Advice on Buying a Digital Camera
Digital Camera Buying Guide

The first thing to decide when buying a Digital Camera is why you actually want a digital camera and what you are going to use it for. If you just want to send snapshots by e-mail or post images on the Internet, you don't require a particularly high resolution digital camera. If you want to print digital photographs, though, you require a camera with more resolution.

Digital Camera Resolution

Digital Cameras are rated by the number of mega-pixels (millions of pixels) that they can record. This is also referred to as the resolution and is the single most important factor affecting the cost of a digital camera. As a rule of thumb, the more mega-pixels a Digital Camera has, the higher the price of that camera.

Images which are exclusively viewed on a computer screen do not need a high resolution. A computer monitor set to 1280x1024, which is very large, is only displaying around 1.3 megapixels. Any Digital Camera rated at around two mega-pixels is suitable for computer images.

On the other hand, if you want to print photographs, a higher mega-pixel camera will be required. Professional photo shops generally print photographs at 300 dots per inch, and you will probably to be disappointed with pictures printed at less than this standard. A 4 x 6 photograph printed at 300 dots per inch needs an image which has about 2.8 million pixels. That means that digital cameras that are intended to be used for printed pictures should be rated at minimum three megapixels .

More megapixels doesn't automatically mean better pictures. All other things being equal (image sensor quality and lens quality) a camera with more mega-pixels simply allows you to print bigger pictures. You also possess more options for cropping photos and maintaining standard print sizes.

How Much to Pay for your Digital Camera

Now that you have chosen a minimum mega-pixel rating, you can consider cameras which fall into your budget. You will most probably want to get the best quality images for your money, and that may mean foregoing some of the fancy features such as video and sound recording. Look for a camera with the best lens quality and image sensor quality.

Digital Camera Lenses - To Zoom or not to Zoom

Camera Lenses can be produced in either plastic or glass. Glass lenses are far superior to plastic lenses as they will produce crisper, cleaner images. They are also less resistant to scratching. Well known lens manufacturers include Canon, Leica, Pentax and Zeiss.

Numerous digital cameras possess a zoom function which allows you to get closer to your subject without moving the camera. This type of camera will typically have two types of zoom, namely optical and digital.
An optical zoom is one where the length of the lens actually changes. Digital zooms on the other hand, simply cast off the outside edges of an image and interpolate the result over the area of the image sensor. They do not deliver as acceptable results as optical zooms and should be avoided if at all possible.

Image Sensors

An Image sensor is the electronic devices within the camera that actually record the images. The two most popular types are CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) and CCD (Charged-Couple Device) . CMOS is the cheaper of the two but the image quality is inferior to CCD.

No matter what your budget, a camera with a good quality lens and CCD image sensor will probably give you the most pleasing digital photographs.

You Get What You Pay For!

The simplest digital cameras are point-and-shoot cameras -- simply aim them and push the button. They are very easy to use and are suitable for people who simply want to take family or vacation snapshots. The downside to point-and-shoot cameras is the lack of control you have over focusing and image adjustment. As you go up the scale to more expensive cameras, you get more of these kinds of options. The simplest point-and-shoot cameras often have a low megapixel rating -- around two megapixels.

Slightly better cameras in the three to five megapixel range usually also have more controls for focusing and image adjustment. Prosumer models are designed for those who are serious about photography but don't have the budget for professional equipment. Professional digital cameras offer the greatest flexibility for capturing digital images. These cameras are the most expensive and can cost several thousand dollars.

You are presented with many choices when buying a digital camera. There are different types of image sensors, storage cards, batteries, as well as extra features like video and audio recording. As mentioned previously, image sensors and lenses are the most important parts of a digital camera for capturing quality images. They are not the only things to consider, though.

Controls - Will I Need a Degree to Work it?

Many of the controls on digital cameras are accessed through a menu system. An easy to use menu system is a great benefit to any digital photographer, so this is an important point to consider when shopping around. The menu system should be clearly laid out so that you can access settings such as resolution, flash, and exposure settings. Too many buttons can be confusing and can inhibit the average user from accessing all the features.

Exposure Settings

Exposure settings allow you to adjust the camera for various types of light. Almost all digital cameras have an automatic mode which will do the adjusting for you, but better cameras will give you more control over aperture settings and exposure times. These can give your photos a more professional look, but some people may not be interested in this level of control.

Do I Really Need Video and Audio

Many digital cameras allow you to shoot videos and/or record sound. These features can be handy, but the amount of video that can be captured is quite small compared to a dedicated camcorder.

LCD Display - A Mini TV on a Digital Camera

LCD displays allow you to see pictures you have taken. This is essential for deciding which shots to keep and which to discard. The display may also function as a viewfinder allowing you to see how your shot will look before you press the shutter button. Some of the cheaper digital cameras do not have an LCD display.

Editing Software

Some cameras come bundled with image-editing software like Adobe Photoshop Elements or Ulead PhotoImpact. Software is a great way to edit your photos before they are printed. Software packages can cost up to $100 if bought separately so having it included with the camera is a serious buying consideration.

Try Before You Buy

If possible, take a few pictures with a digital camera before you buy it. This will give you a feel for the controls and the ease of use. How does the camera feel? Is it solid or does it seem like a plastic toy? Is the LCD screen easy to view under various lighting conditions? Giving the camera a tryout will answer these questions.