Mar 04 2007

Learning Digital Camera Language

Published by at 7:18 pm under Equipment

When you first go to buy a digital camera, chances are you will have no clue what a megapixel is or what kind of storage works best. The salesperson will probably bombard you with a variety of different options, making it even more confusing, so be prepared. Doing a little research on digital camera terminology before you head to the store can save you time and help you buy the perfect camera. Here are some of the terms you need to know.

Pixels

When most people first begin looking at digital cameras, the question in their minds is picture quality. On a digital camera, this is measured by megapixels. More is better. Pixels are tiny units of color that make up digital pictures. Pixels also measure digital resolution. One million pixels adds up to one mega-pixel. The less pixels, the more grainy your picture will be. To print a good quality 4×6 print (“good” meaning 250 pixels per inch) you will need 4x6x250x250 = 1.5 megapixels. For a 5×7 the requirement is 2.2 megapixel, and for an 8×10 it is 5 megapixels. In my own personal tests using well known photo printers, it was hard to see the difference between 200 ppi and 250 ppi, so at 200 ppi that 8×10 only requires 3.2 megapixels.

Zoom

Another term you may see is 35mm Equivalent Zoom. This tells you the zoom capabilities of the digital camera lens compared to a traditional 35mm camera. This is helpful in determining if the camera will take the type of photos your want – for example, the extremes of wide-angle close ups with blurred out foregrounds and backgrounds, or amazing zoom shots that get you into the action. One example I just looked up said 35mm – 140mm, which is a reasonable value for a point and shoot digital camera. You might also see this stated as a 4x optical zoom. (do NOT bother listening to any sales pitches about digital zoom!)

Aperture

Aperture Range is another techie camera term. Aperture refers to the size of the hole that allows light to enter the camera, measured in f-stops. A lower f-stop number signifies a larger aperture, allowing you to take good pictures in low light conditions or successfully freeze rapid motion. f2.8 is a good low f-stop value and f8 would be quite good at the high end.

Memory Cards

Storage options confuse most people as well. Many digital cameras allow you to change the quality of your photographs-if you take lower quality, you can store more pictures. However, you probably can’t hold more than a few images on your camera without a memory card, so it is vital that you invest in one when you purchase your camera. The salesperson will try to talk you into the cards that hold more photographs and are more expensive, but remember that you only need enough storage until you can transfer your photographs to your computer or stop at a developing center. You will also be able to delete images you don’t like, so that will save on storage as well. A modern 6 megapixel amera can store about 80 high quality photos on a 256 MB card, and these have become quite inexpensive lately. At today’s prices, you might as well get a 512 MB card.

File Formats

File Formats – Most cameras save photos in the universal JPEG format. I urge you to stick with JPEG, although it is okay if your camera supports other types. Check your manual to find out how to make sure your camera is using JPEG.

Plan

There are other terms that you will see. Examples are Exposure Compensation, ISO Rating, LCD Monitor Size, Movie Mode (I’d rather own a separate camcorder), Self-Timer (handy for taking family shots with EVERYONE in the photo), Interface (almost always USB), and Autofocus System. All well known brands are competitive with each other in these areas. Just remember; this should not be an impulse buy, because you may end up with a product that you do not like. Have a clear budget in your head from the start, and an idea of the features you want in a camera to make the process quick and easy.

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