Digital Camera Shopping Help!!!

This information is intended to assist you buying either a digital still or video camera. This information can be used by beginners, intermediate or advanced photographers, although the latter undoubtedly will consider even more features. Regardless of who you are make a list of features that you need or want and absolutely make sure to try before you buy (updated 26Jun11).

Digital Still                             Digital Video









































Digital Still Cameras

There are tons of digital cameras available. Bottom line: Buy what you like!
Here's a list of some things to consider:

  • Shop similar to the way you would a conventional camera
  • Make a wants & needs list before shopping, have minimums
  • Buy something that looks cool or at least looks good to you
  • Whatever you do, try it before you buy it!!!
  • Beginners: ease of use is important.
  • Experienced: be able to change settings in poor lighting or bright sunlight
  • Camera weight may matter if hiking, going  great distances or all day shoots
  • Get a glass lens.  Plastic lenses result in poor quality
  • Consider a 3x optical zoom or higher. 3x is 3quivalent to about 38-110mm
  • Digital zooms tend to reduce picture quality, so bigger may not matter much
  • Select the resolution that's right for you.
  • For web or computer pictures use a lower resolution may be just fine
  • For printing 8x10 enlargements get at least a 2 megapixel camera
  • For printing 11x14 enlargements consider 3 or more megapixels
  • CompactFlash & SmartMedia are very popular and work well
  • Use a standard type that allows transfer of pictures without the camera
  • Get an adaptor to transfer pictures from the camera to the computer
  • Size depends on amount of pictures versus the resolution

    NOTE: Generally, the higher the resolution the better the picture. However, higher resolutions require more memory. If you take lots of pictures at high resolution, plan on spending a lot of money on memory at least until technology improves.
  • Primarily two types used today: CCD and CMOS
  • CCD is recommended for most.  It's faster with better quality
  • CMOS is cheaper & power efficient, but produces poorer quality pictures - okay in a starter camera for the younger kids - stay tuned...
  • Well, we said stay tuned, there now are several excellent quality cameras using CMOS, so the best thing to do is read up on the latest evaluations.
  • Price is up to you and your budget: buy what you can afford
  • There are lots of choices in each price range: compare
  • Higher pixel camera generally are more expensive, and
  • Features drive up the price: review your wants & needs list
  • Good news!  Prices are coming down as pixels go up.
I previously used a Nikon Coolpix 950, a Minolta DiMage7 and graduated to a Nikon D80 then to a D90.  They produced excellent quality pictures, were loaded with great features, used memory efficiently and provided pictures that looked beautiful, even when enlarged to 8x10.  The price for the cameras has dropped significantly. Newer Coolpix cameras also are a great buy! Also, you should be able to get a great deal on the D80, since the D90 is now available...BTW...

I now use a Nikon D7000 for primary photography and a Nikon Coolpix S9100 for everyday and vacation photos.. The price for the D7000 is a bit high, but not when compared to the overall quality of the camera. I highly recommend it, if you're looking for great resolution, ease of use, a great all-purpose lens and the ability to capture High Definition movies. Also, if you already own Nikon auto focus lenses, they should work with the camera: check the site to be sure. BTW, the movie mode works with autofocus for both the D7000 and the S9100. Very cool cameras!
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Digital Video Cameras

