Buyers guide – digital cameras


I consider myself a bit of a techie with a penchant for consumer electronics. It is this self-proclaimed status that often places me in a situation where friends, family, co-workers and random strangers seek my consultation on any and all electronic purchases. Noticing that I often repeat my suggestions I decided it would be far easier if I discussed some basic points in my blog and then direct all queries to it. Don’t get me wrong, I love the sound of my voice, but to repeat the same set of suggestions tends to become a bit annoying. In this post I will go over a few basic specifications to look out for while buying a digital camera. Please note that I am no expert but am merely giving my suggestions based on my experiences and common sense.

The first thing a camera-buying hopeful always tells me is that they want to go in for a camera they saw advertised somewhere because it has 10 or 12 megapixel or 5x digital zoom, or has 100MB etc. if it very easy to get caught up in marketing hype but honestly what is it most of us need from a camera.

(i) Forget Megapixel – in my experience most of us take snaps and then upload then on facebook/picasa. Occasionally we print out a few but that too only in regular postcard size or smaller. If this is true with you then what good is a 12 MP sensor? At best you will be looking at the photo on your computer monitor so technically a 2MP image would be more than sufficient. For those moments when you want to zoom/crop the image perhaps a 4MP may be more appropriate. Another issue with high MP count is the image size, it is practically impossible to send more than a handful via email and that does take a while to upload in the first place.

(ii) Forget digital zoom – digitally zooming into your subject while taking the snap will actually cause loss in detail and clarity. The greater the digital zoom, lower the quality of your image. Read the following point on optical zoom.

(iii) Ignore on-board memory – When all cameras come with memory extension card slots coupled with the low cost of high capacity SD cards, why bother with internal memory of the device. when buying your camera ask the dealer to throw in a high capacity SC card (SDHC) or just buy one separately, they are fairly cheap and make transferring your snaps a breeze. Yes – transferring your snaps. Don’t bother with the proprietary data transfer cables and clunky pc-suite shipped by the manufacturer. Once done taking snaps just pop your SD card into a card-reader (either inbuilt into your comp, or just buy one – cheap). It’s much faster and a lot more convenient.

(iv) Look for optical zoom – an extremely important specification especially if you want to get closer to your subject than physically possible. Additionally quality loss is minimal with optical zoom as opposed to digital zoom. I will not get into the details of how this is established (just wiki optical zoom, aperture and telephoto lens). Also the amount of zoom you need will factor into the type of camera you need to buy. Typical point and shoot cameras have about 3x to 5x optical zoom. Bigger-prosumer-cameras typically have mega-zoom bodies i.e. a zoom anywhere from 10x to 26x. They are usually more expensive, heavier and pack a lot more features (close to DSLR cameras in features but with a much smaller sensor and fixed lens).

(v) Battery type – most compact cameras (point-and-shoot) come with rechargeable lithium-ion batteries which are pretty good however I still prefer ones that run on standard AA size batteries. My reasons are simple – if run out of juice and don’t have my charger with me (which happens to most of us) I simply walk into any nearby store and buy regular AA batteries. If you are going in for a camera powered by regular batteries then my suggestion would be to buy a pair of NiMH (nickel-metal hydride) cells and a charger. Also go in for the highest milli-amps your camera will support. This should give you an excellent battery life and the rechargeable factor makes it cheaper in the long run.

(vi) Form-factor and size – this could be an important factor to take in to account. Many times my lady-friends would only want to carry a ridiculously slam purse (something about looks over practicality) so a boxy prosumer camera is a no go. Guys also may want to just put their camera in their pocket while going out so here again form-factor plays an important part (you would not want to be charged with conspiracy to impress women).

(vii) Online reviews – owner reviews are an excellent way to learn the pros and cons of a camera well before you buy it. One site I often visit is www.dpreview.com. It provides useful reviews on most of the popular models and allows you to generate detailed tabulated comparison of different camera models.

(viii) Other less known tech-specs to look out for are: Image stabilization – this is an extremely important feature especially if you are planning to take snaps at on a high zoom level as hand jitter is amplified through the lens and the images would turn out blurry. Look for cameras that offer dual IS (image stabilization) as only digital image stabilization is not nearly as good as optical stabilization or a combination of the two. Flash recycle time – which is the time it takes to recharge the flash between snaps; shot-to-shot time – minimum time the camera takes to capture successive snaps; flash distance – most smaller cameras only have an effective flash distance of a few meters which may not be suitable if you want to take snaps of say people in an open-air gathering.

Hope this helps you in your camera purchasing ordeal and remember the time you spend ‘researching’ for the perfect camera will greatly add to your satisfaction once you buy it. Readers are welcome to leave their suggestions on what other features buyers should look for.

4 Response to Buyers guide – digital cameras

  1. Yay!! you finally started the gyan section in your blog. You have really awesome suggestions and ideas and I feel you should spread the word.

  2. kirthi says:

    thank you for the gyan :) i really need help with gadgets :)

  3. Thanks Sonia, I guess now you won't be the only one subjected to my tech lectures.

    Kirthi, glad to help wiv any gadget queries.

  4. your suggestions are very apt for a layman seeking a decent camera ... i own a dsc h2 ... any reccomendations on which dslr i should graduate to ?...

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