Forget the jammed rolls of film and processing nightmares! The digital camera has revolutionized the way we take, process, and send pictures forever. With digital cameras, taking pictures is a simple process, where you can instantly see pictures you've taken on a built-in LCD screen. Once you get the photos onto your computer, emailing them is just minutes away. Email photos to friends and family or post them on the web in an instant. Print them out, hang them up, color them, crop them, print them on a card; the possibilities are endless. So, how do you choose which digital camera to buy? Allow the following guide put together by JR.com to help you find the ideal match.
If you can operate a traditional 35mm camera, then handling a still-picture digital camera should be easy. The main difference between the two is how the pictures are stored and developed. Instead of photos being stored on 35mm film, your digital camera itself, memory cards, or discs (CD, DVD) become the "film". You essentially become the photo developer by then placing your photos onto your computer, where you then can edit then print them onto paper, email them, post them on a website and many other fun and creative options. There are a couple of features to look into while buying a digital camera like resolution of images, what the photos will be saved on, battery life, and how snapshots get from your camera into your computer.
Image quality among higher-end digital cameras is approaching professional levels. Many wedding and commercial photographers are beginning to use them.
Virtually every digital camera model can, in addition to taking still pictures, make video clips and add sound to the image.
Resolution on digital cameras is measured in pixels (picture elements). A combination of how many horizontal and vertical pixels in a photo is what makes up a pictures' resolution. Often you'll see resolution figures like 1600x1200 or 1280x960. The more pixels, the better the quality of the photo. The higher the resolution, the more memory is needed to store the photo, which is why most digital cameras have adjustable resolutions. Because memory is sometimes limited whether stored in a camera or onto an external storage device (flash cards, media cards or floppies) it pays sometimes to take low-resolution shots.
Pixels and Megapixels
Many cameras that use film capture images as light is refracted from a lens onto specially-coated film. Pictures can seem grainy depending on how sensitive the film is (higher sensitivity = higher grain). As a digital camera does not use film, light is refracted through a lens onto an electronic 'eye' known as a CCD, charged coupling device. This CCD is filled with many light sensors called Pixels. If there are more pixels, the image is clearer and colors are sharper and more defined. Many digital cameras have CCDs that have Megapixels (megapixel = 1 million pixels) and can provide images with exceptionally high resolution. High-end digital cameras tend to have more than 3 megapixels on the CCD and offer you an opportunity to select how many pixels you wish to use per picture (higher number of pixels = higher-quality picture = more memory used).
Before digital Cameras, all photographic cameras stored pictures on photosensitive film. A film provided a limited number of pictures (i.e. 12, 24, 36), could only be used once, and required processing and development, at an additional charge, from a commercial lab.
Digital Cameras use memory cards that store pictures as information, somewhat permanently, unless you choose to edit them. You may transfer the images to a computer for storage on a hard-drive or CD (pictures may be enhanced, printed, emailed, or transferred over the Internet once they're in your computer). Once you've transferred all the pictures, you may choose to erase the card and use it all over again. If you shoot many pictures, we suggest purchasing additional memory cards.
Memory Cards accommodate different camera brands and models. The type of card you need depends on the digital camera model that you use. The most popular formats are:
Memory cards come with different memory capacities. More memory translates to a higher number of pictures that the card can hold. High resolutions require more memory than lower resolutions. The available memory range among cards is vast. Some come with only 4MB while others go well beyond 512MB. The card that may be included with the purchase of your camera usually holds a few pictures at highest resolution to a few dozen at lower resolutions. We believe that these are the (optional) memory cards that you should be using, based on the maximum CCD resolution of your camera:
1 to 1.3 Megapixel - 32MB
2 to 2.4 Megapixel - 64MB
3 to 4.0 Megapixel - 128MB or more
Over 5 Megapixel - 256MB or more
Professionals who may require significantly more memory may use certain external drives. These tend to add bulk and are not favored by most users.
Pictures can be printed in full-color on a computer printer and there are some printers that have a built-in card-reader so you can print pictures without using a computer. In some cases, these cameras may include or optionally accept a disk drive that can store pictures on a Floppy Diskette (1.44MB per disk), Iomega Clik Discs (40MB per disk), or IBM MicroDisk (340MB per disk). The amount of memory that a picture file uses depends on the resolution or whether it's accompanied by audio or motion. Higher memory capacities can store more pictures.
