Purchasing a new digital camera can be a very overwhelming experience. Technology is continually changing and there seems to be upgraded cameras available every month! With these changes you can still ensure that you purchase the right camera for your needs by understanding the technology. You will not be able to understand all of it, however you can gain the knowledge to make the right decisions. This article will cover the features of digital cameras that are most important for you to understand.
For starters we have to understand the similarities of film and digital cameras. In short, a camera is a light tight box that allows exposure of a light-sensitive material through the use of a shutter and an aperture. This definition does not change from film to digital cameras, nor does the process.
Both film and digital cameras have lenses, which allows you to focus the image and control how the photograph will look (wide or telephoto). The lens is also one of the most important factors in determining overall quality of the image. The better your lens quality, the sharper and more clear your image will appear. Regardless if you are using film or digital photography – poor lenses = poor image quality.
Shutters control the duration of the exposure in both types of cameras. Both film and digital cameras use an Aperture to control how much light hits the sensor during the time frame that the shutter is open. Very large apertures (2.8 or 4) will let in a lot of light, while small apertures (16 or 22) will let in very little light.
Focusing will always be a necessary step in creating sharp photographs regardless of whether you are using film or digital cameras. Manual and auto focusing can be found on both types of cameras. So what are the differences between the two? The main difference is the way in which the cameras record light. The traditional camera uses film while the digital camera has a sensor and a processor. Understanding the way the sensor and processor work is the key to knowing digital cameras.
So what are the differences? The main difference is the way in which it records light. The traditional camera has film and the digital camera has a sensor and a processor. Understanding the sensor and processor is the key to knowing digital cameras.
In the beginning, when digital cameras first became popular, something called Lag Time was a major issue. The “lag” in between the time you clicked the shutter button and the time the shutter opened was very obvious. With the recent advances in technology there has been a significant reduction in lag time. Even the most budget friendly cameras have a very quick turn around time in between shots or during a series of quick exposures. If your photography requires fast shooting and many frames per second (i.e. sports photography), it would be a smart idea to research the frames per second and lag time statistics prior to purchasing.
When digital cameras first became popular, something called Lag Time was a major issue. The “lag” in between the time you pressed the shutter and the time the shutter opened was very noticeable. Recent advances in technology have reduced lag time significantly. Even most low priced cameras, have a very quick turn around time in between shots or during a series of quick exposures. If your photography requires fast shooting and many frames per second, it would be a good idea to check out the frames per second and lag time statistics before purchasing.
ISO One of the many benefits of digital cameras is the ability to change ISOs at any time. ISO refers to the sensitivity of the sensor in a digital camera and film in traditional cameras. The higher the ISO the less light you need to strike the film. With traditional cameras, if you needed to get a faster shutter speed because of low light or fast action, you needed to change to a higher ISO film. This could be wasteful or inconvenient at best. With digital cameras you can change the ISO on the fly. Now it is possible to be photographing outside in bright sunlight with a low ISO (for better color and image quality) and then walk indoors, change the ISO and continue shooting.
Resolution Resolution is probably one of the most talked about but least understood features of digital cameras. Most people believe the higher the resolution the better. This is true, generally speaking. However more resolution doesn’t always mean better photographs.
In today’s world almost all digital cameras have very high resolutions. Even the less costly cameras all come with resolutions sufficient enough to make good 8×10-11×14 prints. Higher resolution is basically a selling point to manufacturers. Higher resolution is good but what is even better is a larger sensor size. The bigger the better. Sensor size is a much better measure of the camera’s final image quality. In film cameras, a 35mm is better than an APS camera because the size of the image on the film is bigger. There is no different with digital cameras.
Please don’t forget, it is common to see cameras that are equal in resolution but have different size sensors. In cases like this I would go for the larger sensor. So how can you figure out how much resolution you do need? It’s very simple really. Just ask yourself how large of a picture do you want to make. The 3 and 4 Megapixel cameras are plenty sufficient for everything will print good quality pictures up to 8×10. If you want to make larger printsyou can move up to the 5 and 6 Megapixel cameras.
