Monday, March 26, 2007
Choosing The Right Digital Camera For You
How to narrow the multitude of options? Consider your photography habits and the features you really need
Close-Ups. Some compact digital cameras will focus amazingly close-down to within an inch of the front of the lens. Some will focus from infinity down to their closest distance continuously; others require that you enter a special macro mode to focus on close subjects. Some cameras will focus really close only at their widest zoom setting; you won't get as big an image of your close-up subject with these as with a camera of equal zoom range that can focus that close at its longest focal length. If you want to do close-up photography, consider the close-up capabilities of potential camera purchases. A tip: If your camera has an optical finder, use the LCD monitor to compose close-up shots; parallax will cause misframing if you use the optical finder.
D-SLRs, with their through-the-lens viewfinders, present no parallax problems. What you see is what you get-a little more than what you see, actually, with most D-SLRs. Special macro lenses let D-SLRs focus close enough to produce life-size images on 35mm film (and full-frame D-SLR sensors); with APS-C-sensor D-SLRs, the subject's image will be even bigger in the frame for more apparent magnification.
One handy feature for close-up work is a tilting/rotating LCD monitor. This allows you to shoot at odd angles without having to be a contortionist. A number of compact digital cameras have such monitors; only a few D-SLRs do.
Available Light. If you like to record the natural beauty of ambient light, digital cameras offer more control than film because you can adjust the white balance and check it on the spot to get the best possible colors.
D-SLRs, with their larger image sensors, produce better image quality at high ISOs than compacts do, so they're better choices for low-light shooting. However, high-ISO image quality has improved greatly in many compact digital cameras of late—check the specs for potential camera purchases. But remember that image quality goes down as ISO goes up, with any camera. Tip: Don't underexpose at high ISO settings, or image noise (the digital equivalent of film graininess) will be unacceptable.
This brings up one big digital advantage over film: With digital, you can shoot each shot at the ideal ISO. With film, you have to shoot the whole roll at a single ISO.
Fast lenses transmit more light and thus let you use faster shutter speeds (or lower ISO settings) in a given light level. Fast lenses for D-SLRs are quite costly, while many midpriced compact digital cameras have fast lenses built-in. For example, the $650 (list price) Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 has a built-in 35-420mm (35mm equivalent) ƒ/2.8-3.7 zoom lens with an optical image stabilizer (a necessity when handholding such a long focal length). A 300mm ƒ/4 telephoto lens for a D-SLR (equivalent to 300-480mm on a 35mm camera, depending on the size of the sensor in the D-SLR) costs about twice that—and that's just for the lens and one focal length. A 28-300mm zoom (equivalent to 42-450mm when used on an APS-C D-SLR) with image stabilizer lists for more than $2,000 and has a maximum aperture at the long end of ƒ/5.6; it transmits half as much light as that built-in compact-camera lens.
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