Purchasing a new digital camera

By: Danfeildman
When it comes time to purchase a new digital camera you might feel a bit overwhelmed. With technology constantly changing and new features available every month it is easy to be confused about what to purchase. However, there is a way to ensure that you purchase the right camera that will meet your needs. The key is to understand the terms and technology. You might not understand all of it, however it is our goal to give you enough information to make an informed decision. This article covers the features of digital cameras that are most important for you to understand.

To begin with me will discuss the similarities between film and digital cameras. Basically a camera is a light airtight box that allows exposure of a light-sensitive material through the use of a shutter and an aperture. This process is the same with either a digital or film camera.

Both film and digital cameras have lenses, which allows you to focus the image and control how the photograph will look (wide or telephoto). The lens is also one of the most important factors in determining overall quality of the image. The better your lens quality, the sharper and more clear your image will appear. Regardless if you are using film or digital photography - poor lenses = poor image quality.

Shutters control the duration of the exposure in both types of cameras. Both film and digital cameras use an Aperture to control how much light hits the sensor during the time frame that the shutter is open. Very large apertures (2.8 or 4) will let in a lot of light, while small apertures (16 or 22) will let in very little light.

Whatever type of camera you may use, Focusing will always be a necessary step in creating sharp photographs. Manual and auto focusing can be found on both types of cameras.

Film Advance, Lag and Response Time The digital sensor records light much like film cameras do. The difference is that when light strikes film it is "exposed" and the camera must advance the film to the next frame in order to allow the user to take another photograph. With digital photography, the image that was captured during exposure is passed on to the processor and the sensor is then freed up to record another image. Advance Time is the amount of time it takes for the sensor to release its information and be ready to record again. The speed of the digital camera is also influenced by how many images it can store in its memory before the camera needs a time out to process them. A typical statistic you might find could be "23 full-res(resolution) JPEGs or 6 RAW images at 5 fps"(Canon 20D). In common language this means the camera will shoot 5 images per second until the memory fills up. The memory will become full at 6 exposures if you are shooting RAW and 23 if you are shooting the highest quality JPEG.

In the beginning, when digital cameras first became popular, something called Lag Time was a major issue. The "lag" in between the time you clicked the shutter button and the time the shutter opened was very obvious. With the recent advances in technology there has been a significant reduction in lag time. Even the most budget friendly cameras have a very quick turn around time in between shots or during a series of quick exposures. If your photography requires fast shooting and many frames per second (i.e. sports photography), it would be a smart idea to research the frames per second and lag time statistics prior to purchasing.

ISO In traditional (film) photography ISO (or ASA) was the indication of how sensitive a film was to light. It was measured in numbers (you've probably seen them on films - 100, 200, 400, 800 etc). The lower the number the lower the sensitivity of the film and the finer the grain in the shots you're taking.

As with many things, this increased sensitivity does have its drawbacks. When using film you might get an excess of grain, with digital photography you get what is called noise. The grain you might see on your film, in most cases, is generally considered acceptable and even might be desired in some cases. On the other hand noise does not have the same allure. Unlike different emulsions of film, the sensor really only has one sensitivity. To manage an increased ISO, or during very long exposures, the camera must send more power to the sensor, which often will result in the appearance of small specks or dots of white or color. You will also sometimes see a blotchy look which is created from the higher ISO's or long exposures. Generally most of the noise is generally manifested in the darker areas of your photograph. If your photography requires higher ISO settings this is an important point to pay attention to; this often occurrs during nighttime or long exposures. In higher priced cameras, manufacturers have spent the money to reduce the noise problem, but it still may present itself on the less expensive models. Look to reviews for how much noise individual cameras will produce.

Resolution Resolution is arguably the least understood and most talked about feature of digital cameras. The more resolution the better is what the general consensus is. However this isn't always the case, more resolution doesn't always mean better photographs.

Resolution Probably the least understood and most talked about feature of digital cameras. The more the better, right? Well, most of the time. More resolution doesn't always mean better photographs.

