Choose the Digital Camera That's Right for You What to know before you buy Know the jargon Know how you'll use a digital camera and images Know how much you can pay Know your shooting habits and preferences Shoot lots of pictures Know the jargon If you're new to digital cameras and you start shopping without understanding the basic terms, you'll be confused very quickly. While it may seem that digital imaging has its own language, you don't have to learn all of the language to take advantage of digital imaging. Just get a good grip on the following basic concepts. Resolution In simple terms, resolution is a measure of image quality: the higher the resolution, the better the image. Likewise, the better (more detail in) the image, the larger the print you can make. On digital cameras, resolution has traditionally been determined by the number of pixels (small squares) on the camera's digital image sensor. The higher the number of pixels on the sensor, the more detail you'll get in the image. Newer standards for resolution measure lines per picture height, with most 3-megapixel cameras being capable of resolving approximately 1,100 lines per picture height. Some of the newest cameras have a 5-megapixel resolution. Megapixel Technically, megapixel means millions of pixels. (A pixel is one of the small squares in an image, and each pixel is assigned color and intensity.) In nontechnical terms, the higher the megapixel number, the finer the detail will be in your pictures and the larger the print you can make from it. Ultimately, megapixel numbers matter because they determine how large you can print the images you take. Note: You can print at less than 300 dpi and get a good picture. In fact, almost all camera reviews say that a 2- to 3-megapixel camera will produce acceptable 8" × 10" prints. However, for the purposes of this article, we use 300 dpi as the norm for photo-quality results. Optical vs. Digital Zoom In oversimplified terms, Optical Zoon is the magnification is from the (lens) glass, not from software inside the camera. Digital zoom, on the other hand, is not a result of lens magnification. Digital zoom crops the image so the center appears larger or more magnified. Predictably, digital zoom reduces the overall size of the image. The result with some interpolation programs is visible pixelization (noticeably jagged pixels), while other programs produce smoother edges. The photo results are always better with optical zoom but Optical zoom also costs more. Removable Storage Media/Memory Card A media or memory card is a small reusable card that stores digital images—the digital equivalent of film. The common varieties are: CompactFlash, SmartMedia, Memory Stick . After you fill up a card with pictures, these handy cards can be plugged into a card reader or adapter that plugs into your computer, so you can offload images from the card onto your computer. They come in different sizes, from 4 or 8 megabytes (MB) to 356 MB or higher. Most new cameras come with a 16-MB card, but you'll want at least one or two cards with higher storage capacity. Know how you'll use a digital you're considering. One way to look at how you'll use the camera is to decide what you want to do with the images. If you want digital snapshots so you can send pictures to friends by e-mail, post them in an online album or on a personal Web site, and occasionally print small-size prints, (4”x6”) then a camera that can resolve 1 to 2+ megapixels is good enough. If, however, you also want prints larger than 4" × 6" from your digital images, then shop for a 2- to 3-megapixel or higher camera. Know how much you can pay. With the current frenzy of sales, you can pick up a real bargain on a digital camera. This means you have more cameras to match your shooting preferences. The following table shows how much camera you can get in different price ranges. Note Prices and features are constantly changing. Price range Type Megapixel Features s $300 and Compact 1 to 3+ Fixed and zoom lens, fully automatic, internal memory under and memory card slot, built-in flash, optical and digital zoom. $300 to Compact 3 to 5 Noninterchangeable zoom lens, built-in flash, automatic $500 and some manual settings, audio and video recording (some models), ability to buy add-on accessory lenses. $500 to Compact 3 to 5 Noninterchangeable quality zoom lens, accessory lens, $700 to zoom- built-in or external flash capability, automatic and manual lens settings. May include image stabilization and noise reflex reduction for hand-held and long-exposure shots. As you calculate your budget, be sure to figure in accessories, including extra memory cards, a card reader or PC card adapter, AC charger/adapter, cables (if not included). Know your shooting habits and preferences Now factor in the kinds of subjects you'll be shooting, personal preferences, and the camera's design. In day-to-day use, this translates into how easily and quickly you can get to the settings you change most often. Take an afternoon to visit a camera store and try out the cameras you think you'd like to buy. Does the camera fit in your hands comfortably? Is it heavy enough to provide some stabilization as you shoot? If you are taking photos of sporting events does it shoot fast enough? Are the controls easily accessible? How long is the shutter lag time, (the time difference between when you push the shutter button and the camera takes the picture )? Make a list of your preferences and prioritize them. Shoot lots of pictures Once you've chosen your digital camera, take the time to read the manual thoroughly. While digital cameras resemble their film counterparts in most respects, there are differences. If you don't read the manual, you'll miss some of the cool features. Then shoot lots of pictures. It's only by taking pictures that you learn. And with the digital camera, the learning accelerates at a pace that will amaze and delight you. This tip sheet is adapted from an MSN.com article by Charlotte K. Lowrie it has been edited for space considerations. About the author: Charlotte K. Lowrie is managing editor of editorial content for MSN Photos. Her writing and photography have been published in magazines, including Quill (Society of Professional Journalists), Walking, and Texas Highways, and the Dallas Morning News.
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