Chapter OneGet ready to ...
* Choose a Camera Form Factor 6 * Choose Camera Resolution 7 * Evaluate Lens Features 8 * Evaluate Picture Storage Solutions 10 * Evaluate Zoom Lenses 11 * Choose a Tripod 12 * Evaluate Camera Power Solutions 13 * Evaluate Supported Output Formats 14 * Review Image Statistics 15 * Evaluate Camera Functions 16 * Evaluate Image Transfer Solutions 18 * Evaluate Supported Camera Technologies 19 * Choose Flash Features 20 * Choose Other Features 21 * Choose Other Accessories 23
Selecting a Camera and Accessories
Choices, choices, choices. Although any number of prices and features are available, three principal grades of digital camera exist: consumer, midrange, and professional. The first step you have to undertake is, of course, deciding which type of camera and which accessories are really important to you as a photographer. You may regard a digital camera as an easy way to handle photographs for family events and things that happen along the way - an inexpensive and user-friendly little camera for casual use. On the other hand, you may be interested in increasing your skill and understanding of photography and want to learn all the "bells and whistles" to become really proficient in photo shooting and editing.
Regardless of which goal you currently embrace (and, make no mistake, many, many people begin with the first and segue into the second), you want to take good, clear pictures and enjoy those camera features and accessories that can help you do that.
This chapter helps you through the process of evaluating and choosing a camera, features, and accessories that are appropriate for your needs and pocketbook. You may want to pay little and expect only a basic camera; or you may want a lot of flexibility and features, and therefore expect to pay more. You want to consider carefully how you expect to use your camera, and choose features and quality accordingly. If you have already purchased a camera, then you can either skip this chapter or read on and start choosing your second digital camera!
Choose a Camera Form Factor
Style Comments Cost
Ultra Compact Size of a credit card, depth <1", $300-$1400 (average $400) fits comfortably in front jeans pocket.
Subcompact Fits comfortably in shirt pocket. $200-$800 (average $300)
Point and Shoot Normal size automatic camera $40-$600 (average $300) that has more features for the price than compacts (requires a camera bag).
Prosumer Size similar to SLR cameras. $600-$1200 (average $500) Usually lacks detachable lenses.
Single Lens For serious hobbyists and $800-$15,000 (average $1400) Reflex (SLR) professionals. High quality cameras that look and function like 35mm cameras, including detachable lenses.
Buy the most camera your budget allows, but budget for the type and frequency of use. Buying a $5000 digital camera to take the occasional snapshot makes no sense. On the other hand, don't trust a $15 throwaway to take the wedding or first baby pictures except in an emergency, in which case you should buy a throwaway film camera instead.
Choose Camera Resolution
Megapixels What You Can Do with It Cost <1 Acceptable Web graphics $30-$100
1-2 Very good Web graphics. Acceptable prints up $50-$350 to 4"x6"
2-3 Excellent Web graphics. Good prints up to 5"x7" $150-$400
3-4 Excellent prints up to 4"x6". Very good prints $200-$500 up to 10"x12"
4-5 Excellent prints up to 5"x7". Very good prints $250-$600 up to 11"x14"
5-6 Excellent prints up to 8"x10". Very good prints $400-$750 up to 16"x20"
>6 Excellent prints up to 16"x20" and beyond $800-$15,000
Bigger is better when it comes to resolution. You can always set your camera to take smaller resolution photos, but you can't increase the camera's maximum resolution. Buy the highest resolution camera you can afford that also has the other features you desire. On the other hand, balance is the watchword. Many professional photographers use 4 to 6 megapixel cameras on a daily basis.
Evaluate Lens Features
Lens Feature Comments
Focal length The focal length of a lens is the distance between the optical center of the lens and the place where it focuses its image (film or digital CCD chip) and is expressed in millimeters. This determines the area of coverage from narrow to wide. Digital cameras generally rate their focal lengths as equivalent to 35mm film camera lenses.
20mm or less = Extreme Wide Angle
24mm to 35mm = Wide Angle
50mm to 80mm = Normal
100mm to 300mm = Telephoto
400mm and above = Super Telephoto
Macro mode or lens This enables close-up photos of small objects. Good cameras have a macro mode built into their lenses.
Normal lens Usually a 55mm focal length equivalent and is the most commonly used fixed lens.
Wide angle A lens less than 35mm focal length equivalent. It allows shooting a more inclusive image in tight spaces. Lenses much wider than 28mm are referred to as fish-eye lenses because of their image distortion.
Telephoto Lenses with more than 55mm focal length equivalent. These usually range from 75mm to over 1000mm and are used to snap photos of subjects at a distance.
Zoom Zoom lenses have variable focal lengths and can be changed from wide angle to normal to telephoto. Digital cameras feature both optical and digital zooms. Optical zooms result in highest quality.
Interchangeable Prosumer and professional cameras permit the use of different lenses lenses. These can range from wide angle to telephoto. Some digital cameras allow the use of the same manufacturers film camera lenses for flexibility.
Lens extenders These are available to multiply the magnification of zoom or macro lenses. They attach to the camera's lens. Some cameras don't accept extenders.
Filters Better quality cameras allow the use of filters on the end of the camera lens. These can compensate for light color differences and can create special effects.
Most digital cameras, from consumer to prosumer, come with nonchangeable optical zoom lenses. Most also have digital zoom features. Buy the camera with the largest zoom ratio you can afford. They range from 1.2x to 10x or more.
To see more examples of the effect of different focal lengths, point your browser to www.usa.canon.com/html/ eflenses/lens101/focallength/.
