What You Need in a Digital Camera

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Picking the right digital camera for you can be a tricky exercise. Learn how to balance features, and options to get the most bang for your buck in this free video clip.

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With the shrinking cost and size of cameras makes it possible, and affordable for anyone and their grandma, to make memories. Today, We’ll walk you through the key features when purchasing a camera. Digital cameras fall into three divisions: subcompact cameras, the more advanced “prosumer” cameras aka point-and-shoot cameras), and the more intense, pro-oriented DSLRs (digital SLR) cameras We’re not going to focus on such advanced cameras here. Ok, so what matters most when choosing a digital camera—besides your budget? Here’s the rundown. Megapixels & Memory Here’s the deal: megapixels matter, but only in relation to the size of the camera’s sensor. The larger the camera sensor, the more the detail your picture will have. Subcompact and compact cameras’ sensors are much smaller than the sensors than the entry-level DSLRs. Increasing the megapixel count beyond the sensors’ capacity may actually degrade picture quality. Megapixels translate to the size of the image—how large you can print, view or resize it—not the actual image quality. This is especially true for compact and subcompact cameras. Cameras with 10 or 12 MP are fine and shouldn’t degrade picture quality, but don’t spend more on a compact or compact camera to get more MP. Memory: When you take a digital photo the camera stores the photo on an internal flash memory card. It you’re taking tons of pictures you could fill up a card pretty quickly—most cameras don’t come with more than 1 GB (gigabyte) of storage. Don’t worry. You can expand your camera’s memory by upgrading its SD card. Go big with 32 gigs. Card prices range from as low as $5 for 2G to as much as $100. Always, double check that your camera doesn’t require a MicroSD card. You can also upgrade the storage on MicroSD cards. Check the specs to make sure you buy the memory card your camera uses. If you’re primarily emailing photos or posting them online, you’ve little need to concern yourself with obtaining a massive amount of additional storage—unless you never plan on deleting a picture and use your camera as a digital photo album. Zoom: You have 2 options; optical or digital zoom. Digital zoom decreases resolution because the more you zoom, the few pixels your camera is able to capture. Pay attention to the camera’s optical zoom. It makes use of all of the camera’s pixel capacity. Optical zoom maintains a crisp, high-resolution image when zooming in or out. Look for a camera that provides the highest optical you can afford. Zooms for compacts start at 3X and can go all the way up to 18X, though these mega-zoom cameras are not quite pocket-sized. Auto-stabilization and focus Most digital cameras come equipped with a stabilization feature. Don’t fall for the hype of digital image stabilization alone. In order to make the most of your camera’s MPs and reduce the blur due to camera shake look for a camera that, along with digital stabilization, uses a combination optical and mechanical stabilization. Different manufacturers have different names for this feature: Canon calls it Image Stabilization; Nikon, Vibration Reduction; Tamron, Vibration Control, etc. Focus, exposure and useful features: While it’s cool to spend time learning to manually focus and set your cameras ISO, subcompact and point-and-shoot cameras do it for you. Look for a camera with a low-light option and the ability to manually set your flash. Beyond helping you frame the shot, many new cameras have smart focus technology built in, like face detection, redeye reduction and allow for image cropping. You can also find subcompacts and point-and-shoot cameras with in-camera editing software that allow you to resize your photo, adjust the contrast and brightness, apply special effects. If you want to stay social, look for a camera with built in Wi-Fi that allows you to tag and upload or send photos to Facebook or Twitter. Weight: Weight goes hand in hand with how technical or convenient you want your picture taking to be. Do you want a pocket-sized camera or use a camera case? Screen size: Most subcompacts lack an optical viewfinder, you rely on the camera’s LCD screen to compose and evaluate your shot. You’ll need a screen that’s at least 2.7 inches. The screen resolution should be at least 230K dots. Some screens can swivel to help you capture an unusual angle, and some point-and-shoot have touchscreen LCD displays. Icons on these displays are usually larger and easy to read. Battery life: Digital cameras call for rechargeable batteries, and a fully charged battery should give you at least 220 shots. Do not settle for less. Rechargeable lithium ion batteries are standard on subcompact and point-and-shoot cameras. Once you decide on the camera you want, make sure you go to the store and test it out.

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