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Buying a digital camera: What to look for

Buying a digital camera can be quite daunting if it’s your first time. There are numerous models of digital cameras out there, from simple point-and-shoot models to professional level DSLR (single reflex lens) cameras.

Finding the right camera that suits your needs will take time, and quite a bit of research. You should never rush into buying a digital camera. Take your time and where possible test the camera out before buying it.

Some important aspects to look at when buying your digital camera are:

Resolution:

The resolution of a digital camera refers to the image size that it can capture. Resolution is measured in megapixels (MP). The resolution of the camera will dictate the size of prints you will be able to make from the digital photos taken with the camera.

Bigger is better when it comes to megapixels, but with an increase in the resolution rating cameras also get more expensive. As a general rule of thumb a 4 MP (4 megapixel) camera should be suitable for most uses. If you are planning of making poster-sized prints of your photos you should consider cameras with a larger resolution rating (8 MP or more).

Check to make sure that the megapixel rating for the camera refers to the actual sensor resolution. Sensor resolution is what ultimately determines the quality of the images. Some cameras interpolate the images using software on the camera and that doesn’t reflect the true resolution of the sensor, which could be misleading.

Also bear in mind that the larger resolutions files take up more storage space on your memory card. So if you are considering a larger resolution camera you should also invest in a large memory card.

Size:

The physical size of the camera also plays an important role. You need to choose a camera that will be easy to handle and transport. If the camera is too bulky or uncomfortable, chances are that you won’t bother taking it with you on outings or vacations.

Luckily you get cameras in all shapes and sizes, so you are bound to find one that is just right for you. The more compact models should be the best option for most users, but be sure to test it out to make sure its comfortable to operate.

Lenses and zoom levels

Mid- and high level digital cameras have good zoom lenses. The zoom level is generally given according to magnification factor e.g. 3x.

The important thing to consider is optical zoom. Optical zoom refers to the actual zoom capability of the lens. This can range from 3x to around 12x for most cameras. Once again you need to consider what you will be using the camera for. If you are interested in wildlife photography, a higher zoom level might be useful.

Digital zoom is more or less meaningless. With digital zoom, software is used to zoom into the image, often causing pixelation. You can get exactly the same results using image-editing software on your computer.

Don’t be fooled by total zoom level. Often manufacturers take the digital zoom level and multiply it by the optical zoom level, giving a misleading magnification factor.

Features and manual settings

If you want to use the camera to take snapshots and family photos the “automatic shooting” mode should be all you will ever need. With this option the camera handles all the settings for you allowing you to concentrate on taking the photo without worrying about the settings.

If you want to get more advanced in photography you might want to look for a camera that allows you to change various settings (aperture, exposure etc.) yourself. This allows you more room for experimentation with your photography. Most mid-level cameras will allow you to shoot using both the automatic or manual modes. Professional level cameras will give you full control, but they can be very difficult for beginners to get used to.

Some cameras also offer “black and white” and “sepia” shooting modes. These are not a major concern as you can easily achieve the same effects using basic image-editing software on your computer.

Batteries:

Digital cameras can be quite heavy on batteries. Most digital cameras allow you to use standard batteries, but some make use of propriety battery packs. These propriety battery packs can be quite expensive and difficult to get when you want to get replacement or buy an additional battery pack. However they are normally more compact and might last longer than using standard batteries.

Cameras that use standard AA batteries have the benefit that it’s easy to get replacement batteries for them. A set of high quality rechargeable NiMH batteries and a battery charger is essential when your camera uses AA batteries. The mAh rating of the battery will give you an indication of how long they will last. For digital cameras it’s a good idea to get batteries of a minimum rating of at least 2000 mAh. It’s also wise to invest in a second set of batteries. That way you can have a fresh set ready while your other set of batteries are busy recharging.

Memory cards:

Memory cards are the storage place for all your photos. Most cameras come bundled with a small memory card. You will definitely want to invest in a larger memory card especially if you are getting a camera with a large MP rating.

Depending on your camera a 32MB card should be the bare minimum. Luckily the prices of memory cards have decreased considerably making 256MB, 512MB or even 1GB cards a much more affordable option.

The type of memory card your camera uses will depend on the manufacturer and model of your camera. There are different types of memory cards in use: Compact Flash, Secure Digital, Memory Stick, XD Picture Card and Multi Media cards. Some of these have more than one version so it is essential to check your camera's specifications to make sure that the memory card will work with it.

It’s no use spending the money only to discover that it doesn’t work with your camera.

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