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Best digital camera

Buying guide for finding the best digital camera

Are you ready to take the plunge into the world of digital photography? This series of articles will help you choose the best camera for your needs.

The first thing to consider is why you want a digital camera. The answer to this question will form the basis of all your other buying decisions. If you simply want to send snapshots by e-mail or post images on the Internet, you don't need a high resolution camera. If you want to print digital photographs, however, you need a camera with more resolution.

Resolution

Digital cameras are rated by the number of megapixels (millions of pixels) they can record. This is also referred to as their 'resolution' and is the single most important factor affecting the price of digital cameras. Quite simply, the more megapixels the higher the price.

Images which are only viewed on a computer screen did not need a high resolution. A computer monitor set to 1280x1024 (which is very large) is only displaying about 1.3 megapixels. Any digital camera rated at about two megapixels is suitable for computer images.

Printed pictures, however, are another story. Professional photo shops usually print photographs at 300 dots per inch, and you are likely to be disappointed with pictures printed at less than this standard. A 4 x 6 photograph printed at 300 dots per inch needs an image which has about 2.8 million pixels. That means that digital cameras that are meant to be used for printed pictures should be rated at least three megapixels.

More megapixels doesn't necessarily mean better pictures. All other things being equal (image sensor quality and lens quality) a camera with more megapixels simply allows you to print larger pictures. You also have more options for cropping photos and maintaining standard print sizes.

Budget

Now that you have chosen a minimum megapixel rating, you can look for cameras which fall into your budget. You will most likely want to get the best quality images for your money, and that may mean foregoing some of the fancy features such as video and sound recording. Concentrate on lens quality and image sensor quality.

Lenses are available in either plastic or glass. Glass lenses are superior and will produce crisper, cleaner images. The best cameras will be equipped with lenses by well-known manufacturers such as Leica or Zeiss.

Many digital cameras have a zoom function which allows you to get closer to your subject without moving the camera. There are two types of zoom -- digital and optical. An optical zoom changes the actual length of the lens. Digital zooms simply remove the outside edges of an image and interpolate the result over the area of the image sensor. They do not give as good results as optical zooms and should be avoided if possible.

Image sensors are electronic devices that record the images. The two most popular types are CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) and CCD (Charged-Couple Device). CMOS is the cheaper of the two but the image quality is inferior to CCD.

No matter what your budget, a camera with a good quality lens and CCD image sensor will likely give you pleasing digital photographs.

The simplest digital cameras are point-and-shoot cameras -- simply aim them and push the button. They are very easy to use and are suitable for people who simply want to take family or vacation snapshots. The downside to point-and-shoot cameras is the lack of control you have over focusing and image adjustment. As you go up the scale to more expensive cameras, you get more of these kinds of options. The simplest point-and-shoot cameras often have a low megapixel rating -- around two megapixels.

Slightly better cameras in the three to five megapixel range usually also have more controls for focusing and image adjustment. Prosumer models are designed for those who are serious about photography but don't have the budget for professional equipment. Professional digital cameras offer the greatest flexibility for capturing digital images. These cameras are the most expensive and can cost several thousand dollars.

You are presented with many choices when buying a digital camera. There are different types of image sensors, storage cards, batteries, as well as extra features like video and audio recording. As mentioned in the previous article, image sensors and lenses are the most important parts of a digital camera for capturing quality images. They are not the only things to consider, though.

Controls

Many of the controls on digital cameras are accessed through a menu system. An easy-to-use menu system is a great benefit to any digital photographer, so this is an important point to consider when shopping around. The menu system should be clearly laid out so that you can access settings such as resolution, flash, and exposure settings. Too many buttons can be confusing and can inhibit the average user from accessing all the features.

Exposure Settings

Exposure settings allow you to adjust the camera for various types of light. Almost all digital cameras have an automatic mode which will do the adjusting for you, but better cameras will give you more control over aperture settings and exposure times. These can give your photos a more professional look, but some people may not be interested in this level of control.

Video and Audio

Many digital cameras allow you to shoot videos and/or record sound. These features can be handy, but the amount of video that can be captured is quite small compared to a dedicated camcorder.

LCD Display

LCD displays allow you to see pictures you have taken. This is essential for deciding which shots to keep and which to discard. The display may also function as a viewfinder allowing you to see how your shot will look before you press the shutter button. Some of the cheapest digital cameras do not have an LCD display.

Software

Some cameras come bundled with image-editing software like Adobe Photoshop Elements or Ulead PhotoImpact. Software is a great way to edit your photos before they are printed. Software packages can cost up to $100 if bought separately so having it included with the camera is a serious buying consideration.

Try Before You Buy

If possible, take a few pictures with a digital camera before you buy it. This will give you a feel for the controls and the ease of use. How does the camera feel? Is it solid or does it seem like a plastic toy? Is the LCD screen easy to view under various lighting conditions? Giving the camera a tryout will answer these questions.

Photo Soren

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