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Choosing the Best Digital Camera to Buy

4X Optical Zoom, 4X Digital Zoom, 5.0 Mega Pixels, ISO 800, Macro mode, Super CCD. If all of this digital camera jargon confuses you and makes choosing the right digital camera difficult, read on.
Up to a few years ago, all cameras except the Polaroid variety, required film rolls. Choosing a camera used to be pretty simple. You usually had an idea as to which type of camera you wanted before you bought one. You had a choice between a simple point-and-shoot, normal zoom, and SLR camera. It all finally would boil down to the type of camera and your budget. After you had bought your camera it was a matter of choosing what type of roll you loaded into it.

The scene today is totally different. Most of the reputed camera manufacturers have stopped making film cameras except for the professional high-end models. Every manufacturer is focusing on developing the best digital cameras.

Advantages of owning a digital camera over a film camera are many. The biggest advantage is the cost factor. With a film camera you have to buy a film roll which clicks approximately 36 photographs. Once this roll is over you have to buy a new roll. The roll that is clicked has to be given to a professional photo studio to develop and print. Developing costs you money. You also have to make very sure that all the photographs that you click are perfect, if they are not, it is a total waste.

When you own a digital camera all you spend on is printing the photograph. Your camera will have a built in memory which stores your photographs. Almost all the digital cameras today have a slot for a memory card. You can insert a card with memory of up to 2GB (this figure will just keep increasing). That should be approximately 1000 photographs of extremely high quality. 2GB will store over 4000 photographs of normal quality. Can you even imagine what you would be paying for clicking 4000+ photographs if you were doing it with a film camera? The advantage here is that you can check the photographs that you have clicked instantly on you camera's screen. If you don't like it, just delete it. Once your memory card is almost full, just transfer all the photographs to your PC or laptop and delete all the photos from the memory card. You are ready to click again. Just decide what photographs you want printed, copy them onto a CD, take it to your local photo studio and get it printed. Many opt to buy photo-printers. These printers are not expensive, and specially made for printing photographs at home.

What Does all the Digital Camera Jargon Mean
Many companies try to use complicated jargon while advertising for their digital cameras. You do not understand all this jargon technically, so all the specifications that they give you sound very impressive.

I have seen advertisements of digital cameras claiming 'Mind-blowing 12X zoom (interpolated)'. If you are the person who does not understand the technicality involved in this statement you would be highly impressed by the figure 12X. What the camera could be in reality is a cheap 2X Optical zoom camera with a 6X digital zoom, which in very simple terms is really worthless going by the standard of cameras available today.

Then there are those who try to sell you their camera based solely on the word Megapixel. Due to much advertising hype, many today are under the false impression that more the 'Megapixels', the better your photograph quality. You can see advertisers today proclaiming 'Take amazing photographs of 8.0 Megapixels with this camera'! A camera of 4 or 5 megapixels will give you much better photographs if other parameters such as lens, optical zoom, and color management are better in them.

What is Optical Zoom and What is Digital Zoom?
This is one of the most commonly misunderstood concepts of digital cameras. Many manufacturers try to cash in on the misconceptions that exist regarding zoom. To many of you a zoom is a zoom. What can be so different in an optical and digital zoom? 'An optical zoom is good, but at the same time almost everything is going digital today, so a digital zoom should be really good too' is what most would think. Totally wrong. The concept of optical and digital zoom can be explained in a simple way. With an optical zoom you can actually get closer to the object without losing any image clarity. In an optical zoom the lenses move to magnify the subject. A digital zoom will not zoom onto the subject to maintain clarity, but instead it just magnifies the pixels present to give you a larger image. Using a digital zoom breaks the image giving it a hazy look. As far as possible never use the digital zoom of your camera. Almost all cameras today have got a setting where you can either turn on or off your digital zoom. Always keep it off to be sure that the pictures you click are of the highest quality. When buying a digital camera, ignore the digital zoom. Find out what the optical zoom of the camera is. The more the optical zoom, the better.

What are Megapixels?
A common belief is that more the Megapixels in a digital camera, better the photo quality will be. This is totally false. 1 megapixel is equal to 1 million pixels (dots). A picture taken using a 3.1 megapixel camera will have a resolution of 2048 X 1536 which is equal to 3,145,728 pixels. This is not as complicated as it seems. Simply put, more the megapixels in a camera, better the prints. Your pictures will not be affected by distortion even when you take considerably large prints. If you are the person who wants to view photographs on the computer, or possibly print them to keep in the photo album, a 4 megapixel should suffice. The price of a camera with higher megapixel will be more, even though all the other specifications remain the same. So think as to what you will require it for: photographs to be viewed on the computer and TV or even printing normal album sizes, or do you want a camera with higher megapixels that will be able to print posters clearly?

To give you a simple understanding, let's assume you want to print images of the size 8X10. What you require here is a camera with 4 to 5 megapixels having a resolution of 2500 X 2000. If you want to print images of the size 12X16 you will require a camera with 6 to 7 megapixels having a resolution of 3200 X 2400. This is the reason why professional photographers choose cameras having 10 megapixels or higher.

Other Features to Look Out For
Optical zoom and megapixels should be of prime focus while buying a digital camera. But this is not all, there are some more minor features you must look out for while deciding on the digital camera you will be buying. Unless you are a professional photographer and understand the workings of Scene Modes, White Balance, Shutter Speed, etc. do not bother about these things. Keep your camera on auto mode and it will take care of all these settings (manual settings are still the best, but auto settings are ideal for the casual photographer). If you have decided on a particular camera ask the dealer to allow you to try one. Hold the camera and see where the controls are located. They must be comfortable and easy to use. Make sure that the zoom buttons are conveniently located because this is something that you will use most often while taking pictures. Try the zoom functions to see how well they work. Zoom onto a subject and see if the auto-zoom locks onto the subject giving a crystal clear image. If it is possible ask the dealer to transfer the photograph onto a computer and check the photograph for clarity and color reproduction. Check if the camera has got a viewfinder. Certain models do not have a viewfinder and you have to depend solely on the LCD screen. This can prove to be a major problem when you are outdoors in bright sunlight. The LCD screen will fade out and you will not be able to see a thing on it. One more important feature to look out for is what type of battery/batteries are used in the camera. Many cameras come with their specific batteries and a charger. Try as much as possible to avoid these cameras. Choose a camera which works on AA batteries. The reason for this is simple. What if you are at a place where charging is not possible and your patented battery runs down. You are left with a camera that is dead. If your camera used AA size batteries, you can always carry a couple of fresh batteries with you. AA sized batteries are also available just about anywhere in the world. You will never be left with a dead camera wherever you are. Check if the camera you are interested in features anti-shake. This will allow you to remove clearer photographs. This feature is very helpful when you have your small kids clicking away.

Choose From a Reputed Brand
Even after you have done all this, it is not guaranteed you will pick up a good camera to suit your need. You might take into consideration all the features described above, but what if the manufacturer is not reputed. What if the components used are sub-standard.

Always go in for a camera manufactured by a reputed firm. What you are making sure of here is that you get good quality components. A reputed manufacturer will have the best quality lenses fitted into the camera, the motor running the camera will be of highest quality, the feel and finish of the camera too will be good.

Going in for a camera with 12X Optical Zoom, 10 Megapixels, full auto and manual controls will be totally useless if the components used are not of good quality.

Once you decide on camera specifications that you require and the budget, choosing the ideal digital camera will be a simple affair. There are plenty of reputed manufacturers in the market with models from the basic to the exotic.

Now go, take your pix!
By Kevin Mathias
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