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Selecting a digital camera, Part 2 (08/08/2007)
By Tom Hirsch
We've covered resolution in terms of the number of megapixels a digital camera can provide. Resolution is the primary factor on which all digital cameras are compared. The reason is that resolution determines the maximum size and overall quality of the images that can be obtained from a given camera. Although it's usually the starting factor, resolution isn't the only feature that should be considered when selecting a digital camera. Other things should be based on individual needs.

Size, weight and feel. Small, streamlined digital cameras that weigh only a few ounces come in a wide range of megapixels. Petite might appear to be the way to go, and for some people this size is ideal. But before making up your mind, consider a few questions, such as, does the camera feel comfortable in your hands, and is it easy to work with? Can it be held easily without fingers obstructing the lens, flash or viewfinder? When the camera is brought up to your eye, can you see adequately through the viewfinder? Are the controls easy to get at and manipulate? Does the particular model have the options you want? Would the camera be comfortable to hold in the shooting position or to carry for any length of time? These questions should be asked about any camera you might be considering, whether it's digital or film. Following are a few options that might also influence the choice you make.

Zoom range. For almost all shooting situations, a camera with a zoom lens is a must. The most desirable zoom range is at least 3X, and more is better. Remember, though, that this is optical zoom. The camera might also have a digital zoom, but also remember that this is not a true zoom. Moderate digital zoom might be okay, but all it really does is enlarge the pixels in the image without actually zooming in. If you might want to enlarge the image, you'd be better off zooming in as tightly as possible optically, and enlarging the image on the computer.

If you like taking sports or other action photos, you might want to consider a camera with a greater zoom range. Cameras with 4X zoom are quite common, and there are a few on the market that extend the lens to 10X, but check to make sure that it's optical zoom and not digital.

Shooting modes. Most digital cameras provide some options that help simplify shooting in specific situations. Common options are aperture-priority and shutter-priority. These make it possible to select the aperture for depth-of-field control, and shutter speed for action-stopping (or blurring) capabilities. Other modes include portrait, landscape and night photography, and/or action. These options are nice for beginning photographers because the camera selects the best aperture, shutter speed and, in some cases, composition, resulting in good results every time. They are also nice for the experienced photographer who may wish to use these settings, or modify them for esthetic reasons.

White balance. Most digital cameras can automatically adjust for the color of the ambient light, whether it's daylight, cloudy, tungsten or fluorescent. That's great, but some photographers prefer to have this control for themselves. To satisfy them, many cameras provide the option of manually adjusting for the type of lighting. This option can also be used for creative purposes. For example, if you want to make a sunset appear even warmer, you can set the white balance setting on "cloudy," or you could the "tungsten" setting to give a daylight scene the appearance of having been shot at night. For most shots, though, you can just set White Balance on "auto" and let the camera figure it out.

Movie mode. Many digital still cameras can also be used for taking motion-pictures. Depending on the camera, the clips can run anywhere from several seconds to several minutes. The results are not high-quality movies, but something that's fun to play around with. These films can be used for entertainment, recording a relatively short-term occasion such as a running event at a track meet, analyzing a golf swing, or to record anything that the mind can conjure up. The clips can be played back on a computer, a TV set, or e-mailed to family members or friends.

At this time, based on one report, sales of digital cameras are about to surpass those of film cameras. Reasons for this include the convenience of the recording system, the versatility of the cameras, and the need for less equipment. Whether or not you decide to go digital (if you haven't already), at least you'll know some of the options. 


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