Long gone are the days of 36 shot films and disposable flashes. The evolution of the age of the digital camera has allowed novice and expert photographers alike to review, edit and improve the quality of their pictures. Be it for the family album pic or the artistic landscape shot, the Ciao Shopping Guide to Digital Cameras gives you overview of some of the major features to look for when making your purchasing decision.
Price + Size
As you would expect, the average price of a digital camera can vary highly depending on the specifications you are looking for. For a camera that provides a basic offering, you can spend as little as £50, but expect the quality of your photos to suffer as a result. While improvements to the number of megapixels offered by cheaper cameras have been made, buyers need to look at many other factors if they want a camera that takes the perfect shot. The lack of a decent zoom, battery life, decent flash and sufficient image and editing features will all have a detrimental effect on the final photo quality. The better you want your camera to perform in these particular areas, the more you will have to spend. Good quality digital cameras will cost between £150 and £200, with the best products starting at just over £300.
A professional or amateur enthusiast will explore Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras as an option. These are often the most advanced cameras on the market, with features that allow a detailed preview of framing prior to the shot being taken and the ability to interchange different lenses at the discretion of the photographer. Prices for a good standard DSLR camera start at £500, with top end products costing more than £1500.
The alternative to a DSLR is often referred to as a compact or ‘point and shoot’ camera. These can be operated at arm’s length using only the LCD at the rear of the camera.
The size of an average digital camera is somewhere around the 9cmx5.5cmx2cm. Where size really matters however is the LCD screen on the back, which should take up no less than three quarters of the back panel of the camera. This will help ensure that the true resolution capabilities be depicted properly. Previous
The basic image quality will largely depend on the mixture of lens quality, sensor size, the capacity of the optical lens and resolution. A good quality camera should offer upwards of 6 megapixels, a figure which is calculated by multiplying pixel columns by pixel rows and dividing by a million Cameras will almost certainly have worked this out for you offering you a number between roughly 1-12 to rate the resolution. This is not the be all and end all of a decent camera, but this will contribute to the end resolution of a printed photo. A megapixel rate of less than 4 will start to effect print photos of over 5”x7” (for comparison, the ‘traditional’ photograph size is 6”x4”).
The sensor size will also be a factor to consider in image quality – the sensor size of a good digital camera will be 8.8mm x 6.6mm, sometimes archaically referred to as 2/3". This is a common size for compact cameras and camera phones. Some brands such as Olympus, Fuji and Kodak also offer a standard 4/3” system, which has a 2X crop factor.Previous
Two types of zooms will be cited in product overviews: optical and digital. The optical zoom uses the camera lens to zoom, with the digital less important, only zooming into the picture itself. The average optical zoom for a digital camera is 3x, with the longest being around 12x. However, bear in mind that the digital zoom will only enlarge the image that has already been captured by the camera, meaning that the further you zoom in, the more the quality of picture decreases.
The optical zoom is measured in millimetres (mm). Its field of view is determined by the angle of the view from the lens to the scene and can be measured either horizontally or vertically. For consistency it is usually measured along the diagonal of the scene, and the resulting figure, the ‘focal length’, determines the width of the picture angle. A shorter focal length products a wider picture angle, while a longer focal length produces a narrower picture angle. A wide picture angle will be around 28mm or less, while a focal length of 35mm+ will have a significantly narrower picture angle. For reference, the human eye produces roughly the same picture angle as a 50mm lens – often called ‘a normal lens’ as a result.
For the more professional photographer with a DSLR, additional lenses will also need to be considered: these can range from £80 to as much as more than £1500. If you are looking for close range photography, it will also be worth checking the focus distances the camera offers and looking at whether a traditional viewfinder is required in addition to the LCD display screen alone.
Battery + Memory Capacity
Ensuring you choose a camera that takes a decent photo is not the only factor in the decision process. Decent battery life and sufficient-sized memory card of a universally accepted format are also important if you are to get the most out of your camera.
Two types of batteries tend to be required by a digital camera, both with their advantages and disadvantages. Normal AAs provide a convenient way to power your camera and are widely available. However, the increasingly innovative technology in a digital camera means that using AA batteries will leave you with a couple of hours battery life max. The alternative to this is buying a camera with a Lithium-Ion battery. This will last longer, but if these runs out they are less easily replaced while you’re out and about.
The modern digital camera offers a wide range of features that will adjust the products functionality. Some such as the flash on the camera are essential; others such as the voice recording memo to tag reminders of the photo could be considered superfluous. Most cameras will offer automatic modes, where your camera attempts to judge ideal settings, however these can be turned off if you require.
Your flash needs will depend on how you intend to use the camera. For a camera you are mostly intending to use indoors it may help to purchase an additional flash to improve lighting conditions. If you are particularly concerned about the effect of red-eye or unwanted hard shades it is also worth looking into the options for additional flash add-ons as these will make a significant difference to the final picture quality. Even if you’re not sure this applies to you, it’s well worth checking the reviews of any model you consider to see how other people have found the experience.
Some of the most exciting features are found in the camera’s menu, where you will be able to activate features such as face recognition, adjust the colours of images or adjust the image size itself.
The playback mode will allow you to look back through previous images that you have taken. Better cameras will allow you to also zoom in on these photos to get an idea of what they will look like when blown up.
A video recording option comes as standard on most digital cameras. However if this is something that is important to you, make sure you opt for a camera that does not have a limit on the length of time you can record – some cameras will only allow 3 minutes worth of video recordings, even if you have plenty of memory left.
For the more advanced photographer, you can on most cameras adjust shutter speed and even the size of the aperture. With certain products, you can also set timings for automatic shots or control shots using a remote control, making sure everyone can comfortably get in place for the annual family photo!
Almost every digital camera now offers a flash, which can be turned off or switched to an automatic mode. Previous
PC integration and editing
Integrating your camera onto your PC opens up editing suites and printing options to further make the most of your digital camera.
Many digital cameras will include a USB cable that enables you to connect the camera directly to your computer, giving you the freedom of controlling the slide show from the camera or directly from the PC. Alternatively you can buy a multi-card reader with USB cable to allow you to do the same. Other ways to connect your camera to your PC vary: via normal wiring, via SD card slots on laptops/computers or now even over a Bluetooth facility. If prints are required straight off, an increasing number of cameras can be connected directly to your printer.
Image software will often be provided with the camera, but to get the best programmes it may be worth considering buying an advanced editing suite, depending on what comes as standard with the product.
Editing is a great way to hide the blemishes that might otherwise have spoilt perfect photos. The most important features include adjusting colour and contrast and removing red eye. Some edit suites also allow you to zoom in on certain areas, provides cropping and straightening capabilities, to add text and to adjust the file format of the image.
Enjoying your camera
A good way to get the best value for money from your camera is to think about which features will meet your needs. Look to purchase a product that reflects the type of photos you want to take and that will survive the conditions where you want to use it – does it need to be extra-robust for hiking trips or waterproof for scuba diving? You may also want to be able to do more than just capture still images on your camera; if so many models now offer video recording facilities as well.
If you are using your camera on the move you may want to look into image stabilisers to help minimise blurring on the images. This is especially true for long lenses since at a certain distance every millimetre movement of your hand can result in a three metre movement on the subject.
Last but not least don’t forget about the range of accessories that may be available for your camera – cases, clip-on lenses and more. Check compatible accessory brands before you make your purchase so that you know how much flexibility you’ll have once you purchase your camera.
Good luck finding the perfect model for you
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