Please don't forget, it is common to see cameras that are equal in resolution but have different size sensors. In cases like this I would go for the larger sensor. So how can you figure out how much resolution you do need? It's very simple really. Just ask yourself how large of a picture do you want to make. The 3 and 4 Megapixel cameras are plenty sufficient for everything will print good quality pictures up to 8x10. If you want to make larger printsyou can move up to the 5 and 6 Megapixel cameras.

White Balance The processors ability to create "correct" color in your pictures is referred to as white balance. The sensor in the digital camera always captures "raw" images at which point the onboard processor processes it and then sends it to the memory card.

White Balance White balance refers to the processors ability to create "correct" color in your pictures. The digital camera sensor always captures "raw" information and then the onboard processor processes it and sends it to the memory card.

The human eye is excellent at ignoring color casts. When we are indoors under typical house lighting the color is quite orange/yellow, office lighting (fluorescent) is very green. Our eyes are able to ignore this, but film and digital cameras do not. They record faithfully. When using film it is necessary to put filters on your camera or to buy film that is balanced for the particular lighting (color) that you are using. With digital we can simply change our white balance. All digital cameras come with a fine selection of white balance options for correcting typical lighting situations. They all will include an auto setting as well. This is useful if you do not know what kind of light you are working under. The more expensive models will come with the ability to custom balance to any color light!

So if your light is Then the color is Choose this White Balance for good color Daylight Neutral ("white) Daylight Late Afternoon/Sunset Warm (yellow/orange) Daylight Early Morning Warm (yellow/orange) Daylight Cloudy Cool (blue) Cloudy/Overcast Open Shade Very Cool (blue) Open shade Unknown Light source ??? Auto Tungsten/Incandescent Very yellow/orange Tungsten/Incandescent Fluorescent Green Fluorescent

Lenses Lenses play a major part in creating high image quality, along with the sensor and processor. Luckily in todays marketplace we are at a place in time where most lenses are of a very high quality. So we now know that speed and length are the qualities that you should look at. Speed refers to the fastest -stop of the lens. 2.8 is faster than 3.5, which is faster than 4. A faster lens allows you to shoot in lower light conditions without raising your ISO. It also allows you to achieve a shallow depth of field, which should result in a blurred back or foreground.

Lenses Along with the sensor and processor, lenses play a major part in creating high image quality. Luckily we are at a place in time where most lenses are of a very high quality. So speed and length are the qualities that you should look at. Speed refers to the fastest -stop of the lens. 2.8 is faster than 3.5, which is faster than 4. A faster lens will allow you to shoot in lower light conditions without raising your ISO. It will also allow you to achieve a shallow depth of field, which will result in a blurred back or foreground. Buying a new digital camera

Focal length is the next consideration you should think of before purchasing a digital camera. Do you like to shoot with wide-angle lenses? Long telephoto lenses? Do you enjoy shooting up close with macro lenses? Digital cameras have all the same lens options that your film camera does. It is simply a matter of choosing the camera with the qualities that you want. By looking through magazines or surfing on to the web and going to www.dpreview.com you can easily find the specifications that describe all of the options.

When it comes to focal length it is important to remember that two sets of specifications are generally given. The first is usually the actual focal length of the lens. For example, 7mm-28mm. This would be an extreme wide angle on a film camera. The digital camera however, has a smaller sensor area then the film camera which makes the 7mm lens look more like a 35mm lens. So the second set of numbers on this lens would be 35mm-136mm. This is generally called the 35mm equivalent. When looking for a digital camera these are the numbers you should pay attention to when checking for focal range as they will be more familiar to you.

Most amateur digital cameras do not provide real wide angle lens choices. They will commonly go down to 35mm or even 28mm but rarely can you find a 24mm or wider. This is mainly due to the difficulties in building such a small focal length lenses. So if you enjoy wide angle photography you many want to think about moving up to a digital SLR.

When it comes to long telephoto lenses, however, the digital cameras have a big advantage! Their smaller sensor size turns even moderate telephotos into very long lenses. For example a real 57mm focal length behaves like a 370mm! This is a real boon to folks who like to shoot "long". Beware however of cameras which claim their longest focal length as Digital Zoom. Digital Zoom should always be avoided. We are concerned only with real or actual focal lengths.

