Digital Camera Buyers Guide
Digital photography has opened up a world of exciting possibilities. Digital cameras give us the flexibility, portability and power to produce great looking shots of people, places and scenes. And thanks to the digital format, we can edit, print, share and send much more easily than ever before.
Whether you're new to digital cameras or already know your ISO from your megapixels, finding the right digital camera can make all the difference.
From basic cameras for holiday snaps to versatile systems to take professional quality shots, digital cameras come in all shapes and sizes, at prices to suit every pocket. Our web exclusive cameras start at under €100 and promise an easy way to start snapping.
This buying guide can help you understand what the features all mean - and which ones you need.
When you take a photo with a digital camera, you instantly see the results on the LCD screen and the picture is stored on the camera's memory card. This means you can see whether you've got the shot you want and, if not, how to improve your results. Then simply delete and try again. As many times as you want.
Cameras are often classed according to the number of megapixels they offer. The more megapixels, the better resolution. Even the most basic digital cameras have around 5 million pixels these days. Most compact cameras offer a resolution of around 5 megapixels. This is fine for emailing or printing up to A4 size. Higher end compact cameras, and D-SLRs, offer up to 12 megapixels, suitable for editing, cropping and enlarging to poster size. Many cameras have different quality settings so you can shoot at lower resolutions. This is because 10-megapixel shots take up more memory than 5-megapixel shots. 3-megapixels resolution is usually enough for most pictures
Keep on snapping
You're only limited by the life of your battery and the size of your memory card. That means you can keep on snapping much longer than with traditional cameras. You can get memory cards with a capacity of up to 4Gb. The most common memory cards are 1Gb and 2Gb - the latter lets you store up to 1706 3-megapixel snaps or 600 8-megapixel images. The better quality the image, the more space it will take up.
Many cameras allow you to adjust the quality by decreasing or increasing the number of pixels in the image; that means you can save more images on your card. There are several different types of memory cards. It's worth checking as some are specific to certain manufacturers. This means that if you choose a camera made by the same company as, say, your mobile phone, you may be able to use the same memory cards.
What can I do with my digital photos?
The sky's the limit really. One of the greatest benefits of digital photography is the ease with which we can share, store, print and edit photos.
Transfer and store
- transfer images to your computer with a dedicated USB cable
- download them onto a CD using a CD rewriter, for back-up or sharing
- upload images onto Websites such as utube.com for free
- many digital cameras come with software for basic editing, such as red-eye reduction and cropping
- buy image editing software for sophisticated changes
- some cameras let you edit the photo while the photo is still on the camera itself
- print images at home - dedicated and affordable photo printers deliver great results
- you don''t even need a PC if you have a Pictbridge camera and compatible printer – some even boast a LCD screen so you can edit and crop images before printing
- some photo printers also have memory card slots so you can slot your memory card in.
- take your memory card to a high-street processor
- order prints and personalised gifts online
- upload photos onto a photo-sharing site for free so friends and family can access them wherever they may be
- write onto CD for an easy way to send many images at once
- email individual images
- display slideshows directly from your memory card
Feature-packed or point and shoot, there is a digital camera for every level of knowledge, interest and budget.
Point & shoot cameras
For those who just want to get out there and start shooting, point & shoot cameras are designed to be extremely easy to use, straight from the box. They are ideal for beginners looking to take holiday and family photos with minimum fuss. Point & shoot cameras can cost as little as €50, and often let you take short film clips too.
Compact & stylish
Compact cameras can be as small and thin as a cigarette box, making them ideal for those who want to carry a camera wherever they may go. They're designed to be sleek and stylish, and packed full of great features. Most incorporate the latest technology for crisp, sharper images. Image stabilisation, for example, eliminates the effects of camera shake, making it easier than ever to get great looking shots. Greater manual controls also allow you be more creative.
High-performance digital cameras
High-performance cameras with exciting features such as high power zooms and manual settings will help you produce professional-looking photos.
Digital SLR cameras
Digital SLR cameras (digital single lens reflex cameras) are becoming more and more accessible in terms of ease of use and price. The photographer's camera, D-SLRs combine the creativity and performance of traditional SLRs with all the convenience of digital. They offer advanced creative features, a broad range of scene and colour modes, manual controls, super zooms and more. Accessorise with interchangeable lenses, add-on flashguns and other performance accessories. Canon, Olympus and Nikon are leaders in this area.
Depending on your preferences, you may decide to choose a camera with specific features.
LCD screen size
The LCD screen has a dual function. It works as a viewfinder to set up your shot. It also lets you review your pictures. The size of the screen varies and is stated in inches, measured diagonally. The bigger the LCD screen, the more easily you'll see what your digital pictures look like. It also makes it even easier to instantly share shots with friends and family.
Some of the cheaper digital cameras come with AA batteries, which works well for holidays or if you use your camera for special events only. You won’t need to recharge and can get new batteries wherever you are. Most digital cameras have rechargeable batteries and come with a charger. This means less cost and less waste. The problem with this type is that you always have to remember to carry the charger with you if you intend to stay away for a longer period.
Digital and optical zoom
Most digital cameras have 2 types of zoom: optical zoom and digital zoom. Use them together to get really close shots.
Optical zoom gets you closer to the action without losing any picture quality. Most digital cameras have 3x optical zoom. Optical zoom is more important than digital zoom. Look out for cameras with a better optical zoom
Digital zoom takes a section of the image on the sensor, and uses it as the whole image. You can use digital zoom after you have taken the shot. The only trouble is that you lose quality when you do this as your images will have less pixels, and so less detail. If you have a camera with plenty of pixels to start with this need not be a problem.
