Although you need to establish a budget before you’re ready to go camera shopping, it is also essential you figure out what you want to do with your camera once you’ve brought it home. Think of shopping for a digital camera as being a bit like shopping for a car. If you’re a family or four, you’re probably not going to want to get a two-seater sports car. Instead, you’re more apt to opt for the minivan that provides the room for your family to be transported comfortably. But if you’re a single guy or gal who’s looking to make an impression with your vehicle, that flashy sports car might be just the ticket.
How do you want to use your digital images?
And what are you likely to take pictures of?
If you’re planning to use your camera to keep the family up-to-date on the new baby, then a low-end camera that is simple to operate and takes images that can be used on the Internet may well serve your needs. But if you are a serious photographer, you’re likely to be dreaming of owning a digital camera that provides digital images rivaling those you now get from your 35mm camera. If this describes you, then your main concern when choosing a digicam is resolution. Of course, higher resolution means a higher price tag, so your budget will have to be big enough to accommodate your desires. If you plan to print your images, you’ll probably want to find a camera that provides images of at least 1280 x 1024 resolution.
Getting the Resolution You Require
Let’s see how digital cameras stack up when we compare categories based on resolution and use.
Less Than 2 Megapixels
Upside: In this category you can find a camera that takes pictures that work well on the Web (for posting on Web sites and e-mail); good for the novice who wants an easy-to-use digicam.
Downside: Indoor photos will be of lower quality
Maximum resolution: 1024 x 768
Storage: 4 MB
Between 2 Megapixels and 3 Megapixels
Upside: Cameras in this category should provide consistent image quality; good for indoor and outdoor use; good selection of manual controls, including zoom
Downside: More expensive
Maximum resolution: 1600 x 1200
Storage: 8 MB
More Than 3 Megapixels
Upside: Cameras in this category should provide extremely high-quality images; extensive manual controls
Downside: Extremely expensive
Maximum resolution: 2048 x 1536
Storage: 8 MB
Other Advanced manual controls
Thanks for the Memory
When shopping for a digital camera, you’re going to need to take into account the kind of memory the camera uses to store images. Some cameras have built-in (onboard) memory; usually RAM (random access memory). This means that once the memory is filled up, your picture taking comes to a halt until you can get to a computer and transfer the images you’ve just taken – a task that can put a serious crimp in your photo shoot.
Most new digicams are being manufactured with removable media for image storage. Simply insert a memory card or disk into a slot on the camera and you’re ready to go.
Cameras without removable media cost less, but it’s worth it to spend the extra bucks for two good reasons:
- Once the memory card is filled up, you can simply replace it with another card. There’s no need to take a break in your picture taking.
- With onboard storage, the transfer process to your computer is more time-consuming and less efficient. You have to be able to connect the camera and the computer via a cable, which can be a cumbersome task, and then wait patiently while the images download.
Some higher-priced cameras feature both built-in RAM and removable memory. Because a camera can access the built-in RAM faster than it can access memory on a removable device, it uses the built-in memory as a buffer. Once you take a picture, the image is saved in the buffer before being sent to the removable memory. This allows you to take the next picture more quickly. And the camera may give you the option of saving your image with various compression modes while the image is still stored in the camera’s RAM.
The two most popular types of removable media are CompactFlash (256 MB Type I and 512 MB Type II) and SmartMedia (128 MB) cards. Both formats are widely used, so if you choose a camera that uses one of these, you’ll be more likely to find replacement cards when you’re traveling in foreign countries. And should you decide to buy a new camera, there’s a greater chance that your memory cards will work with your next model.
If you’re planning to spend the day taking photos, whether you’re backpacking in the mountains or exploring a tropical island, you’ll appreciate the ability of your digital camera to furnish a power supply and enough memory for a full day’s shoot. Rechargeable battery packs are now available with many cameras, and if you’re traveling or simply planning to spend an entire day pursuing the perfect shot, you’ll want to take along a spare battery pack. When your day’s shooting is done, simply plug in the charger and the next day the batteries will be ready to go once again.
Memory capacity is the other key to long-term shooting. If you’re on the road, you may find Iomega’s PocketZip a godsend. This compact, rechargeable, handheld drive can read both CompactFlash and SmartMedia cards. PocketZip then automatically transfers the images to a 40 MB, 2″-square disk. Once you’re back at home, you simply connect the PocketZip drive to your computer’s parallel port for downloading to your hard drive.