A&P Guide to buying a digital camera.

Discussion in 'Lifestyle' started by Tomash, Oct 24, 2003.

  1. Tomash

    Tomash Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 31, 2003
    Messages:
    77,754
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Houston, TX
    I hope this little guide I wrote a while ago will help you.

    Part I
    Choosing a Digital Camera.


    First of all, you must set your goals and identify needs, whether you need a professional but expensive camera, or cheaper, simpler one. If you want to take pictures that, by some, could be described as art, then you will most likely need a more expensive camera that will let you adjust all sort of values and change options. However, if you opt for a camera to take on a trip or a walk just to take pictures for future reference, are simpler model will be sufficient.
    In the following paragraphs I will try to tell you what you should look for in a camera, but you should remember that after reviewing all specifications and facts it al comes down to your personal opinion and preference. Best way to judged camera’s picture quality is to use it. Try to find a store that will have a model on display and try to play with it, or find someone who owns a camera of similar specifications as one you set your sights on.


    Part II
    Main Features.


    Resolution - The number of pixels used to capture or display an image.
    You shouldn’t look for any camera with resolution lower than 2.1 MP (megapixel), which should be sufficient for a 4" x 6" print-out, but if you are interested in printing pictures on an 8" x 10" paper, you should look for a camera with higher resolution like 3.3MP or even higher - 4.1MP. Anything bigger isn't necessary unless you need to make professional print-outs, however, the bigger the better.
    Bottom line - 2.1MP is minimum, and 3.3 and some 4.1 offer best price/performance ratios.

    Connectivity - Interface camera uses to connect to the computer.
    Even though almost all newer models use USB 1.1 or 2.0 interface, you still can come across products using older Serial Port technology. This should be avoided at all costs, because transfer rate and times are several times longer than with using USB ports. Now, whether you choose a camera with USB 1.1 or 2.0 interface isn't much of a dilemma nowadays, because there isn't much of a difference in rates.
    Another way to connect a camera to a PC is via Firewire interface. It offers great speed, but you must have a Firewire port in your PC, which still is not nearly as popular as USB. Besides, you very rarely get to transfer an amount of data so big that Firewire would be a necessity.
    Bottom line - USB is a must!

    Batteries - Cameras now use three different types of power sources: rechargeable batteries (NiMH, usually AA or AAA) proprietary batteries (Li-Ion) and built-in.
    Most of the lower and middle range cameras use rechargeable NiMH (Nickel Metal Hybrid) or NiCad (Nickel Cadmium) batteries. This way of providing power is the best, because of few reasons. Rechargeable bakeries are fairly cheap; they can provide lots of power, especially the 1850 mAh (Milii-Amp-Hour) ones; if you run out of power in the middle of a trip, and a charger is not available at the moment, you can just go to a gas station a grab a pack of alkaline AAs or AAAs. At the other hard, some top shelf cameras use Li-Ion proprietary batteries, which have their pros and cons. They do last longer than AAs, have the ability to tell you how many minutes you have left, but they are quite expensive, and you can't just go to a nearest store and replace them. As for built-in batteries, they usually are reserved for sub-compact cameras, like Fujifilm Finepix F401.
    Bottom line - If you can, go for a camera that uses AAs or AAAs.

    Zoom - There are two ways a camera can zoom, or magnify, the picture: optical, which involves changing the focal lengths; and digital, which interpolates the image.
    Optical zoom, like I said, involves changing the focal length which is the distance between the lens and the point where light sensor, or film, is. It is the optimal method of zooming, even though, some models may distort the image, it is still much better than using a digital zoom. Digital zoom magnifies the image by selecting the center part of the frame, and simply stretching it. This causes loss of quality and creates so-called "jaggies" on the image. Today, cameras offer a mixture of ways to magnify an image. They offer optical zoom, usually 2x or 3x, and digital, between 2x and 4x, of course it varies depending on model, but these values are standard in middle-ranged models.
    Bottom line - Look for both ways of zooming, but hold optical as more important.

