AmSnaps - Digital Photography Basics For Amateur Snappers

Digital Camera Buying Guide Full Of Help, Top Tips, Advice And Best Buys

This digital camera buying guide will help in your search for a new digital camera. As you look around the internet, you'll find millions of pictures taken with digital cameras.

Unlike their film counterparts, digital cameras can make it very easy to share images, as well as store them in a minimal amount of space.

That said, if you're looking for a good camera at a reasonable price, it can be very difficult to sort out which camera will be most suitable for your needs. That's were the digital photography buying guide comes in useful.

Once you understand some of the terminology associated with digital camera types, you will find it much easier to select one that will take good quality pictures with a minimal amount of effort.

The video below will give you a quick overview of what to look for when buying a digital camera.

Consumer Reports Video Guide For
Buying A Digital Camera

How Do Digital Cameras Work?

Basically, a digital camera makes use of electronic sensors to record differences in light and color. The sensors convert this information into electronic signals that are stored on a memory chip or stick.

From there, you can either see the picture when you upload the files to your computer or if the camera has an LCD screen, which most do, you'll be able to see the image as soon as it is taken.

Unlike a film camera, you'll never need to take a digital image to a shop for additional processing. But, you may want to use specialized software to edit images to suit your needs and then take to a shop for printing.

When you're shopping for a digital camera, you'll often find the term "megapixel" used to describe the image quality produced by the camera.

This number represents the number of dots required to make an image. As a general rule of thumb, cameras that record over 6 megapixels will produce the same quality as a film camera.

You would only need a higher number of megapixels if you want to create poster-sized images. If you're looking for a good quality camera, you also need to learn more about the lenses used, ISO and sensor types.

One last point on this topic is beware of pushy sales people. Some will try to sell you a camera on 'the high megapixel count', ie 8+, 10+. As explained earlier this extra size can be useful in certain circumstances, but anything above 6MP is as good as film was.

Also digital cameras are very reliable with only about 5% that are bought ever developing a fault, so don't bother with the extended waranty.

Digital Camera Buying Guide
Different Types Available

When you look at film cameras, the body, or style of the camera, and the quality of the lens tend to be key factors in setting the price. This trend also tends to carry over to digital cameras.

Therefore, you can expect to pay more for a camera that allows you to change lenses, as well as ones that have other specialty features.

Depending on your budget and interests, you may find that you'll want to focus on one category more than the others.

Digital Camera Buying Guide
Sub Compact

Typically, sub-compact cameras will fit into your pocket, or even on a keychain. In general, they have a very short battery life, and are severely limited in terms of available controls.

Many do not have a viewfinder, but use an LCD screen for composing images. So, if you want to have a camera with you at all times, a sub-compact may be ideal for your situation. These cameras usually cost about the same amount of money as a compact camera.

Consumers usually find that Casio Exilims represent the best quality sub-compact camera at around $140. Another option is Fuji Finepix. If you want a camera with face detection, the Fujifilm FinePix might be more suitable for you at around $180.

For a bit more money, certain Olympus models will give you image stabilization as well as wireless file transfer capabilities.

Digital Camera Buying Guide - Compact

Most people can fit these cameras into a handbag with a minimal amount of difficulty. They tend to be the most popular because of their low price and lack of complexity.

On the other hand, if you want to set exposure levels, zoom in on a particular area, or compose the image, these cameras may not be the most suitable for your needs.

These cameras generally cost between $100 and $400. Canon Power Shot models tend to be the most popular in this particular category at around $145. Others available in this range are the Kodak Easyshare, Samsung, GE and HP, which all produce cheap digital cameras that are easy to use for people of all ages and technical skill levels.

That said, a growing number of people prefer the Sony Cybershot range at around $150 in this category. Sigma also produces a fairly expensive high-end compact camera that features the same Foveon imaging sensor used in their SLR cameras. It costs around $800.

Digital Camera Buying Guide - Super Zoom

Even though these cameras are in the same price range as compact and sub compact cameras, they tend to have better quality lens elements.

