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
Memory Cards. Most of today's compact digital cameras save images on removable Secure Digital (SD) memory cards, while most higher-end D-SLRs use CompactFlash (CF) cards. Many lower-cost D-SLRs use SD cards, handy for those moving up to a D-SLR from a compact model.
The more megapixels an image contains, and the less it's compressed, the more space it takes up on a memory card. So if you shoot RAW 10-megapixel images, you'll need high-capacity memory cards: at least 1 GB (gigabyte); a 2 GB or 4 GB card is even better.
Not all cameras can use the higher-capacity memory cards. SD cards above 2 GB (SDHC cards) use a different file system called "FAT32." If you're buying a high-megapixel camera or intend to shoot RAW images, make sure the camera can use the higher-capacity cards. (And if buying a high-capacity memory card for an older digital camera, make sure the camera can use it.)
Movie Capability. Most compact digital cameras can shoot short, low-resolution movies. Many of today's models can shoot longer and better ones. D-SLRs don't have movie capability, so if that's important, you'll need a compact digital camera.
Some compacts shoot VGA movies (640 x 480 pixels), standard TV resolution. Some will shoot higher-resolution movies—up to 1024 x 768 pixels. Computer monitor resolution is 72 pixels per inch, so 640 x 480-pixel movies appear as 8.9x6.7 inches on screen, while 1024 x 768-pixel movies appear as 14.2x10.7 inches. Both are big improvements on the 320 x 240-pixel resolution of earlier digital cameras.
Check the frame rate, too. Thirty frames per second provides much smoother movies than 15 fps; at least one compact camera can shoot at 60 fps. If sound is important, make sure your camera can shoot movies with sound; some can't. Also, some cameras can shoot only short movie clips, while others will let you shoot until you fill the space on the memory card in the camera. Some cameras autofocus and let you zoom while shooting, others don't. Built-in stabilization is an important feature if you want to shoot motion clips; you don't want to make your viewers seasick.
Accessories. Finally, check out the accessories available for the cameras you're considering. The ability to accept powerful external flash units extends flash range, while the ability to use those flash units off-camera gets rid of the flat on-camera-flash look. Some compact cameras will accept accessory wide-angle and tele attachments, which can greatly expand your range of focal lengths and shooting capabilities.
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