Digital Cameras Buying Guide
What is a digital camera and how does it work?
A digital camera takes pictures and stores them digitally rather than exposing them onto film. The image capture is accomplished by a light sensing integrated circuit called a charge-coupled device (CCD). The images are stored until they are downloaded or transferred to a computer, or transferred to prints directly by a suitable printer. The main advantage of the digital camera is the dispensing of the need for a negative, and the film processing required to get prints. Pictures become digital files which are easily stored, manipulated and archived.
The sheer variety of digital cameras in every size, shape and colour imaginable can be intimidating for first-time buyers. But itís not too hard to narrow it down. Start by having a good idea of the quality of photos you want to take, the size of the camera youíre comfortable with, your photography skill level and your price range.
If youíre mainly going to be sending photos to friends, uploading them to websites like Facebook and Flickr, and printing the occasional 6 x 4, a compact camera should fit the bill nicely. These cameras donít require a lot of skill to use, and are typically the cheapest type to buy.
On the other hand, if your main priority is professional quality photos, and youíre happy to pay a premium pricetag and deal with a significantly larger form factor, a digital SLR would be the most appropriate.
In between the two categories are bridge cameras, which offer the manual controls and high quality of a digital SLR with the smaller size of a compact Ė usually with a pricetag thatís also middle of the range.
For years now, the role of the compact digital camera has been to offer accessible photography to anyone and everyone. User-friendliness is right at the top of the Ďmust-havesí list for compact digital cameras and thereís a variety of features that kick in automatically when users point and shoot to make the end result look fantastic. Unlike their DSLR counterparts, compact digital cameras are affordable, light and often slim enough to easily slip into pockets or purses. They may not have the extreme level of control afforded by the DSLRís ability to interchange lenses for different shot conditions, but they are increasingly becoming more and more DSLR like in terms of features and control options.
A step up: hybrid cameras
When purchasing a compact digital camera itís important to take into account the sort of things you want to achieve with it. For some, their digital cameras will be used more frequently and, as such, a more versatile camera is required. The compact digital cameras that slot into this category are often heavy on features and include the option to capture video footage as well as high-quality digital stills. We delve into some of the hottest models available for the photographer searching for something more out of their compact digital camera.
High-end compact cameras
For those photographers unready to commit to the complexities and expense of a DSLR camera, but still want top-of-the-line results, this is the category for you. Many of the compact digital cameras in this category pride themselves on being able to produce image quality and functionality thatís close to that which the DSLR range can produce. Because high-end compact digital cameras sport higher price tags, they are also able to achieve more than lower-end and mid-range models.
The DSLR gap
Itís understandable that camera manufacturers are putting a lot of research and development time into bridging the gap between compact digital cameras and the formidable DSLR. The compact digital camera is a fantastic choice for most amateur photographers because of how easily impressive photography results can be achieved. DSLR cameras are often bulkier and remarkably pricier, with expensive additional kit required to reap results, along with a working knowledge of advanced photography. Higher-end compact digital cameras often boast sturdier design, quality lenses (including lens hoods) and pop-up flash heads: all usual trademarks of the DSLR camera.
For most, the results of compact digital camera photography will be more than acceptable for capturing shots of whatever they choose to point their camera at. But for those who want more out of their compact digital camera, without having to spend the thousands of dollars it takes to amass a versatile DSLR kit, new model cameras are bridging the gap between compact and DSLR. While the DSLR is still, as would be expected, the ultimate in photographic versatility, compact digital cameras are offering features and functionality that were usually the sole domain of the DSLR.
Pro shots: DSLR
Offering the highest possible image quality, Digital SLRs have a price tag to match. Starting at around $1,000 with a simple lens, these cameras require a little know-how to take the best possible photo. Don't expect to buy an SLR a day before your trip and then take amazing photos on your holiday. You'll need to practice, study and practice some more to get the most out of your Digital SLR.
The digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera is a modern marvel of photographic technology. With a selection of interchangeable lenses and the ultimate in manual control over shooting functionality, the DSLR is capable of producing digital stills of unsurpassed quality when in the hands of a guru; but therein lies the challenge. Not only do these professional-grade cameras require an intimate knowledge of photography and the specific DSLR camera itself, they also sport expensive price tags. For most people, purchasing a compact digital camera is a way of recording precious memories without having to read through hundreds of pages of photography bibles required to get the most out of a DSLR camera.
Digital SLRs are usually available as the body on its own or packaged with a single or twin lens kit. If youíre just starting out, the single or twin lens kit is a good way to get your feet wet and learn how to use all of the cameraís different functions.
But be aware that the kits lenses are only the tip of the iceberg, and you can get significantly better results by upgrading to a faster and more specialised lens. The type of lens you should buy largely depends on the type of photography youíre mainly interested in; these include wide-angle lenses for landscapes and interior shots, macro lenses for close-ups of flowers and insects, and telephoto lenses for bird watching.
One of the cheapest and most versatile lenses for everyday shooting is the 50mm f1.8 lens. This can be had for around $300 and is highly recommended for the superb image quality they produce. The 50mm lens is a prime lens, which means that itís fixed at the 50mm focal length, but its image quality can equal that of high-end zoom lenses that cost over a thousand dollars.
A good lens can cost more money than the camera body itself, so itís important to keep it protected against accidental damage. A UV filter is one of the most common ways to do this Ė itís basically a clear plastic cover that screws onto the top of the lens and prevents any scratches to the lens glass while youíre using it. UV filters are available at different price points, with the better ones having minimal adverse effect on image quality.
The camera will dictate the type of memory card that you can use, which will either be Compact Flash, Secure Digital, Memory Stick or xD. Memory cards are mainly characterised by their capacity Ė with 4GB currently being the sweet spot for storage versus price Ė but speed also affects how much the card sells for.
If youíre into taking action photography, then opting for a faster card will ensure you can fire off images quickly in succession, but otherwise, a standard-speed card should suffice for everyday photography.
Digital SLRs are far too large to slip into a back pocket, so unless youíre happy to hang it around your neck like a tourist, youíll need to invest in a good bag to carry it Ė and all of your accessories Ė around.
There are two main styles of camera bags that suit DSLRs: the backpack and the satchel. Backpacks are the roomiest and easiest to carry for long periods, whereas the satchels give you faster access to your equipment. The main things to check for are comfort, durability, and whether it has room to fit all of your equipment.