    Media - Cameras now use several modes os storing images on cards referred to as Flash Cards: PCMCIA Cards, Compact Flash Type I and II, Memory Stick, Smart Media and xD Picture Cards.
    Different manufacturers prefer different types, and there isn't really much difference between them. The cards differ in shapes and physical sizes, but most of them have similar price and capacity of 8, 16, 32, 64 and 128MB. Only exceptions are Compact Flash Type II cards, which are compatible with IBM's Microdrive technology allowing for cards with capacity of up to 1GB (340, 512 and 1024MB,) and the xD Picture Card, which, in near, future should be able to hold as much as 8GB of data.
    Bottom line - xD and CF Type II seems to be the best choice, because they have, or will have, biggest variety of sizes.

    Image Formats - Way camera compresses the image, whether it uses JPEG, GIF, TIFF, RAW formats or uses a brand specific format (like Casio with their .CAM format.)
    If you are a casual photographer, Fine JPEG compression should be enough for you, because it offers quite good quality while takes up minimal space on the memory card. If quality is your main concern, then look for a camera that allows you to save images in TIFF or RAW modes, which offer none, or almost none compression. This gives you best quality, but takes up a lot of space.
    Bottom line - JPEG is sufficient for casual photography.

    Dimensions and Design - Unless you are looking for a really small camera that would fit in your front shirt pocket, dimensions are something you should consider a priority while shopping for a camera. Also, smaller cameras may not always be able to have same features as their bigger relatives, for example Olympus C-7xx series are big and bulky cameras, but they have multitude of different options, and a superb 8-10x optical zoom, while small and compact Fujifilm F401 is really small, but has weak zoom capabilities and built-in battery. As for design, well, there's no better way to judge camera's design and feel but to actually hold and use it for some time, so that's exactly what I recommend. Go to a store, check out how it feels, check out the button placement, see it's too big or too small.
    Bottom line - You should go for a camera that fits your needs and fits your hand.

    LCD Screen - Liquid Crystal Display is found on virtually every camera. There are many types of LCD screens, but two are most common: TFT (Thin Film Transistor) which is brighter and has better colors, but uses a lot of electricity, and DSTN (Double Super Twisted Nemantic), which doesn't project images as good as in case of the TFT, but is more efficient and uses less electricity. LCS display allows reviewing and previewing pictures, as well as accessing menus and changing certain options and values. Definitely look for one in your digital camera, they are a must, so it is hard to find a camera without one.
    Bottom line - What you should look for is display's diagonal, which usually is between 1.5" and 1.8".


    Part III
    Other Features You Should Consider.


    Macro Mode - Taking pictures of objects that are extremely close to the camera. If you are interested in this feature, then you should select a camera that needs shortest minimal distance between object being photographed and the camera. This feature is rarely found on lower-shelf cameras.

    Red-Eye Reduction - A system, present on some cameras, that causes the pupils of a subject being photographed to shrink, as if in bright light, and which prevents the red-eye effect. It's a feature included in most of modern cameras, but always check for it. The red-eye problem can be annoying, but there's a wide variety of software that can correct it, so either way it shouldn't be a problem.

    Exposure Compensation - A system which allows "dialing-in" or adding or subtracting evaluation values (EV) for a given image. Compensating involves deciding whether or not the meter reading is under or over exposing and correcting the error. This method allows bringing out details in dark zones or lessening the intensity of bright zones, making the image more acceptable. Basically, what this definition tells you, is that exposure compensation allows you to brighten or darken the image if the surroundings are to dark or bright. You should definitely look for this feature because it really is helpful in excessive- or low-light situations.

    Metering - It's a system which measures the amount of light in the current frame and automatically adjusts the best exposure. In almost all cameras, this is process is being done automatically, but different manufacturers offer different metering modes: Center-Weighted Average Metering, Spot (Partial) Metering and Matrix or Evaluative Metering. Center-Weighted Average Metering takes into consideration the amount of light in the entire frame, but gives extra weight to the center. Spot (Partial) Metering takes into consideration the center of the frame, usually a circle not bigger than 10% of the area of the whole frame. Last but not least, Matrix or Evaluative Metering divides the frame into many sectors (anything between 30 and 200) and then measures light in every sector individually. Matrix or Evaluative Metering is the most complex metering mode and often found in higher-end cameras,