  • You must like the way the camera looks and feels
  • Always try it before you buy: ALWAYS
  • Make sure that controls are in easy to reach places for recording
  • The camcorders film
  • The higher the resolution, in pixels, the sharper the images
  • Currently, most cameras use one quarter or one third inch CCDs
  • Newer camcorders introduced with 1 million pixels: chips
  • Consumer models normally use a single CCD for video
  • High-end cameras may use three:
    • One for primary colors red, green & blue or for luminance signal. The others divide the chrominance signal
    • Lux rating: 1 lux = light from one candle about one yard away from the subject: the lower the rating the better for lowlight
  • Signal-to-noise ratio – related to lux
    • Lower lux situation can cause more noise: graininess, etc.
    • Higher signal-to-noise ratings can greatly improve image quality
  • Progressive scan CCD
    • Improves image quality
    • Captures full frame images vs half frame-field-by conventional interlace
    • Makes still capturing possible
  • Eyepiece: viewfinder
    • More like conventional photography: forehead acts as a brace
    • Good in bright sunlight when LCD may not be visible
    • Black & white viewfinders tend to be sharper
    • Color viewfinders provide a realistic view of the scene
    • Diopter: adjustment for eyeglass wearers, similar to binoculars
  • LCD Screen
    • Good for viewing during playback
    • Convenient in awkward situations: behind crowd of people, etc.
  • Time lapse: intervalometer
  • Frames at specific intervals: e.g. record a flower blooming
  • Slow motion – playback appears very rapid
  • Wide screen mode: video in 16:9 format for HDTV
  • Remote Control: record and playback from a distance-good for wildlife videos
  • Self-timer: allows delayed recording
  • Still image capture: capture digital still images
    • Some cameras store them on the Mini DV tape
    • Some cameras use a separate flash memory card: e.g., CompactFlash
  • Long Play: record mode extends recording time of 60-minute Mini DV tapes to 90 minutes
  • Infrared
    • Shoot up to about ten feet totally in the dark
    • Illumination via an infrared beam from LED’s on front of camera
    • Humans can’t see it but, the CCD is sensitive to this range of light
  • Flying erase head
    • Provides smooth video even when you start and stop the camera
    • Eliminates sharp transitions
    • Erases previously recorded material the way it was recorded
  • LCD monitors
    • Consider the size of roughly between 2 1/2 - 5 inch and ALSO
    • Theresolution of the screen in pixels: the higher the better
    • Swing & rotate feature for those usual or awkward shots
    • Coated to reduce reflections or make fingerprints easy to remove
    • Screen brightness adjustment
  • Standard controls for play, fast forward, rewind, pause, etc.
  • Mini DV tape: currently the most common
  • High 8 tape: used with certain Sony cameras
  • Brand new are Sony’s MD disc and
    • Quite expensive
    • Quite convenient - random access viewing like your CD player
  • IEEE 1394 ports: transfer videos: camcorder to computer or another camcorder
  • Infrared connections: send video/stills to infrared enabled television w/o cables
  • S-video
    • Used to play a digital video on a regular TV or,
    • Transfer a digital video onto an analog VHS tape
    • Differs from composite: uses separate lines in the same cable for brightness-luminance-and color-chrominance-signals to provide a better image
  • Composite video
    • Not as good as S-video but more common on TV sets and VCRs
    • Uses a single RCA-type yellow plug
  • Stereo audio jacks: red & white plugs used to send audio to an amplifier
  • Analog line in connect to a TV, VCR, or analog camera – capture/transfer video and audio from older analog tapes to a digital format
  • Pulse Code Modulation (PCM) Stereo Digital Audio Recording (should all be now)
  • Microphone in - PCM best when a high quality external microphone is used
  • Microphone accessory shoe for mounting it to the camera (very convenient)
  • Low bass filters – eliminate/reduce wind noise when shooting outdoors
  • Consumer lenses provide adequate images
  • Professional grade use interchangeable lenses
  • Zoom
    • Optical: changes the image falling on the sensor including unique data for every pixel which is why pictures look sharper than with digital zooms, while
    • Digital: take only part of the original image to the sensor and enlarge. Don’t expect to get great results from digital zoom lenses because of this method.
    • Measurements: calculated by dividing the smaller distance (i.e., focal length) into the larger distance in millimeters. Consequently, ratings provided by whole numbers, such as 20.
  • Image stabilization:  an absolute must – reduces/eliminates blurs caused by handheld movement
  • Aperture (or iris): specified by f-stop the size of the opening that allows light to enter. The larger the opening the more light available
  • Macro mode – used for close-up work
  • Most of the cameras handle things automatically, but some allow manual control that can be very useful
  • Autoexposure (AE) mode sets the shutter and aperture for you
  • Programmed autoexposure predefined shutter speed & aperture combinations for specific situations
  • Exposure determines how light or dark videos will be. Controlled by shutter & aperture (iris)
  • Shutter speed determines how long light strikes the CCD for each frame and the aperture or iris
  • Other typical photography control options include manual exposure, exposure compensation, exposure lock, and backlight control.
  • Focus
    • Automatic normally focuses on the center of the framed image
    • Manual focus allows focusing anywhere on the image
    • Try the autofocus feature before buying – some are very slow
  • White balance: can be very important particularly between indoor and outdoor shooting
  • Fade: allows smooth transition between scenes by fading one scene out to black or white and then fading the next scene in.  Should also fade the audio.  Types of fades include:
    • White: scene starts or ends with a white screen
    • Black: scene starts or ends with a black screen
    • Black & white: changes between color and b&w
    • Mosaic: starts or ends a scene with a mosaic pattern
  • Dissolve: one scene appears to dissolve into the next.
  • Wipe: slides a black or white area over the image.
  • Character generators: superimpose titles or other text on your video when recording.
  • Special effects - old-fashioned sepia, or psychedelic posterizing, freeze frame, mirror images, black & white; negative art, pastel, slim, stretch, and mosaic.
  • Edit controller - basic editing, such as trimming footage or reordering playback sequences.
  • Batteries
    • Nickel Cadmium (NiCd) and lithium ion are the most common
    • Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) are becoming more popular because they can be fully charged even though not fully drained.
  • AC Adaptor – saves wear & tear on the battery when transferring and good for indoor shooting
  • Battery charger/charging – necessary for recharging the batteries. Automobile cigarette lighter chargers can also provide convenience, especially for field photography.
  • Lighting
    • Built-in: generally limited range and drain batteries quickly
    • External: longer range with their own power supply
  • Record review: review the last few seconds shot without switching to playback
  • Record search: search the tape while still in record mode to find sections to erase or tape over.
  • Date and time stamp: records the date and time on the video.
  • Picture in Picture (PIP) - The LCD displays the zoom lens view within the wide angle lens view to see a close-up of your wide shot.
  • Software that's generally included to edit your still images.
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