Cut Through All The Junk When You’re Deciding Which of the Digital Cameras Is For You!

Let’s get something straight right off the bat. If you’re evaluating good digital cameras you don’t really have to be an expert in pixels and megapixels and all that kind of stuff. If you came here looking for that kind of discussion, you’re in the wrong place. Actually, there’s a whole lot of stuff you don’t really need to know before tackling the daunting task of choosing the right digital camera for you.The jungle of digital cameras

First of all, forget all the high-tech jargon. It’s mostly a lot of sales hype anyway. Choosing a good unit is pretty simple really…all you have to remember is that the higher the megapixel rating on the front of the camera, the bigger picture you can make without it breaking up into little chunks (called pixels) and most likely the more cash it’s going to pry out of your pocket.

Here’s what I mean. The shot on the left in the examples below is one I took with a high pixel rating and the one on the right was with a much lower rating. They’ve been enlarged way beyond what you would normally do, but I have a point to make here.

If you look carefully you can see there’s a terrific difference in the way it looks or, the ‘resolution’. The image on the right has already broken up into small pieces you can readily see. The picture on the left was magnified about 15 times more than the one on the left which should give you an idea of how big you can blow it and still retain fairly decent resolution. By the way, these shots are a very small piece of a picture I took of snapdragons in our front yard.

A camera with a 5.0 megapixel rating or higher can produce a decent 16X20 print but one with a 2.0 megapixel rating or lower should be restricted to a maximum of 4X6 prints. For the most part, you won’t be happy with pictures any larger than 4X6 with the lower rated camera.

Okay, let’s go and pick a camera…

Well, I have my favorites and my not-so favorites.

When I looked at all the digital cameras available, I was a little astounded at the vast selection. Where did I start? My personal digital camera finally wound up to be an Olympus C-5050. I chose it for the fast f1.8 lens and ease of use. I’m lazy at best and wanted a unit that’s going to do most of the work for me while leaving me with the option of doing what I want to do when I want to do it.

This camera has all the automatic features I’ll ever need but I also have the ability to set up the camera completely manually. I can still do minimum depth-of-field work among other things. I never want to completely lose control.

The first thing I did after I opened the box was print off the user manual – all 265 pages of it! I figured I had done my duty by it and promptly ignored it.

After very quickly killing my first two sets of ‘high-capacity’ alkaline batteries, I sprung for a couple sets of Nickel-Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) rechargeables. Not only did they last longer but it was a heck of a lot cheaper than replacing the alkalines every time I picked up the camera.

Speaking of batteries, the good folks at Batteries.com are giving away 10% off anything you order in their inventory. You must remember to use code SS10 at the checkout in order to get it.

It really boils me to have to admit this but I actually had to go back to the manual. I wasn’t getting the results I wanted and there was also some ‘stuff’ on the camera I had absolutely no clue as to what it was about or what it was supposed to do. The moral of this story is that you’re gonna have to at least have a nodding acquaintance with your user manual. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is.The jungle of digital cameras

Back to choosing a camera…

Throughout the years I’ve learned that if a camera ‘fit’ my hand it worked well for me. It may sound a little strange at first but just think about it. If you’re handling something that feels awkward, your results are going to look like it. I had a Mamiya RB-67 for a lot of years. It was a big, ungainly unit but it was a good ‘fit’ for me. I also used a Hasselblad for quite a while but I much preferred the Mamiya and it gave me better results than the Hasselblad. (Don’t tell Hasselblad lovers I said this, they’ll kill me!)

So, rule of thumb…if it fits your hand nicely, if the main controls are handy to your fingers, if it has the megapixel number you want and falls within your budget, you can be pretty confident this will do the job you want it to do. Oh yes, if it’s a brand you’ve never heard of before, be very, very wary. It may work well and it may not. If it doesn’t, there may not be any tech backup for you to be able to access.

The major camera companies spend lots of money developing new photo technologies. Although the latest ‘techno-widgets’ go by different names, they all have the same goal, to make your pictures look as good as possible.

Pretty well every company in the world that has even come close to producing a good digital camera has gotten into the “SLR Wars”.

Single lens reflex cameras dominated the photo market for years until digital technology hit the market. Because of design and price limitations, SLR technology has not been widely available in digital cameras until the last year or so.

The furious pace of technological developments has completely overtaken the market and even professional photographers are being boggled trying to keep up.

Remember the old Nikon F2? It was the major link in the Nikon chain of professional cameras for over 10 years! This was the norm until the computer hit the photographic industry big time.

Changes used to come slowly and deliberately and it wasn’t hard to keep up with the latest and greatest when new developements came along only two or three times in a decade.

The battle now is to produce digital cameras that operate faster, can be sold cheaper and will produce a better picture. Severe competition even exists within the same corporate structure where teams of developers do their utmost to ‘outgun’ other camera designers who work in the same building as they do.

Nikon has an advantage over many of the other manufacturers in that owners of some of the older series of Nikon lenses can use them with the new digital bodies, a tremendous dollar saving to the photographer.