Remember, it is common to see cameras that are equal in resolution but have different size sensors. In this case I would go for the larger sensor. So how do you know how much resolution you do need? Simple really. Just ask yourself how large of a print do you want to make. The 3 and 4 Megapixel cameras are plenty sufficient for everything up to 8×10. If you want to make larger prints you can move up to the 5 and 6 Megapixel cameras.
The human eye is an amazing thing. What is even more amazing is that it is excellent at ignoring color casts. When we are indoors under typical house lighting the color is quite orange/yellow while office lighting (fluorescent) is very green. Our eyes are able to ignore this, but film and digital cameras faithfully record all color nuances. When using film photography it is often necessary to put filters on your camera or to purchase film that is balanced for the particular lighting (color) that you are using. With digital photography we can easily change the white balance. All digital cameras come with a good variety of choices for correcting typical lighting situations with white balance. They also generally include an auto setting as well which is useful if you do not know what kind of light you are working under. Typically the more expensive cameras will also include the ability to custom balance to any color light!
The human eye is excellent at ignoring color casts. When we are indoors under typical house lighting the color is quite orange/yellow, office lighting (fluorescent) is very green. Our eyes are able to ignore this, but film and digital cameras do not. They record faithfully. When using film it is necessary to put filters on your camera or to buy film that is balanced for the particular lighting (color) that you are using. With digital we can simply change our white balance. All digital cameras come with a fine selection of white balance options for correcting typical lighting situations. They all will include an auto setting as well. This is useful if you do not know what kind of light you are working under. The more expensive models will come with the ability to custom balance to any color light!
So if your light is Then the color is Choose this White Balance for good color Daylight Neutral (“white) Daylight Late Afternoon/Sunset Warm (yellow/orange) Daylight Early Morning Warm (yellow/orange) Daylight Cloudy Cool (blue) Cloudy/Overcast Open Shade Very Cool (blue) Open shade Unknown Light source ??? Auto Tungsten/Incandescent Very yellow/orange Tungsten/Incandescent Fluorescent Green Fluorescent
Lenses Lenses play a crucial role in creating high image quality, along with the sensor and processor. Fortunately we are in a technological era where most lenses are manufactured with high quality. With regard to lenses speed and length are the qualities that you should look at when trying to figure out what to purchase. Speed refers to the fastest -stop of the lens. 2.8 is faster than 3.5, which is faster than 4. Faster lenses allow you to shoot in lower light conditions without raising your ISO, as well as achieving a shallow depth of field which gives the result of a blurred background (or foreground).
Buying a new digital camera
Focal length is the next consideration. Do you like to shoot with wide-angle lenses? Long telephoto lenses? Do you enjoy shooting up close with macro lenses? Digital cameras come with all of the same lens options that your film camera does. It is just a matter of choosing the camera with the qualities that you want. By looking at magazines or stepping on to the web and going to dpreview.com you can easily find the specifications that describe all of the options.
When it comes to focal length we must remember that two sets of specs are commonly given. The first is usually the actual focal length of the lens. For example, 7mm-28mm. This would be an extreme wide angle on a film camera. The digital camera however, has a smaller sensor area then the film camera which makes the 7mm lens look more like a 35mm lens. So the second set of numbers on this lens would be 35mm-136mm. This is commonly called the 35mm equivalent. These are the numbers you should pay attention to when checking different cameras for focal range as they will be more familiar to you.
Most amateur digital cameras do not provide real wide angle lens choices. They will commonly go down to 35mm or even 28mm but rarely can you find a 24mm or wider. This is mainly due to the difficulties in building such a small focal length lenses. So if you enjoy wide angle photography you many want to think about moving up to a digital SLR.
When it comes to long telephoto lenses, however, the digital cameras have a big advantage! Their smaller sensor size turns even moderate telephotos into very long lenses. For example a real 57mm focal length behaves like a 370mm! This is a real boon to folks who like to shoot “long”. Beware however of cameras which claim their longest focal length as Digital Zoom. Digital Zoom should always be avoided. We are concerned only with real or actual focal lengths.