Almost all Digital Cameras use memory cards to store pictures. These cards may be edited and used again many times. Common memory card formats are CompactFlash, SmartMedia, Memory Stick, SD (Secure Digital), MMC, and XD PictureCard. The type of card you'd need depends on the particular camera you're using. In rare cases, some camera models may accept more than one memory card format. In most cases, camera models that accept SD format cards may also accept MMC cards.
Generally, the memory card that is included with your camera may not be large enough to hold a considerable number of pictures. We often suggest that you consider purchasing an additional card (with higher memory capacity) to hold more pictures. If your camera has a 1 or 2 megapixel CCD, a 64MB card would be recommended. If you have a camera with a 3 or 4 megapixel CCD, you may wish to consider a card that holds 128MB or more. A 5-megapixel CCD camera might suffice with 128MB memory though 256MB is better.
High quality pictures require many megapixels. That translates into lots of data; files of memory. Larger files mean that it takes longer for images to appear unless, of course, the processing speed changes. This is handled (at least two ways) by memory card manufacturers and by digital camera manufacturers.
Memory cards have speed ratings - What's the amount of memory that this card process in a given second? Cards are rated by speed using a number followed by an "x" (i.e. 1x, 2x, 4x). The "x" equals a speed of 150,000 bits of information per second. A typical memory card is rated at 4x (up to 600,000 bits of information per second. Some memory cards are rated at speeds up to 60x (9,000,000 bits of information per second).
Suppose we have an image with a resolution of 1600x1200 (2 megapixels). That would have about 1, 920,000 bits of information. Using a 4x memory card (at 600,000 bits per second), it would take a little over 3 seconds for the card to process the image. A 5-megapixel camera can produce an image with a resolution of 2592x1944 requiring about 5,038,848 bits of information. With a 4x-speed memory card, it would take about 9 seconds for that picture to appear. That's why memory card manufacturers are offering media that's capable of handling information at much faster speeds. A 12x-speed memory card would be able to process 5,038,848 bits of information at under 3 seconds.
Cameras that offer higher resolution capabilities use advanced electronics that can process data at much faster rates. Canon, for example, introduced the DIGIC processor into many of their digital cameras in 2003. This chip puts six key elements important in a digital camera into one chip: - CCD control, Auto Exposure/Auto Focus/ Auto White Balance, Signal processing, JPEG compression/ expansion, memory card control and Display (color LCD, video output). As a result, even with a 4x-speed memory card, a 5-megapixel image would appear in under 2 seconds.
When considering a digital camera for professional use, combining a fast processing camera along with a fast memory card, will deliver high-resolution results in under a second.
Batteries power all digital cameras and most of these cameras use a great deal of power, especially in high resolution and motion modes. Many digital cameras use AA size batteries while some others may use a dedicated rechargeable battery pack. In some instances, an AC adapter is available (included or optional). When traveling or if you're expecting a lot of use that day, it is often recommended that you take an extra battery supply with you.
Some people prefer cameras that use a dedicated rechargeable pack. This internal battery has been specifically designed for this use and usually supplies more power than AA alkaline batteries. Though these batteries may be available at most camera and electronics stores, they may not be available in certain areas.
AA batteries, however, are very common and can be easily found virtually anywhere on this planet. If you do a lot of traveling, getting a camera that has the ability to use AA batteries may be the wiser choice. Alkaline batteries, though powerful, may only be used once, will be used rather quickly and you may need to keep a supply of them with you. Several manufacturers make AA rechargeable batteries and external chargers. These may be used over and over so carrying a supply of rechargeable batteries (and a charger) is advised. In case of an emergency, you can always find and use AA alkaline batteries at a nearby convenience store.
Though the popular belief is that digital cameras require and use lots of battery power, battery manufacturers are producing rechargeable batteries that hold about 25% more energy than they did in early 2003.
Suggestion: When transferring images from the camera to a computer, it uses a great deal of battery power. Using a card reader (see below) is more energy efficient and transfers information at faster speeds.
If you have a camera with an internal memory, after taking your photos, the camera will indicate that the memory is full. Then you would need a wire (usually included when you purchase your camera) to connect your camera to your computer via a USB or other compatible port. Some cameras save photos onto flash or media cards. The cards come out of the camera and fit into an adapter that then fits into your 3.5inch disk drive. With cameras that save photos onto diskettes, the process is even easier. Just pop the disk into your disk drive and you're all ready.
