How to Understand Camera Specifications

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How to Understand Camera Specifications. My article on "How to Buy a Digital Camera" covers the basics of shopping for a new camera. The article has been well-received, but people have asked me to explain some of the specifications that camera makers advertise for their products. There are over 40 primary and secondary digital camera manufacturers. You can find the most detailed camera specifications on the manufacturers' websites. Keep in mind that retailers will try to sell you the most advanced technology and the most expensive camera they have. Don't hold it against them; it is their job. At the same time, don't believe everything they say and do your own research before venturing to a camera store or camera section at a big-box retailer. In this article I will try to provide some explanations for the key specifications you will find at online sites. Hopefully this will help you make an informed decision.

Things You'll Need

  • Internet Access
  • Patience
  • The first series of specifications deal with the camera's ability to create an image. Digital camera manufacturers describe resolution in terms of megapixels. A megapixel is equal to one million pixels. A pixel is the smallest component of an image, but the pixel also carries color and intensity information. Sometimes pixel information is presented by a grid expression like 800 x 600 resolution which is 480,000 pixels The higher the megapixel number, the higher the resolution and also the higher the cost. A 6 megapixel camera is roughly equivalent to a 35mm film camera. This will allow you to print images with clarity up to 11 by 14 inches. Resolution is extremely important when it comes to printing and cropping images. If you want to crop out part of an image and enlarge it, you will need a camera with higher resolution. Sensitivity refers to the ISO range of the image sensor. The greater the range, the more sensitive the sensor is to light and the camera will perform better with lower exposure values (EV).

  • The second series of specifications deal with the exposure controls and metering system. Center weighted metering means that the exposure meter gives more weight to the center of the image than other areas of the view. Since we usually center things we photograph, this type of metering is adequate for most applications. Spot metering means that the camera also has the ability to measure light only from the center spot of the meter. It doesn't "count" the light falling outside the spot. This sort of metering is useful when you are doing manual exposures and are only concerned about correct exposure in a certain spot of the total image. It is also useful for determining the exposure range of your scene and will help the more experienced photographer make decisions about lighting a scene. Exposure modes are preset modes that allow you to change aperture, shutter speed or other exposure priorities.

  • Storage specifications will tell you how the images are stored after exposure. There are a number of different storage media available. Although CompactFlash(CF) is the most popular, you may want a camera with a different storage type to be compatible with direct printing or other computer peripherals. The "monitor" specifications are for the monitor on the back of the digital camera, not for your computer monitor.

  • The specification of the lens is critical in understanding the quality of the image you will be able to create. The lens forms the image and most quality lenses have glass elements. The focal length range is the range of the zoom lens on the camera. This lens can zoom from 16mm (ultra wide angle) to 85mm (slightly telephoto). A focal lens of 50mm is considered to be a "normal" field of view. Vibration reduction is essential in all telephoto lenses and nice to have in any lens. This will help minimize blurred exposures from camera shake. Maximum and minimum aperture ranges specify the opening range of the lens iris. The smaller number (f3.5) provides the most light and shallowest depth of field and the larger number (f36) provides the least light and the greatest depth of field.

  • Finally, there are size and weight specifications. These may not seem to be important, but can be very important depending on your need. If you need a camera to carry in your pocket or purse, you may have to give up some features and interchangeable lenses, but today's small cameras have great resolution and even the ability to take video clips.

Tips & Warnings

  • Know your needs before you start your search.
  • Search online before talking to anyone, just like you would if you were buying a car.

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