ISO is a rating to show the camera's results in much lower light level. High ISO sensitivity, up to 3200, means you'll be able to get beautiful, atmospheric photography without needing to use flash. Low light levels is one of the most frequent causes of unsuccessful shots so a high ISO level can mean more of your shots come out better.
ISO 100: Bright, clear days for best quality
ISO 200: Cloudy, dull days when shooting outdoors
ISO 400: Low light and indoors without a flash
ISO 800: Shooting outside in very low light
ISO 1600: Shooting creatively at night
ISO 3200: Low light action and indoor activities.
Scene selection modes
Most cameras have scene selection modes, such as "sport" and "portrait". Use scene selection modes to automatically get the best settings for your picture. Choosing "sport" freezes movement so a ball appears still. If you use "portrait" mode you can step in closer, making your model the centre of the viewer's attention with the background out of focus. Modes are quick to use, but they don't always give good results in dull or very bright conditions. If you want more control, look for cameras with aperture priority, shutter-speed priority and manual overrides.
Camera shake has long been the bane of many photographers and is one of the most common causes of spoilt shots. Putting the camera on a tripod is one solution to prevent camera shake, but some digital cameras now have effective image stabilisation technology to help create sharper images. Typically this involves the lens or digital sensor moving ever so slightly to compensate for hand movements.
Digital image quality settings
Digital cameras with more features (and higher costs) usually have several image quality settings to choose from. The better the quality of a digital picture, the more space is needed for recording it on your memory card. So you can take more shots if you reduce the quality but you may notice that your prints may have slightly blurred edges or that fine detail won't be captured. If you opt for high-resolution images, you'll create larger file sizes, which are harder to use electronically - difficult to email for example. Pictures at lower quality settings are fine for emailing, or if you want to put them on a website.
Digital camera memory cards
Digital cameras store your data on a removable memory card. Most digital cameras come with a low capacity memory card, typically a 32Mb memory card, which may be enough for only a handful of high quality pictures. You can buy much higher capacity memory cards. This will allow you to store many more photos. If you've got a 2Gb memory card, you can store up to 1706 3-megapixel images or 600 8-megapixel images.
There are several types of memory cards so always check which one fits your digital camera. Once you have uploaded your digital photos to your computer or copied them onto a CD, you can delete them from the memory card and re-use it.
Image editing software
Most digital cameras come with image editing software that you can install on your PC. Retouching your shots can help you look like a great photographer, and can be creative and fun. However, the software supplied is quite basic, and you may want to buy more versatile software.
There are many ways to get high-quality prints from digital shots. Photo printers have never been so affordable and can help you get great prints in your own home. Many cameras can now be connected directly to a printer so you can print shots without having to use a PC. Look for the technology called Pictbridge in your camera and printer to be able to print directly from your camera. You can also take your memory card to a high-street printing shop.
The camera lens focuses automatically, usually when the shutter release is half-pressed.
Battery life will depend on how much you use the LCD display and how often you use the flash. With a little care, a fully charged battery should easily last a full day of shooting. It’s a good idea to start each day of use with a fully charged battery.
Charged Couple Device. CCD delivers greater colour and detail.
Gives a wider dynamic range and reduced light smear to your video footage. Results in high quality images with realistic colour and definition.
CompactFlash or CF
Flash memory storage format commonly found in Digital SLR’s and older cameras.
Enlarging of an image that requires the camera/camcorder to double the size of the pixels. Due to the doubling of pixels the image begins to become fuzzier and fuzzier as you enlarge.
Digital SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera. Interchangeable lens digital camera.
Also known as a firewire connection. DV out lets you transfer footage to your TV or PC.
A built-in flash supplies auxiliary light to supplement natural or available lighting conditions often resulting in better colour, better exposure and improved picture sharpness.
A Gigabyte equal to 1024 megabytes.
Like conventional photo film, a digital camera uses the ISO rating to signify its speed (sensitivity to light). The higher the ISO number, the better the camera is at operating in low light and the better it is with indoor flash (flash will work further from subject since camera has better low light sensitivity). But as the ISO number increases, picture noise or graininess increases.
This allows the user to compose your picture and preview images/video footage immediately after a photo is taken.
Megabyte, a memory term meaning 1024 kilobytes. Used to denote the size of a flash memory card.
1 million pixels, a unit of measurement in an image. This number will determine the quality of the image. Think of it as the number of dots in your picture. A low density of dots will result in a poor image.
Most cameras and some camcorders come with a small amount of internal memory or supplied on a card but you can get additional cards – go for the biggest you can afford as it will allow you to store more pictures.
Memory stick duo or MS-N
A flash memory card standard from Sony.
Some cameras allow you to take short movies in AVI, MOV or MPEG format – some even take sound.
Optical image stabilisation
A unique optical apparatus in a camera/camcorder that attempts to compensate for shaking and vibrating by altering the camera’s optical properties on-the-fly to compensate for camera movement. Because OIS doesn’t alter your image data, there is no image degradation.
This is a type of zoom on digital cameras/ camcorders that replicates what a 35mm zoom does, by actually magnifying the subject of the photo.
PictBridge™ is a standard for direct USB printing from digital cameras to printers without the use of a computer.
Red-eye reduction mode
A special flash mode whereby a re-flash or a series of low-powered flashes are entitled before the main flash goes off to expose the picture. This causes the pupil in the human eye to close and helps eliminate red-eye.
Many digital cameras now have an exposure mode called SCENE where the user selects the best pre-programmed scene to suit the current shooting conditions. The camera will automatically change many settings to capture the best possible image.
Secure digital or SD
A flash memory card used in most digital cameras and some camcorders and increasingly in other equipment, such as SatNav and MP3 players.
A connection that allows for fast connection and transfer of photos or movies to your PC or laptop.
A flash memory card standard that was co-developed by Fujifilm and Olympus.
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