The process of transferring images from your digital camera to your computer doesn't always have to involve a cable. Card readers and special printers are available too! To transfer images to your computer, you can place your smart media or compact flash card into a special card reader (which usually connects to your computer via a parallel or USB port) and launch the computer's transfer software. There are also printers made with a built-in card reader. Just insert the card, press a button, and the unit prints images stored on the card.
Most, if not all, digital cameras come with a flash feature. On some cameras you have the option of turning the flash off, or leaving it on automatic.
With the exception of some lower-priced models, most digital cameras do have a zoom function. This means you can modify the way a camera sees by 'zooming' from wideangle, to normal, to telephoto. On many digital cameras you'll find two zoom features: Optical zoom and Digital zoom. Optical zoom refers to what the lens actually 'sees' and is similar to the zoom on a camcorder, where you press a button and the camera hones in on what you want. Digital zoom actually centers in on a section of an image already taken, and displays it in a lower resolution.
Most digital cameras have viewfinders that you look through to frame a picture just like standard cameras. More digital cameras have an added viewing feature which is the LCD screen. This can be a small screen that's usually attached to your camera that often displays in color. You may use it to pre-view an image or to view a picture almost immediately after it's taken. If you don't like it, no problem, just take another one. You can also see all the pictures you've taken before by scrolling back and fourth. The LCD is certainly a practical feature, but it also consumes a significant amount of battery power.
Many digital cameras come with some form of image editing software that may be installed into your computer. Once you've transferred the pictures from your digital camera to your computer, this software allows you to crop, color, and add text to them. It's like having a professional photo studio of your very own! In rare instances, cameras may not come with much software, and you would need to buy it separately.
Most cameras usually work with both PCs and Macs, but it's a good idea to check upon purchase of your camera.
Printing or Displaying Your Photos
All digital cameras have connecting ports (i.e. USB) that allow transfer of memory directly to a PC or Macintosh computer. You may also remove the memory card from your camera and transfer images to a computer using an (optional) card reader. Once the images are stored in your computer (using software that is usually supplied with your camera), your pictures may be printed using any color or photo-grade inkjet printer.
There are a few available printers that have built-in memory card slots so you can print images directly from your memory cards without needing a computer.
The quality of the print depends on several factors:
Resolution of the image - Images below 2 Megapixel resolutions will provide good prints up to 5 x 7. Images with 2.1 Megapixels or higher can provide good prints of 8 x 10 or larger.
Resolution of the printer - Finer resolutions yield finer, more detailed prints. (1200 x 1200 dpi or higher is recommended)
Print Paper Quality - While you can print pictures on ordinary printing paper, you'll compromise brilliance, brightness, contrast and detail. Several leading manufacturers make photo-grade
printing papers that provide picture quality comparable or superior to those from a processing lab.
In addition to still photos, many digital cameras allow motion to be recorded. Still and motion images may be displayed on the Internet and through email. Some cameras or computers may have ports that allow display on ordinary televisions.
Your Computer As An Imaging Lab
A great advantage of transferring images to a computer is the use of software to edit and enhance your images. You can adjust tones and even add special effects and characters. Some allow you to create and organize photo albums. On special occasions and holidays, you can create greeting cards using stored photos. What you can do is only limited by your creativity.
Many people are familiar with 35mm film SLR camera lenses and how their focal lengths are translated into visual perspectives. They know that 50mm yields a normal perspective, 35mm provides a wide-angle perspective, and 135mm delivers a telephoto perspective. That's because most 35mm SLR cameras are designed pretty much alike. Light is refracted by a lens, which, in turn, projects it onto 35mm film with a focal-plane shutter. As film size and shutter placement changes, so do lens focal lengths. A 35mm compact, point-&-shoot camera might use 38mm as a normal perspective. A 2-1/4 x 2-1/4 film camera would use an 80mm lens to achieve a normal perspective.
On Digital Cameras, light is refracted unto a CCD, which converts light into digital code for transfer to a digital memory card. Digital Cameras don't need to be designed to match the film placement and, as such, the CCD points differ from model to model. As such, lenses don't follow any standard rate of conversion to determine focal length and perspective. It depends on the specific make and model.
Digital SLR cameras are designed to use the same lenses as a 35mm SLR. This means that a Canon or Nikon Digital SLR can use a 50mm lens to obtain a normal image perspective.