The last lens specification to consider prior to purchasing is the focusing distance. If you like, or need, to shoot macro, look for a lens that has the ability to focus very close. They will usually be signified by a "macro mode" or be called "close focusing".

Shooting your digital camera in the field Shooting your digital camera should be the fun part. Do not let all of the bells and whistles confuse you out in the field. There are many choices and they can be a bit overwhelming. Here a are three of the most important things you should always check before you start photographing.

ISO- If you are outdoors or in areas where you have plenty of light keep the ISO set to a low (100 or 50). Raise the ISO only when you need to prevent camera shake. Typically most digital cameras will provide great images all the way up to 400 ISO. If you need to go higher than 400 ISO, you must know that you may run the risk of introducing a visible amount of noise to your photos. Take some time and play with your digital camera to figure out which ISO produces unacceptable noise levels.

Jpeg vs. Raw- This is an easy choice. If you want to manipulate every photograph in your computer, shoot RAW. This format is much more flexible and enables you to correct errors in exposure and color cast without downgrading the quality of your image. If you do not have the time or desire to work on every image, then use the highest quality Jpeg mode. Jpeg mode uses a minimum amount of image compression and provides extremely high quality pictures.

Image Size- Many cameras will come with multiple resolutions. Your choices may look like this: 2304x1728, 1600x1200, 1280x960, 640x480. Simply put, always choose the highest resolution. In this case that would be 2304x1728. This will supply you with the highest quality images possible.

Digital Camera Accessories It is an understatement to say that there are a lot of accessories for the digital camera! It boggles the mind the number of choices available such as cases, cards and storage units. Not all of the accessories are a necessity, in fact there are only a very few accessories that are absolute necessities.

Compact Flash-The first accessory is the type of storage medium that your camera uses to store your photographs. I prefer cameras that use Compact Flash as I have found this medium to be the best all around Flash Card. Compact Flash cards are sturdy, durable, not too small to lose or to big to be bulky. They also come in very large capacities-up to 8 gigabytes! Personally I recommend that people should have at least two cards in case one card becomes damaged or lost. How much you want to spend will determine your total amount of storage (cameras rarely ship with a card that is adequate for most photographic purposes). Having two 512Mb cards might be enough for most shooting situations, unless you take loads of photographs. Having 4 of these cards or two 1 GB cards will ensure that you will never be without storage.

Portable Storage-If you have an ample amount of Flash Card storage, you will not need a portable storage unit. This is however contingent on downloading your cards on a daily basis. If you are in a situation where you will not have access to your computer for long periods of time you may want to consider a portable storage unit. The most basic form of storage is one that allows you to plug your card into the unit, and download your images. You can then put the card back into your camera, reformat it, and continue shooting. When you get home you simply attach the storage unit to your computer and transfer the images. Most of these units come with enough storage space for many days of shooting. I would consider a unit with at least 10Gb of storage.

Storage and transfer are the most basic function which all of the models will perform. From here they can get really fancy. There are units that will automatically burn Cds from your cards, which produces an immediate archive of your images. Others come with an Lcd screen that allows you to view your images right on the storage device. Advanced features will even enable you to organize your images into folders and albums. Think about the length of time you will be away from your computer before purchasing one of these storage units. You may not need one.

Extra Batteries / Charger Digital cameras run through batteries at an alarming rate. A definite purchase would be back up batteries. In this instance, rechargeable batteries are the intelligent choice because you will be using so many. Also, most digital cameras now come with a proprietary lithium battery with a charger. This is a good thing as it allows a stronger battery however you still would want a back up battery so you can continue to use your camera while one is charging. If this is your situation, purchase extra batteries when you buy your camera. If your camera is powered by common AA batteries, you would be wise to buy a couple sets of rechargeable batteries and a charger.

Bulb blower- this is a must if you are considering purchasing an interchangeable lens SLR. Often when you change the lens on these cameras dust is introduced into the camera body. Ultimately the dust will migrate to your sensor and manifest itself as small blurry splotches on your final image. A few seconds with the blower bulb will save you hours on the computer cleaning up your photographs!
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