    ISO Settings - A standard identifying sensitivity of camera’s sensors. Generally, a regular point-and-shoot camera will offer only one, factory-set setting of ISO 100, which is sufficient for an outdoor shot. Some middle- and most high-end cameras however, will offer you a user controllable ISO setting, ranging from ISO 50 to ISO 800. Using lower ISO (100, 200) settings is good in well lit areas, and is acceptable for use in portraits. Using higher ISO settings (400 or even 800) should be used when taking a picture of a fast-moving object in a really well lit area. However, remember that increasing the ISO value will enlarge the grain size on the picture, which can slightly degrade image quality.

    Shutter Speeds - Time shutter stays open. Again, lower priced cameras will have automatic shutter speed, but the more expensive models should have user-controllable shutter speed. On middle-range models this can vary from 1/2000 of a second to 16 seconds, but on various high-end cameras this setting can go as low as 1/8000 of a second and as high as one minute or even higher. Variable shutter speed is a good thing to have, because changing it to a higher value can darken your picture in high-level of light situation or allow you to take pictures of fast-moving objects. Now, lowering it to sub-one-second levels and lower gives you the advantage of being able to take a picture without flash in extremely low light situations.

    Aperture Setting - Setting that changes the size of the hole that allows the light to pass onto the sensor. In some cameras from lower shelves, and most from higher, this setting is user-controlled. Increasing this value will enlarge that hole allowing more light to pass onto the sensor, while decreasing will do the opposite.

    Flash Shoe - Flash shoe is not a necessity. Basically, what a “hot shoe” is a mount for an external flash unit. They are used for taking pictures of objects or persons not too far from the camera, because they are effective only at a certain range. In most cases, built-in flash is sufficient, but some may find it lacking, in those cases, an external flash is the best way out.

    Tripod Mount - Tripod mount is something, every camera should have. It’s a small mount at the bottom of the camera, in most cases 1/4" in diameter, which is the universal size, used for connecting the camera for a tripod or other stabilizing device. They usually are made of metal or plastic, but the former being more desirable for it's higher longevity and ruggedness, however, a plastic one will do too. Tripods are convenient for taking portraits and other kinds of pictures when you’re not “on the go” because they are the best way to stabilize your camera, to reduce vibrations, and to keep it positioned in one place. Generally, a tripod mount is included in most new cameras.

    Threaded Lens - End of the lens barrel is threaded to accept different filters and other accessories. This is almost always found on high-end cameras, because this feature most often is used in professional photography. For a casual user it will be useless, however, because he will not find a use for such accessories. If you think you might be needing those, then try looking for a camera that has them; if the camera you set your sights on has them - great, but if it doesn’t then any worries.

    Remote Control - This feature doesn’t need an explanation. It’s a remote with a regular zoom in, zoom out, button for operation a slide show, and other somehow useful buttons. It is included usually only in middle- and high-range cameras, and is sort of a gimmick, nothing necessary, but a good thing to have.

    Movie Mode - Camera's ability to record movies.
    Most of new cameras have the ability to record low quality movies in various formats (AVI, MPEG, MOV,) different lengths and resolutions. Usually, this feature will be available in almost every middle- and high-range camera, and in few from the lower shelf. The resolutions are usually in the vicinity of 320x240 pixels and around 20 frames per second. This is sufficient for recording movies for fun, but not if you are serious about it. Also, some cameras put a limit on how long a recorded movie can be, it can range from anything between 15 seconds and one minute, however, some high-end model offer recording videos of unlimited length, (well, limited only by card's capacity.)
    Bottom line - If you want this feature then go for it, it's fun, but don't expect great quality.


    Part IV
    Useful Links.


    Megapixel.net - Site offering reviews of hundreds different cameras, possibly the best one out there.
    Digital Photography Review - Site offering reviews as well as other miscellaneous items like glossary, discussion board, time-line and specifications of cameras.
    Digital Camera Resource - Another great site offering reviews of many cameras, also featuring FAQ, discussion board and buyer's guide.
    Steve's Digicams - Yet another site offering reviews of digital cameras, camcorders and other equipment related to photography.
    Imagining Resource - A good and informative website about photography. Features reviews, lessons and price checks.
    Price Grabber - Listing of retailers and prices of all kind of electronic equipment.
    Price Scan - Another listing of retailers and prices of all kind of electronic equipment.


