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Digital Camera Buying Guide

Types of Digital Cameras
Digital Camera Features

The resolution of an image sensor tells you how many points of light, called pixels it can capture. The higher pixel count you have the better, because this will enable you to enlarge the image without any significant quality loss. Resolution is a very essential factor that affects overall image quality.

Light Sensitivity
This is a measure of how much light a digital camera needs to take a perfectly exposed picture. Usually, a camera's light sensitivity is stated as its ISO equivalency. A lower ISO setting produces clean images, but the pictures have the potential to look dark if they are not shot in either bright sunlight or with a good flash. A higher ISO setting can produce better-exposed pictures in low light, but can degrade overall image quality by introducing "electronic noise" to the image itself. Most inexpensive cameras vary automatically between ISO equivalency settings and can't be changed by users.

Lens Speed The amount of light the lens actually lets in is known as its lens "speed". F-stop refers to the unit of measurement that is used to describe the size of a lens diaphragm's aperture. You can find mechanical diaphragms on various digital cameras that can stop down (reduce) the aperture to anywhere from f8 to f11 which produces a greater depth of field.

Focal Length
Focal length refers to the amount of distance between the actual lens and the image sensor. You can modify a lens by increasing its focal length which in turn makes objects appear closer and more magnified. If you decrease the focal length, things will appear further away, but it will also widen your viewing field.

With the zoom feature you have the ability to vary the focal length of the lens to wide angle or to telephoto. When you see a number with an X next to it (i.e. 7X), this refers to the zoom ratio. The X stands for the number of times that the focal length is doubled. The higher the number, the more field coverage you'll get.

This is a special feature that allows you to extend the normal focal range of the camera to take pictures of small items up close. You can capture an object 12 inches away or maybe even close. Most digital cameras come with this feature.
Auxiliary Lens
This is a great optional feature that allows you to attach a lens (wide-angle or telephoto) to the front of the camera's primary lens. This feature lets the lens either magnify its subject or increase the viewable area.

Built-In Flash
Most types of digital cameras normally come with a built in flash. They usually have a limited range and can also drain the power of your batteries more quickly.

This feature is more advanced that built-in flash because that flash only comes on when the camera's light sensor determines that additional light is needed. If you have a bright enough environment the flash won't fire.

Auxiliary Flash
This type of flash is more commonly found on all prosumer and professional digital cameras, as well as high-end consumer models. A port in the camera lets you attach an external flash. This enables you to control the direction of the flash and can also illuminate to a farther distance.

Fill Flash
This feature is great for shooting photos of people outdoors. Keeping this function on, allows the fill flash to add enough light to balance the exposure. This is a great feature for when the subject is in darker light than the background. Your pictures are guaranteed to come out better.

Red-Eye Reduction
This is a quick preflash that happens before the actual flash before you take a picture. This is used to reduce the red eye that sometimes occurs when a subject looks directly at the camera.

Thumbnail Playback
When you wish to view the picture you have just taken all you need to do is look on your LCD viewfinder. This which show you what we call a thumbnail which is a small version of the actual size of the image. On some digital cameras, you have the option of viewing a series of thumbnails simultaneously meaning that you can quickly scroll through them by pressing four-way arrows. Direct Connection Connecting your camera directly to your computer is the most common method for downloading images. Most of the digital cameras today attach to a computer either through a USB cable, a serial connection or a card reader. Some use the USB Mass Storage classification which translates into the camera being recognized as a disk drive when it is attached to the computer. Using this feature, you can drag and drop images directly from your cameras to your hard drive without software or drivers.

Card Reader
You can use this small external drive that is attached to your computer via USB, to insert your camera's memory card. This device will read your files and the computer will then recognize it as a hard drive. You can easily open and view your images while saving your camera's battery life.

This is a device that allows your camera to directly connect and interface with your computer. All you need to do is place your camera in the dock, push a button (if it's not already automatic) and watch your images start to upload. This is referred to as the easiest method for connecting as well as transferring images from your digital camera to your computer. Most docks are known to double as a battery re-charger for those cameras that are outfitted with rechargeable batteries.

Power source:

Digital cameras quickly drain the power out of batteries and for this cause it is extremely wise to purchase rechargeable batteries and a re-charger. You will save more money and time in the long run by choosing this route, than having to keep purchasing regular batteries over and over again.

AC Adapter
Having an AC adapter is a great way to ensure continued shooting without worrying about power. With this accessory, you are able to shoot from a tripod or remain tethered to a computer for as long as choose. It draws its source of power from an electrical outlet which means that you can save your battery life.

Exposure controls:

This setting is great for those who want to rely on the default option on most digital cameras. This allows the camera instead of the user to have total exposure control. There is a sensor on the camera which measures the light reflected from a scene or subject and in turn sets the optimum combination of f-stop (aperture) number and shutter speed to produce the best results.

Exposure Value Compensation
This is also known as EV and refers to the ability to adjust the overall brightness or darkness in exact increments. You can either move the exposure compensation up or down depending on the exposure you desire. The more expensive cameras have two to three f-stop EV settings in both directions, in one-third f-stop increments while less-expensive cameras have one to two f-stop EV in both directions, in only one-half f-stop increments.

Shutter Priority
This feature allows you to set the shutter speed while maintaining a perfect exposure. The camera automatically reduces the f-stop setting when you increase the shutter speed to capture action shots and if you decrease shutter speed, the aperture increases, thus maintaining the same exposure values.

Burst Mode
It is worthy to note that many digital cameras have the ability to take a series of pictures in a very short amount of time. This is great for photography that requires a motor drive like sequence so that you don't miss a frame. Unfortunately, you won't be able to use the camera's flash in burst mode, and in order to save all the images taken, it will take a few seconds longer than usual resulting in a longer wait time before the camera's ready to shoot again.

This is a useful command that sets the camera to capture a series of photos of the same scene or subject. Each shot is set at a slightly different exposure setting. Three frames is usual with most cameras, but some allow five-frame bracketing. Usually cameras auto-bracket by varying f-stops, while some high-end models let you choose auto-bracketing by f-stop or shutter speed and only a small percentage of digital cameras allow you to auto-bracket white balance as well as exposure.

Best-Shot Selector
This is a simple feature that allows the camera to capture four or nine shots almost instantaneously. Each frame of course has a slightly different exposure or white balance setting. You'll find this feature to be similar to auto-bracketing with the exception being that you get to choose which images you want to save; the others are discarded automatically. Sometimes the best exposed images are automatically selected from the camera's best-shot selector intelligence.

Other image controls:
White Balance
This refers to how things will look under various lighting conditions. If the white of the image appear to be correct, it is safe to assume that the rest of the colors in your photo will appear like what you see in your real-world scene or subject. Regardless of the light source, all digital cameras have the ability to adjust the color of your picture so that white always looks white. Higher end cameras give you the option to set white balance manually or choose a preset light source which can result in more accurate color.

Program Mode Special types of photographs require different setting. These presets are designed to prepare your camera to take those special types of photographs automatically. Examples of these settings can include settings for night scenes, sports and action subjects, portraits, sepia/black-and-white images, etc.

This a popular feature that you can have a lot of fun with. This allows you to photograph a sequence of images, each from a slightly different position and stitch them together into a single photograph. There are some digital cameras that provide overlapping guides in the LCD viewfinder to assist you in getting better panoramas.

Your digital camera automatically saves technical information every time you shoot a picture. This can be displayed during playback or when you edit your image on the computer. Technical information provided ranges from standard dates and times, to more extensive information found on higher-end models such as exposure settings, modes, etc.
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