lithium ion and lithium polymer. Without going to the details just remember that it is better to choose a battery that uses the latest technology which is a lithium polymer or lithium ion.

The real cost of ownership: the cost of owning a digital camera is not limited to the money paid to purchase the camera. In most cases you will find yourself spending more money on accessories and other additional products. Failing to budget for those extra expenses can result in buying a camera just to find out it is not operable without spending more.

When you calculate the real price of a camera and compare to your other options make sure that you take the following into account:

Memory card: Most cameras come with a basic low capacity memory card. Assess how much memory you will need and check the prices of such memory cards. Add that to the camera’s cost.

Batteries: Check what batteries the camera uses and what batteries are included. Also check what the estimated battery life is. For example you probably need to buy an extra battery if your photo sessions are longer than the battery life. Check for the prices of compatible batteries and add it to the camera’s cost.

PC connectivity: The most common methods of connectivity are USB and plugging the camera’s memory card directly to the PC. Check if the camera includes the necessary cables and software. If it does not check the prices of buying the needed accessories and add that to the camera’s cost.

Carrying case: Most cameras do not include a carrying case. If you will need a carrying case check for the prices of carrying cases that can fit your camera and add that cost to your camera’s cost.

Lenses: Some cameras allow you to change lenses. Other cameras actually come without lenses at all – you just buy the camera’s body and get the lenses separately. Check what lenses are included with the camera and if you will need to buy lenses shop around for their prices. Lenses can be very expensive. Add the cost to the camera’s cost.

In conclusion there are many things to consider when purchasing your next digital camera. It is important to understand what the different camera features practically mean to you. It is very easy to be tempted to get something just because of the ease of comparison or the hype in the market. The mega pixels feature is a good example it is easy to compare this number and see which camera has more pixels. But in terms of photo quality there are many other factors like the lenses, the type of sensor and more. Do your homework by checking for prices online and in stores. Build a table of prices and features. Make the table relevant to you. Don’t compare features that you do not care about — they are just going to confuse you. Evaluate the true cost of owning the camera including all the accessories and additional costs.

Ziv Haparnas is a technology veteran and writes about practical technology and science issues. You can find more information about photo album printing and photography in general on – a site dedicated to photo printing.

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