Guide to buying a digital camera
by Kevin Price
The digital camera market today offers buyers a large number of choices, with products in widely differing price ranges, sizes and degree of operational complexity. From miniatures the size of a credit card, to fully functional professional SLR (Single Lens reflex) systems, you can buy a digital camera from manufacturers including traditional camera brands such as Canon, Pentax, Nikon, film companies such as Kodak and Fuji, and consumer electronic companies like Sony. Then there are other options that include the mobile phone manufacturers, and webcam suppliers.
The advantages of digital photography are numerous. Topmost is the fact that there is no film processing: expensive both in cost and time. But there is also the advantage of smaller sized equipment, portable media and instant picture viewing. And if you don't like what you see, you simply delete it and shoot again: no wastage.
If you like to take pictures, being a digital photographer makes a lot of sense. But which camera is the best one for you? In a field of excess abundance, how do you narrow down what you need? How much to pay? How many megapixels? (What are they anyway?) Which brand? How much memory?
Every shopper is different.
At MyShopping.com.au we recognise this fact, and so we list practically all brands and models from hundreds of suppliers. These listings include the cold hard digital data facts about each camera and a range of comparative pricings offered by different suppliers. But just as every shopper is different, every photographer is different too. And just having the facts may not make you feel any more knowledgeable about which camera is right for you.
You could begin with the question: What sort of pictures will you take with your new digital camera? This is a valid starting point because from here you can begin to qualify your requirements in terms of technical capability and price. What sort of pictures will you take with your new digital camera? Is it simply for happy snaps whenever you get together with friends and family at weekends and holidays? Or are you a serious bird watcher and you want to capture nature at its finest? Perhaps you want a camera for work to record your inventory, or recording information from a client. Maybe you're a PI on a mission. The point is, you need to begin by recognising that your reason for buying a digital camera may not be the same as that of your best friend who is recommending the model she bought.
Once you've figured out the sort of pictures you are going to take, you can then set about deciding on the type of camera that will meet your needs. If you need something highly portable that fits in your shirt pocket or your handbag and lets you take it anywhere you go, make size a big consideration. If you want to take seriously good photographs, and you want to pursue an artistic endeavour, make image flexibility your main concern.
It might also be worthwhile considering your own position in the digital photography experience. Are you a novice about to buy your first camera, do you have some intermediate experience, or are you an advanced user?
Someone new to the market will likely not want to spend a lot of money, nor have a lot of mind-boggling features that leave you confused. There are cameras ideal for beginning users that have basic 'point and shoot' features including optical and digital zoom lens, flexible storage media and built in flash. There is a huge range of cameras available with simple features at low cost.
If you consider yourself an intermediate user with some operational knowledge of digital camera technology, you may want to consider more advanced features that give you more control over the pictures you take. These features usually come in a range of automatic settings and manual settings for capturing the image and different storage options in terms of resolution and picture type (raw data, jpeg, tiff). Naturally there is some cost attached to additional features when compared to more basic cameras.
For advanced users, there are a lot of professional options you can consider; such as SLR view finding and lens interchange ability. Cameras in this range provide much greater control over the image, both before and once it is captured. These options include shutter speed and aperture adjustment, and many cameras offer the ability to manipulate images 'in camera', such as cropping, and brightness and contrast adjustments.
After the picture is taken
A further main consideration is what are you going to do with your images once you have them? The great beauty of digital photography is the simple fact that you can store them on digital media such as CDs and media cards, and view them on computer screens and in many cases, your television. You need print only when and those you want to see, or show to others. Digital photography also gives fantastic opportunities to manipulate your images using popular image manipulation programs, resizing them, altering brightness and contrast characteristics, and correcting problems such as red eye, or removing skin blemishes.
Most digital cameras are computer ready, able to plug directly into your PC or Mac using USB connectors. They usually include proprietary software allowing you to easily and instantly manage your image files in photo albums or slide shows. Many digital cameras also include a video capture facility enabling you to take short motion pictures.
What you want to do with your images after you have them can have an impact on your choice of camera. If you want to make enlarged prints for example, you will want a high megapixel capacity (also talked about as 'resolution'). If you want images for website use, you will want to get the best quality images that can be reduced in resolution without severe degradation.
Beauty is in the 'I'
Great pictures usually come from great conditions. You capture a great moment, the light is just right, the subject is at the perfect distance, the image is perfectly framed. But not every digital camera offers the flexibility to make the best of existing light conditions, or position. Most digital cameras (certainly at the budget end) come with a built in automatic flash, which is terrific for happy snaps in darkened environments. And the automatic flash automatically does not 'go off' in bright sunny conditions. But in those times when you want to use the existing light, you need a camera that gives you manual control over the operation or not, of the flash.
Moreover, most digital cameras in the lower and medium price ranges are highly automated. If you are moving from a traditional SLR film camera where you have maximum control over shutter speed, aperture and ISO speeds, it may be frustrating to not have easy access to the same range of tools to take advantage of existing light conditions.
In the more advanced (and therefore more expensive) range of digital cameras, most lens and aperture functions are available in exactly the same way as other SLR systems. What differs is how the colours and light of the image is translated through pixel capture compared to the chemical processing systems.
You may want a wide range of focus options. Most digital cameras have two different types of image magnification, lens magnification (zoom) that may be equivalent of a 35mm to 150 mm lens, and a digital magnification that may be to ten-fold (expressed as x10). This provides you with zoom lens capability, which may be limited in its depth of field control and is subject to soft focus and movement if the conditions aren't just right, and a digital magnification of the pixel image. If being able to capture magnified distant images is important to you, you need more megapixels, and a lens system that gives you some control over its focus and aperture management.
A final word on accessory
Digital cameras are electronic equipment. That means they run on batteries, and if you use your camera a lot, you will find that you will be frequently replacing batteries. Some cameras have rechargeable batteries; others simply use dry cells (AA), which you can of course load with rechargeable ones. It pays to have spare batteries so that you always have a charged power source. Some cameras have docking stations to help manage the connection with computers. Many digital SLR cameras have interchangeable lens systems, some of which may be compatible with traditional film SLRs.
You can also print your own pictures at home with special printers that handle standard photograph paper, and connect directly to your camera. Although it may be less expensive to simply take your camera's card, or a CD to your local camera store, and now many supermarkets and department stores, and use the automatic printing machines to print the images you want.
There is a lot you can do with a digital camera, and you can pay les than $200, or more than $10,000. It all depends on how you see yourself as a photographer, what you're shooting, and what you want to do with your pictures. At Myshopping.com.au you can very quickly compare specifications and prices.
About the Author
Kevin Price has made this article for MyShopping.com.au