Most of this is aimed at the professional photographer. But, with technology changing as rapidly as it is, a camera technology that sells for several thousands of dollars today will undoubtedly become available to people like you and me in the next couple of years for a whole lot less.

One of the hardest jobs a new camera buyer will have is determine which of the new ‘techno-widgets’ does the best job and is the best value.

This is one very excellent use of newsgroups. Serious photographers, amateur and professional both, love to talk about their latest ‘toy’. This is a good time and place to ask qestions and get answers.

Don’t wait until you’ve made the investment to start doing your homework.

Another rule of thumb, if you’re happy with a particular brand name already, my suggestion is to stick with it. You’ll probably be more satisfied in the long run.

Now, having said all that, there are currently five ‘favorite’ companies among the people looking for information on the Internet, Sony, Canon,Olympus, Kodak and Nikon in this order of popularity.

Understanding how to set your camera’s resolution is absolutely vital. There’s no shortcut and there’s no way around it. This is the core of taking a good reproducible photograph. If, for instance, your camera is set for 240X360, you can forget making any kind of decent print above a ‘thumbnail’ size.

The low-end cameras are not a bargain if you’re looking for good photo reproduction. Labs are constantly fighting with customers who submit low resolution digital images from a cheap camera for printing and then aren’t happy with the results. They simply don’t understand why their pictures are so lousy. Lenses and the type of digital image recording technology are also critical factors.

I won’t get into the technical details of why but I will suggest you consider spending in the $250 to $400 range if you want something that will satisfy you assuming you want decent-looking prints.

Lets spend a few minutes on lenses. Pretty well all of the digital cameras these days have a form of zoom lens. Most of the higher-end cameras have the capability for the user to add either an external telephoto or wide-angle lens. Depending on the type of photography you want to do will determine whether or not this is of value to you.

One thing to watch out for. The higher end cameras have very good glass lenses. It’s part of what you’re paying for. The lower-end units have progressively less expensive lenses and consequently, a lower image definition.

There are both optical and digital zoom capabilities on digital cameras. The term “optical zoom” simply means you are using the glass lenses to do the magnification. “Digital zoom” on the other hand simply increases the size of the pixels to make the image larger. For reasons of clarity, the optical zoom is a far better way to go.

One last note – if you run across the “best deal in town” on a very low-priced name brand camera, check to make sure it isn’t badly out-dated. Buying well-priced clearance stock is okay if it isn’t too old. In this computer age, pretty well anything over a year old is considered ‘old technology’. As new technologies are developed the price keeps going down so you could actually be money ahead by investing in the ‘latest and greatest’.

Choose the right camera for weddings too

Always keep in mind the old adage that ‘you usually get what you pay for.

If you go to a ‘box’ store looking for the best price, don’t expect service. The folks there simply don’t know what they’re selling. Their job is to move as much merchandise as they can as quickly as possible. It’s notto give you advice. Their million dollar advertising campaigns would have you believe otherwise, however just look at the average age of the photo “techs” behind the counter and decide for yourself.

Go to the Internet to get the latest data directly from the manufacturers. It changes very, very quickly. When you do this, try to climb through all the sales hype to get to the ‘meat’ of what the cameras are all about. Newsgroups can also a very excellent source of advice for ‘newbies’.

Most people will be very happy to give you their personal opinion of what you should buy. Just remember, they won’t usually tell you what the downside to their purchase is. They don’t want to look less than ‘expert’ in your eyes. Do your own homework. This is an investment you probably won’t repeat for several years.

A specialty camera store on the other hand does both and usually very well. Keep in mind that the specialty store personnel are quite often very highly trained and will probably be well prepared to help you find the best equipment for you and will also give you a ‘leg-up’ in getting started using it.

There are hundreds and thousands of places on the Internet where cameras of all makes and models can be purchased. A lot of them promise the “lowest” prices and the “best service” in the world.

The best ones will have testimonials from real customers. Do not take these at face value. Contact the people who claim they have done business with the company you’re investigating.

Ask questions! Make sure they’re real as best you can! Most satisfied customers are happy to tell you about their experience. This is called “due dilligance” and it’s something you need to do to protect yourself.

The legitimate camera companies will thank you.

Take my friend Liz Beresford at Digital Cameras and Accessories, this is exactly the kind of company I’m talking about. Excellent price and great service. This is a site worth visiting.

We need to spend a couple of moments on storage media. Whatever size media card you stick in your camera will determine the number of pictures you can take and store. It’s like a roll of film, the bigger the roll the more pictures you can take.

Digital images are no different. The greater the number of available megabites (Mb), the higher the number of pictures you can take.

A word of caution – never, never, never leave your media card in a photo lab. The incidence of loss is high and most labs won’t replace lost cards. Quite frankly, I don ‘t blame them. Far, far too many false claims have been made and labs now refuse to take any responsibility for your camera’s memory cards. Quite frankly, I don’t blame them.

The jungle of digital cameras

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