by Staff Writer
Digital cameras have made it possible for anyone to produce stunning digital images, no matter what their skill level. This digital camera buying guide will introduce you to the world of digital photography and help you find a camera that will help you take great digital photos.
Photo resolution: Digital cameras are first identified by their image resolution, how many pixels each digital photo file contains. A pixel (short for picture element) is an individual point of color comprising digital photos. A one-million pixel image is known as a megapixel (1 MP) photo.
Resolution and print quality: Higher resolution does not always translate to more detail. It allows you to print larger pictures with a sharp image, so choose resolution based on finished print size. Magazine-quality photos print 300 pixels per inch, for instance.
Film like prints: Professional photographers have commented that 7 MP digital camera files, printed on a laser printer or dedicated photo printer, look indistinguishable from film.
Normal size prints: A 3 x 5-inch photo print will look great at around 3 MP, but clear 8 x 10-inch prints will require at least an 8 MP digital camera. Anything larger may require a digital SLR camera, which typically takes images at more than 10 megapixels.
Memory: Digital camera internal memory and memory cards are the most common ways that a camera will store digital photos. You can find SD cards and SDHC cards with 32 GB or more of storage space. You can then connect your digital camera to your computer with a USB cable or slide the card into a memory card reader to transfer photos to your computer's hard drive. The number of photos you can store on your digital camera or a memory card depends on the resolution of the photos. More pixels take up more memory. You can usually set your camera to take photos at a lower resolution to save space.
Point-and-shoot cameras: These smaller digital cameras take lower resolution photos than DSLR cameras and are designed for simple snapshots rather than complex photography. Exposure, focus, ISO and other settings are preset or automatic, so you don't have to adjust between every shot. Point-and-shoot digital cameras are great if you are a novice or casual photographer.
Batteries: Digital cameras use either disposable or rechargeable batteries for shooting. Most rechargeable camera batteries are lithium-ion batteries. The higher the mAh rating on your battery, the longer its charge will last.
Charged coupled device (CCD): A CCD is the camera sensor that detects light and translates it into the pixels of your digital photos. A larger CCD surface area produces a more detailed, sharper digital picture.
Shutter speed: When you take a photo, the shutter in front of your digital camera sensor snaps open and shut. The longer the shutter is open, the more light reaches the sensor. Many digital SLR cameras vary shutter speed automatically, depending on the lighting conditions. You'll often see shutter speed measured in fractions of a second. The smaller the fraction, the faster your digital camera will take photos, and the sharper your images can be.
Continuous shooting: Your digital camera may allow you to adjust settings so that two or more photos are taken in rapid succession each time you take a shot. This can ensure that you get great shots of fast moving subjects.
Optical and digital zoom: Your digital camera uses two methods to enlarge a subject in order to take a photo. With optical zoom, elements of the camera lens move to enlarge the image. Digital zoom crops the image the camera receives and adds additional pixels to increase the resolution of the zoomed image. Optical zoom is the more important number as it gives the better digital picture.
Flash: Most digital cameras have a small flash unit built in. Digital SLR cameras will have a "hot shoe" plug, into which you can attach an external flash module. External flashes reduce red-eye in portraits by increasing the angle between the subject and the camera lens.
Image stabilization (IS): When you don't have tripods on hand, you may need a steady hand to prevent blurred digital photos. Optical and electronic image stabilization systems help your digital camera to correct motion blur in your photos.
View finder: Most digital cameras have LCD display screens in addition to the optical display window.
Viewscreens: LCD displays are useful for immediately reviewing your shots to see if they are in focus, blurry or well-centered. Alternatively, you may be able to switch off the LCD display to conserve battery power.
Digital single-lens reflex (DSLR): Like a 35 mm SLR camera, DSLR allows you to see directly through the digital camera's lens using a system of mirrors and prisms.
Automatic and manual shooting: In addition to the basic point-n-shoot digital camera, some inexpensive digital cameras have preset modes in which the ISO, flash speed and aperture are set with the flip of a switch. Many mid-price digital cameras have auto and manual modes for landscape, close-up and low-light conditions. As you become more skilled, manual settings will allow you to have more control over focus and exposure.
Video: Most new model digital cameras can capture video as well. A camera usually captures video at a lower resolution than it takes digital photos at. You may need larger or additional video cards for your digital camera since video files are quite large.
Digital camera care: The best way to protect your camera is to keep it in a padded camera bag when not in use. You can also store digital camera accessories and extra lenses in a bag with compartments. Always put the lens cap on your lenses to protect them from dust or scratches. If you need to clean dust from your digital camera, blow off the lenses and other openings with canned air.