Choosing a new digital camera can be quite overwhelming. There are many choices, options and price points. Which one is the best? Perhaps the better question would be, “What is the best digital camera for me?” Reflecting on how you are likely to use the digital camera will help you make the best decision. A casual shooter who wants to get pictures of the kids to email to family and friends has different needs than a professional photographer.
One of the first statistics to consider about a digital camera is the resolution of the digital camera sensor, the bit that converts light into a digital file. The resolution is expressed in megapixels, or millions of picture elements. Generally more is better. However, remember that the digital sensor is like the film in a film camera. Both the super cheap cameras and professional camera may take the same film, but the resulting images will be very different. The lens, and in the case of digital cameras, the image processing software make a tremendous difference. Look at the lens; words like coated optics and aspherical elements are good. If the digital camera has a lens made by Zeiss, Rodenstock, Schneider or other major lens companies, it can make a big difference. Some major digital camera brands (Kodak, Canon, Nikon) make their own superb lenses as well. Better lenses result in sharper, clearer pictures and better colors.
As far as megapixels are concerned, 2 or 3 megapixels will yield a 5×7 inch print that is comparable to a print from film. Greater resolution will enable larger prints. If you only do the occasional enlargement and mostly get standard sized prints (or simply enjoy your pictures on the computer) don’t get overly stressed about the resolution. Most consumer cameras are in the 6-10 megapixel range, which will do for almost all applications.
Optical Zoom is often another confusing issue. Optical zoom lets you get closer to the action with actually moving. My wife was photographing a grizzly bear and wanted more than a tiny brown dot in the middle of her picture, but she also wanted to keep a nice, safe distance back. The zoom feature on her digital camera brought the image of the bear much closer. Optical zoom uses your camera’s lens to magnify the image whereas digital or software zoom works with the digital camera’s sensor to enlarge the image. Using the digital zoom can quickly result in pixellated or blocky looking pictures, so a greater range of optical zoom is usually preferable.
Video Recording is another nice option. It won’t replace your camcorder, but having the option to capture a quick clip with sound is nice. This feature is rapidly evolving and most of the high-end digital cameras offer video capture in high-definition.
Low Light Photography; the ability to take acceptable pictures without using the flash is another important aspect in choosing a digital camera. Light sensitivity is often referred to using ISO Numbers or an ISO Rating, and higher numbers mean more sensitivity. Many times using a flash is impolite or impractical. Many concerts and museums don’t allow flash photography, and the tiny flash on most cameras is only designed to reach across the room, not across a stadium. Shooting in low light requires a steady hand or a tripod and digital “noise” becomes a problem. Noise is a term for the bits of wrong color or grain that appear in digital pictures. Cameras with higher ISO settings (1,600; 3,200) tend to control it better.
Flexibility. When first choosing a digital camera, most photographers will use the fully automatic mode that all cameras come with. However, with experience, most shooters will want the flexibility to control more aspects of the camera operation. Different shooting modes or direct control of shutter and aperture are how that is achieved. But if the thought of leaning about all these modes and buttons is overwhelming, then perhaps a simpler, fully automatic camera would be more enjoyable. The whole point is to capture images that make you happy, and the digital camera, whether simple or complex is merely a tool toward that end.
When choosing a digital camera, all of these options and considerations can seem quite overwhelming. Perhaps the best thing to do is decide how you’re most likely to use the camera most of the time, and then decide which options are worth paying for and which are not. Sources such as Popular Photography (www.popphoto.com) and Shutterbug (www.shutterbug.com) offer great equipment reviews as well has helpful information.