    Bibliography


    Megapixel.net
    Digital Photography Review
    Price Grabber


    Copyrights 2003 Tomash
     
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2003
  2. TypeSDragoon

    TypeSDragoon Guest

    :cool: thanks for putting it up in here :p
     
  3. Tomash

    Tomash Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 31, 2003
    Messages:
    77,754
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Houston, TX
    No problem. :)
    And thanks for stickifying it. :bigthumb:
     
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2003
  4. NocturnalC

    NocturnalC Guest

    Don't remotes allow you to actually press the shutter and take a photo remotely? I can see how that feature would be more useful than anything listed there (slideshow?)
     
  5. fd

    fd Guest

    Well I know the canon cameras that have remotes allow you to take photos remotely becasue I do it with mine all the time :)
     
  6. jinushaun

    jinushaun New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2002
    Messages:
    60,739
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Capitol Hill, Seattle, WA, USA
    1. Ask OT
    2. Buy A70
    3. ???
    4. Profit

    :o
     
  7. hoabegrubn

    hoabegrubn Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 11, 2001
    Messages:
    2,098
    Likes Received:
    0
    the link to Steve's Digicam website is busted :o (misspelled URL)
     
  8. Joshsti_NZ

    Joshsti_NZ Guest

    A70 fo lief
     
  9. Tomash

    Tomash Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 31, 2003
    Messages:
    77,754
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Houston, TX
    Not sure about the A75, but up until about 4 hours ago I was considering the A80. From what I gathered, you could take around 200 pics with moderate LCD and flash use using 2200 mAh NiMHs.
     
  10. Tomash

    Tomash Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 31, 2003
    Messages:
    77,754
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Houston, TX
    It was. :coold:
    Thanks. :coold:
     
  11. Grandmaster

    Grandmaster New Member

    Joined:
    Sep 20, 2003
    Messages:
    2,846
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    University of Maine @ Orono
    I've got another version of a digital camera guide i figure I should share:

    Originally posted here:
    http://www.graphic-forums.com/showthread.php?threadid=2113

     
  12. k270

    k270 Guest

    I just bought a Sony DSC-P73 Digital camera. I've heard about Monster making rechargeable AA batterys. Are they any good? Any other recomendations? Thanks in advance.
     
  13. mojito

    mojito New Member

    Joined:
    Mar 8, 2003
    Messages:
    62,877
    Likes Received:
    0
    highest MilaAmp Power possible 2200 or 2300
     
  14. Cyber0066

    Cyber0066 New Member

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2003
    Messages:
    75
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Toronto
    awsome guide. Really helpful
     
  15. Homer

    Homer Slaaap da baaasssss...

    Joined:
    Jun 16, 2001
    Messages:
    7,410
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    CT
    I read most if it, not a bad guide

    only statement I really have a problem with, because it's not true
     
  16. BlackWRX

    BlackWRX New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 25, 2002
    Messages:
    25,574
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Bay Area, CA
    Only a few things I see wrong with it.

    The USB statement is false. USB 2.0 is insanely faster than 1.1. Also, you tell people to look for a camera that accepts AA or AAA batteries, which I disagree with. Lithium-ion is the way to go. Lastly, you make it seem as if Matrix Metering is a godsend or something. Matrix metering is good for basic images that need the entire shot metered the same. You will find many pro's sticking with spot or center weighted most of the time.
     
  17. raptor_talon

    raptor_talon Who is the master? Sho'nuff!

    Joined:
    May 16, 2001
    Messages:
    5,809
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    T.O.
    :werd: and firewire is even better.
     
  18. Damn it Bobby

    Damn it Bobby .

    Joined:
    May 2, 2004
    Messages:
    9,705
    Likes Received:
    0
    Isn't USB1.1 40 times slower than USB2.0?
     

Share This Page