Evaluate Picture Storage Solutions
Media Type Sizes Available Comments
Floppy Disk 1.44MB Sony made floppy disk-based cameras for a while. These have generally been replaced by CD-ROM or memory cards.
CD-ROM 156MB Some cameras have onboard CD-ROM burners. These are slow to save images.
Compact Flash 16, 32, 64, 128, Most common memory storage for digital Card Type I & II 256, 512MB; 1GB cameras and PDAs. This is the largest format.
Memory Stick 32, 64, 128, 256, Sony's memory solution that is interoperable 512MB; 1GB with a wide range of Sony products.
Smart Media 32, 64, 128, Olympus and Fuji primarily use this memory Card 256MB type. They have started to use XD memory.
MMC Card 32, 64, 128, They lack security facilities and are usually 256MB compatible with devices using SD cards.
SD Card 64, 128, 256, These are also a widely used storage card 512MB; 1GB format.
XD Card 32, 64, 128, 256, XD are recent innovations and store images 512MB faster than earlier formats. This memory type is largely specific to Olympus and Fuji cameras.
Some camera models, Sony for example, use floppy disks or CD-ROMs as alternative storage systems for digital photos. Many of these cameras now also support memory cards or sticks of at least one format. Some cameras accept more than one memory card format. Both of these alternatives can add flexibility in the field. Storage media can store approximately 25 pictures at 1600-1200 resolution per 16MB. So a 128MB card can store approximately 100 pictures.
Evaluate Zoom Lenses
Optical Optical zoom uses the lens mechanism to change the focal length of the lens and allows the lens to zoom closer or farther away from the subject. Optical zoom maintains its quality at all levels. This is the most important type of zoom in a digital camera. A 10x zoom on a digital camera is roughly the equivalent of a 28mm to 200mm zoom lens on a 35mm film camera. The zoom factor of most optical zoom lenses ranges from 1.2x to 10x.
Digital Digital zoom does much the same thing as zoom in Photoshop. The camera selects part of the digital image and saves only that part of the photo. Digital zoom reduces the actual resolution of your image, increases noise, and emphasizes shaky camera syndrome. Avoid using digital zoom if possible. If you need to accomplish a digital zoom effect, cropping the best photo you can get in Photoshop later is best. Digital zooms range from 2x to 10x.
Zoom Ratio The difference between the size of the image that is projected onto the film at the widest (or smallest focal length) setting of a zoom lens and the size at the narrowest (or longest focal length). A 10x zoom lens magnifies the image in the narrow end of the lens exactly 10 times as much as the image at the wide-angle end.
Choose a Tripod
Type Weight Comments
Still photo A tripod designed for still photography is designed to position the camera and then lock it into place. Stability and durability are key factors.
Light Good for point-and-shoot cameras.
Medium Good for all weight cameras.
Pro Good for pro and prosumer cameras. Has extra features, such as levels and fancy angle adjustments.
Video A video tripod is designed to steady the camcorder and allow smooth pans and other camera movements as well as a stable platform when the camera is locked down.
Table top Good for subcompact and for close-up photography.
Monopod Light to Heavy The monopod is a single tripod leg that you can attach a camera to. It doesn't stand by itself but works well to stabilize a shot and is ultra portable.
Evaluate Camera Power Solutions
Battery Type Comments
Alkaline Alkaline batteries come in all standard sizes. If your camera uses a standard sized battery, it's probably AA. Alkaline batteries in cameras used with a flash last only a few photos. This is an expensive solution for frequent use.
Lithium Disposable batteries. These may be called "photo batteries." They last well but are very expensive. The are available in most formats.
Nickel Cadmium Rechargeable. These must be fully discharged before recharging to avoid "charge memory" and poor performance. Be careful not to overcharge.
NiMH (Nickel-Metal Nickel-Metal Hydride are excellent batteries and are rechargeable. Hydride) These are the best value. They come in all standard sizes. Many proprietary batteries used in digital cameras are NiMH. These are powerful batteries and last about 400 charges.
Lion (Lithium Ion) Lithium ion batteries are a good choice. They don't have "charge memory" and they last twice as long as NiMH batteries. These are usually after-market optional batteries and are purchased as extras. These are newer and not as widely available. They last about 400 charges.
External battery You can power some cameras through the AC power socket using packs external battery packs. These come in many of the previous formats. These can be much larger with greater storage capacity. Clip them to your belt with a wire running to the camera. These are great on vacations or long shoots like weddings.
More expensive cameras may use proprietary batteries rather than standard AA, AAA, and so on. This means that you must purchase the manufacturers' batteries or after-market batteries designed for your camera when you need extras or replacements.
Evaluate Supported Output Formats
Format Compression Comments
JPEG Lossy This file format is the most common. It's universally recognized. You can select the amount of compression and subsequent quality or loss of quality in the camera or in the computer.
TIFF Lossless TIFF is a standard photo or digital publishing format. It can be somewhat compressed but in order to lose no quality, the amount of compression is limited. This is a good finished file format and retains high image quality. You can select to shoot TIFF photos with many cameras.
CCD RAW Lossless You can set the more expensive prosumer and professional cameras to save the data directly from the CCD chip in the camera. This saves a huge amount of image information and is used by professional photographers and graphic artists to gain maximum image quality and flexibility. It's a very large file and severely limits the number of images that can be stored on common memory cards.
When a lossless compression image is uncompressed, its quality matches the original source. Lossy compression degrades images to some degree, and more compression equals more image loss. Use the least compression you can for the original image. You can always compress it more with editing software.