Upgrading your digital camera? Thinking perhaps of getting something a little better? Here are some points to consider before buying your next digital camera.
How many pixels is it?
This common question is at the heart of what most people think is important about buying or upgrading their digital camera. Buying a digital camera is par for the course these days. At the same time, however, the simple truth is that there appears to be a veritable labyrinth of technologies that you need to understand if you are going to get it right.
But is that really the case? What is it you really need to know? How do you buy the camera that is right for you and your family? A New Resolution
These days, cameras are not divided into the pixel count categories they used to be. Some of the smallest compact cameras have higher pixel counts than the larger cameras do.
For the sake of this article, lets divide our cameras into three common categories â€“ Digital Single lens Reflex cameras (DSLRs), Prosumer cameras and digital compacts. Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras are those used by most professionals, the prosumer range are the all-in-ones, while compact cameras are those typically used by family snap shooters. Letâ€™s start with the digital compacts. These little beauties are marvels of technology and the quality of image they achieve is quite remarkable. It only takes about 200 to 250 pixels per inch to achieve high resolution, so a 6 megapixel camera of 2000 x 3000 pixels can produce an enlargement 10×15 inches without any problem. These days, 6 megapixels or more is common for a compact camera. Some, like the Casio EX-Z1200, have 12 MP resolution!
So there must be more to the choice than just resolution. If pixel count was the only denominator, camera companies would simply increase their sensor resolutions and win the race. But itâ€™s not that simple. The answer is in camera style, quality, features and control.
Photographers should want some control over their cameras. The kind of control and how much will vary depending on what kind of photographer you are. While technological advancements in metering and focusing have made our lives easier, they have not removed the fact that photography is an art as well as a science and control is a necessary part of the creative process. For this reason it is wise to first of all assess your needs as a photographer and analyse the kind of photographs you want to take.
Advancements in digital compacts however have been remarkable, giving the photographer much more than just improvement in image quality. Modern digital compacts are now offering the photographer a host of benefits and features. Functions like optical and digital zooms, manual focus options, close focusing, various picture modes and flash functions are becoming the norm among digital cameras. To add to this, there are also face and smile recognition modes, anti shake and much more.
Whether you need these features is up to you. Remember they will cost you a little more and so your purchase requires a certain amount of forethought and research. You need to ask yourself a few questions before you even enter the store.
- What do I want this camera for?
- What kind of photographs will I be taking?
- What lighting conditions will I be taking pictures in?
- Will I just rely on automatic or do I want to learn more about photography? â€¢ What am I like with technology and cameras generally? â€¢ What kind of features do I want and why? Do I need them, or do I just think theyâ€™re cool?
- Does it matter to me what size and shape the camera is?
- What can I afford?
These questions are a better basis for your decision than â€œHow many pixels is it?â€ While this question is often the first one asked with reference to any digital camera, it is by no means the most important one. Not these days anyway. In fact, there is a point where pixel count can actually begin to negate quality rather than enhance it. This is because of something called â€˜image noiseâ€™. This is the equivalent of grain in a film image. The sensors in compact digital cameras are very small, and the more photosites (the things that make pixels) there are crammed on to the sensor, the more potential noise the images can contain. So, pixels arenâ€™t everything.
Other quality issues are important. Things like lens quality, colour, purple fringing, exposure accuracy, and sensor noise â€“ all of these play a vital role in producing a quality image. You donâ€™t need to don the white coat to sort this out. The real guys in the white coats have done most of that for you. But the attitude that pixels are everything is no longer correct. Actually, it never was.
Having it all
The next range of cameras up from there is what is commonly referred to in the industry as â€˜prosumerâ€. They are called this because they fall somewhere between the consumer camera and the professional DSLR. These cameras are still relatively compact, but they view through the lens and usually have substantial optical zooms. The Fuji S8000fd is a classic example of this, sporting an 18x optical zoom that takes you from the 35mm equivalent of around 28mm wide angle through to an incredible 500mm telephoto! This is the kind of zooming power we used to dream of!
These cameras are simply incredible in their performance and their versatility. They are the kind of camera you could load into a back pack, travel the world with and never miss an image. They hover much closer to the $1000 mark than compacts do, but there is good reason for it. For more information on the three most popular models of this kind of camera, read Franco Darioliâ€™s article â€œThree Way Raceâ€ in this issue.
The next range of digital camera to consider is the digital SLR. These are the â€˜through the lensâ€™ camera with the interchangeable lenses. Prosumer cameras see through the lens but by means of an LCD screen. Digital SLR cameras use an optical viewfinder which is not only easier on the eye but also more accurate. At
present, these cameras range from around 6 megapixels through to 21 megapixels and have a range of features that pit them so competitively against each other that it can be difficult to choose between them. Their price range is equally as varied, with cameras starting from around $800. From there, you can spend anything up to $10 000 or more. The advantage of these cameras is that their control and their readiness of operation. For professional and enthusiast photographers, these cameras are the natural choice. And, while they may appear frightening, they are actually as easy to use as any point and shoot camera you might buy. For this reason they are actually a better family camera than the traditional â€˜family cameraâ€™ â€“ the digital compact. But, the real advantage is that these cameras grow with you. Their ability to become professional picture taking
machines is all in your hands. They are more responsive, feel comfortable in your hands, and usually produce a higher quality image. Their sensors are not only laden with pixels, but are larger, and better engineered to produce images with less noise and less â€œpurple fringingâ€.
If you are the kind of person who wants to make photography a serious hobby, a part time or full time profession or who simply wants the joy of a responsive, quality picture taking machine, these are the cameras for you. When you start out in photography you often donâ€™t know what you will need â€“ until you need it. If you have purchased a camera with limited ability to grow, then you may have to start again. This costs you time, money and photographs. Think carefully about this if the idea of photography as a hobby or profession seriously interests you.
In terms of visible quality in the average print, it is often impossible to tell the difference between images taken with compact digital cameras, prosumer models and DSLRs. That naturally depends on who is behind the camera and how well each photograph is taken. Each of the kinds of cameras weâ€™ve discussed is capable of producing very high quality images. Your choice then has much to do with your personal needs, the nature of your photography, your desired growth (or not) as a photographer and of course, your budget. Before buying your next digital, think about these things first. Forget the â€˜how many pixels is itâ€ approach and think in terms of your photography. We buy these machines not because they are technological marvels. We buy them because they preserve our lives in little time capsules we call photographs. Think about that, and you will buy right.