Features to look for when shopping for a digital camera

A female friend of mine recently went shopping for a digital camera (Point and shoot) and came out empty-handed. It wasn’t that she couldn’t find one; there were enough in the store to build a three-bedroom house entirely out of cameras.
Actually, she was overwhelmed by the camera terminology and wasn’t quite sure that she was making a smart decision. The little placards they put in front of the cameras on the store shelves use all sorts of terms not found anywhere else in the universe, like megapixel, ISO, and digital/optical zoom. She asked me to make some sense of the alphabet soup of digital photography terminology for her. I this post I share that knowledge with you: Here’s the top digital camera terms you need to understand when you go camera shopping.

Megapixel:- This is probably the most advertised feature by the camera brands and highly overrated by the camera users. Most people who are buying a camera assume that the more megapixels their camera will have, better quality photos it will capture. Megapixel is simply the resolution of the image i.e. number of pixels. While this is fairly important if you plan to work on the images later like cropping out the unwanted part, more megapixels will ensure that resulting images are decently detailed and not too grainy. On the other hand if you plan to print 4*6 prints of the photos you capture without any extensive editing and cropping, even a 5 megapixel sensor will be more than enough for you. Most cameras today come with a 10 megapixel sensor and above which is enough for sharp 8*10 prints. And more megapixels on the tiny sensor of Point and shoot cameras (DSLRs have bigger sensors) could result in grainy images.

Iso:-The acronym ISO refers to the International Standards Organization, which among other functions sets some standards for photography. When we talk about a camera’s ISO settings, we’re talking about ways to adjust how sensitive the camera is to light.

A digital camera’s ISO rating corresponds to the speed ratings for 35mm film: A low number, such as ISO 100, is “slow,” or relatively insensitive to light; a high number, such as ISO 400, is fairly sensitive. Every time you double the ISO, you halve the amount of light needed to properly expose a picture–and vice versa.

Unlike film cameras in which you must set the camera to correspond with the film’s rating, the ISO of digital cameras is adjustable on the fly. To ensure plenty of flexibility, shop for a camera that has a good range: ISO 100 to 400 is typical in an affordable point-and shoot, and more expensive cameras allow you to use higher settings. Generally, you want to shoot with a low ISO because it results in a sharper picture with less digital noise; but a high ISO is handy for taking pictures at night and in the dark. If you want to do a lot of low-light photography, it’s a good idea to look for a camera that has a wider ISO range. Expect a significant amount of digital noise at ISO settings above 400.

Zoom:- There are two type of zooms in a camera: Digital and optical. Digital zoom is another highly overrated feature advertised by different brands. Digital zooms simply means to zoom digitally like we do in an image manipulation software with a huge loss of detail. Always keep in mind, 500x digital zoom is in reality inferior than even a 1x optical zoom sensor.
About optical zoom, the more the merrier. And through optical zoom, camera zooms into an image using the optical mechanisms of the camera.  But at higher optical zooms like 10x and above, image stabilization (explained later) will become crucial because image will be highly unstable at such high zooms and can render the feature useless. Alternatively you can use a tripod or a monopod to stabilize the image (which will be essential anyway in wildlife professional photography).

Image-stabilization:- Fairly important feature. Image stabilization (IS hereon) is a technique used to reduce blurring associated with the motion of a camera during exposure. Specifically, it compensates for pan and tilt (angular movement, equivalent to yaw and pitch) of a camera or other imaging device. Like mentioned earlier, IS has huge importance in high optical zooms as view becomes very jerky and resulting image will come out blurry ruining all your hard-work. Like in the zoom feature , always prefer optical IS over digital IS.

Canon Digital IXUS 220 HS- A typical compact point and shoot camera

Compactness:- If you are overwhelmed by the different camera terms and want a simple, light and no-frills camera which you can easily carry on trips, this category is tailor made for you. Compact cameras are typically lacking in features than other categories and possess low optical zoom because of their small size and weight. Of course that doesn’t mean that you can’t capture some good shots with them. After all quality of image captured is 95 % dependent on the skill of the photographer and remaining 5% on the camera.

Closing words:- What i have done is made you aware to the most important features a layman should look for when buying a digital camera. If you are professionally interested in photography, buy a decent and not too expensive point and shoot camera. Work and experiment with it, increase your skill. Click some pics and upload them to your Flickr and Picasa web albums account and show them to the world. In case of any doubt, comment below or contact me via my Facebook account (through the widget)
Good luck!

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