The last lens specification to consider is the focusing distance. If you like or need to shoot macro, look for a lens that focuses very close. They will usually be signified by a “macro mode” or be called “close focusing”.
Shooting your digital camera in the field Taking photographs should be the fun part. It is important to not let all of the bells and whistles confuse you when you are out in the field. I agree that there are many choices and they can be a bit overwhelming. Here are three of the most important things you should always check before you start photographing.
ISO- Keep it set to a low (100 or 50) if you are outdoors or in areas where you have plenty of light. Raise it only when you need to keep from getting camera shake. Most digital cameras provide great images all the way up to 400 ISO. If you need to go higher than 400 ISO, you can run the risk of introducing a noticeable amount of noise to your photos. Play with your digital camera to figure out which ISO produces unacceptable noise levels.
Jpeg vs. Raw- This choice is an easy one. If you want to work on every image in your computer, shoot RAW. This format is much more flexible and allows you to correct for errors in exposure and color cast without degrading your image quality. If you do not have the time or desire to work on every image, then shoot in the highest quality Jpeg mode. This mode will use a minimum amount of image compression which will provide extremely high quality pictures.
Image Size- Many cameras will come with multiple resolutions. Your choices may look like this: 2304×1728, 1600×1200, 1280×960, 640×480. Simply put, always choose the highest resolution. In this case that would be 2304×1728. This will supply you with the highest quality images possible.
Digital Camera Accessories There are nearly as many accessories for digital cameras as there are digital cameras. There are loads of options available: cases, cards and storage units. Don’t open your wallet just yet, there are only a very few accessories that are considered absolute necessities.
Compact Flash-The first is the type of storage that your camera uses. Personally I prefer cameras the use Compact Flash storage option. This medium seems to be the best all around Flash Card. These cards are sturdy, durable, and not too small to lose or to big to be bulky. It also comes in very large capacities-up to 8 gigabytes! I recommend you have a least two cards on the off chance one becomes damaged or lost. The total amount of storage available to you will be determined on how much you want to spend on your cards (cameras rarely ship with a card that is adequate for most photographic purposes). Having two 512Mb cards seems to be adequate for most shooting situations, unless you are very trigger happy. Having 4 of these cards or two 1 GB cards will ensure that you will never be without storage.
Portable Storage-If you have an ample amount of Flash Card storage, you will not need a portable storage unit. This is however contingent on downloading your cards on a daily basis. If you are in a situation where you will not have access to your computer for long periods of time you may want to consider a portable storage unit. The most basic form of storage is one that allows you to plug your card into the unit, and download your images. You can then put the card back into your camera, reformat it, and continue shooting. When you get home you simply attach the storage unit to your computer and transfer the images. Most of these units come with enough storage space for many days of shooting. I would consider a unit with at least 10Gb of storage.
Storage and transfer are the most basic function which all of the models will perform. From here they can get really fancy. There are units that will automatically burn Cds from your cards, which produces an immediate archive of your images. Others come with an Lcd screen that allows you to view your images right on the storage device. Advanced features will even enable you to organize your images into folders and albums. Think about the length of time you will be away from your computer before purchasing one of these storage units. You may not need one.
Extra Batteries / Charger Digital cameras use batteries at an alarming rate. You will definitely need to have back up batteries. Because you will be using so many, rechargeable batteries are the intelligent choice. Most digital cameras come with a proprietary battery with a charger. This is a good thing as it allows a stronger battery. If this is your situation, purchase extra batteries when you buy your camera. If your camera is powered by common AA batteries, you would be wise to buy a couple sets of rechargeable batteries.
Bulb blower- If you are considering an interchangeable lens SLR this is a must as when you change lens on these types of cameras it is common to introduce dust into the camera body. Ultimately this will migrate to your sensor and embed itself as small blurry splotches on your final image. It is a smart investment of your time to spend a few seconds with the blower bulb which will save you hours on the computer cleaning up your photographs!
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