Among other things, you can usually magnify images up to 10X, as well as take good quality images at a reasonable distance.

Many people enjoy using these cameras at sporting events, or during other situations where they need to take images at a longer distance than usual and still have a fast shutter-speed.

Digital Camera Buying Guide
Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR)

Similar to high-end film cameras, the SLR digital camera or DSLR can take different lenses. Regardless of whether you want to use panoramic lenses, prime, or ones with special filters, this type of camera will suit your needs.

DSLR cameras are ideal if you want to take pictures at night, or when photographing in difficult lighting conditions.

When shopping for lenses, you may want to see if Sigma produces a compatible lens for your camera. They are usually cheaper than the ones produced by the manufacturer of the camera and the quality is just as good.

In general, DSLR's can cost a minimum of $450 and go as high as $5000. Typically, cameras with better sensors, more features and manual controls will cost more money.

Today, the Canon Rebel series tends to be a favorite with consumers that want a good entry level DSLR without sacrificing quality. You will also find a number of DSLR's such as Fujifilm, Pentax, Olympus and Nikon that also offer useful beginner models.

While Fuji does not produce lenses, you can use ones created for Nikon cameras. Individuals looking for high quality, high-end DSLR's usually turn to Nikon, Canon or Sony. These are mostly the manufacturers that the Pro photographers choose.

If you are looking for an DSLR camera that can be used underwater, Pentax offers the Optio W series for a reasonable price.

Advanced Features

Almost every camera on the market will allow you to shoot images with a timer, in short bursts (burst mode), as well as single static images.

You will also find that most cameras provide a flash, an LCD screen, red eye reduction, and menu controls that let you set light balance and exposure levels.

That said, newer cameras have some additional features that might be of interest to you.

Zoom Lens vs. Image Enlargement (Digital Zoom)

An authentic zoom lens will actually use a series of glass elements to focus on objects. Alternatively, image enlargement simply takes an area of the original image and makes it larger.

Typically, enlargements do not look as good as sharp an rich as images taken with an authentic zoom lens.

Depending on the camera that you buy, some lens elements may or may not protrude from the body of the camera. You can also find reasonably priced cameras that will give you telephoto, or 105x zoom.

Image Stabilization

When you want to take good quality images with a film camera, you will almost always need to use a tripod. Many DSLR cameras will compensate for hand shaking and other issues using electronic means. They use IS (image stabilization) which is either built into the camera or built into the lens

Some cameras also use interpretive measures to reduce interference caused by hand motion.

Smart Cameras and Face Detection

Smart cameras can isolate a human face, and ensure that color, exposure, and focus are all optimized as much as possible. More advanced cameras will also alert you if the person blinked, as well as if you missed when they were smiling.

Typically, these cameras will also make it easier for you to crop and edit images before you transfer them to your computer.

Digital Camera Buying Guide - File Types

Even though .jpg files are easy to email and edit, they do not preserve the best elements of an image. This is one of the reasons why DSLR cameras usually save files in RAW format, or some other uncompressed format. As may be expected, cheaper cameras will only let you save .jpg files.

External Memory

Almost every camera has some on board memory, as well as slots that will accept flash memory cards or sticks. In most cases, your camera will either take a CF (Compact Flash) or an SD (SecureDigital) card. Sony cameras among others use a memory stick.

Regardless of the memory type, most cameras will make use of a USB port to transfer files to your laptop or other computer. If you have a printer that accepts camera memory cards, you can bypass using the computer altogether.

Depending on the make and model of the camera, it may also be possible to attach it to a regular TV, as well as shoot video in high definition.

Digital Camera Buying Guide Conclusion

During the process of shopping for a digital camera, you should take your time and make sure that you get all of the features that interest you most. In almost all cases, you should take the time to read reviews written by other customers. If possible, you should also try to test drive cameras before you actually purchase one for your daily needs.

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David Coote
Wedding Photographer
Northern Ireland