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rod at rod milstead dot com

What to buy

Before you buy or set a budget think about how you use a camera. Do you want to take point and shoot photos? Or are you converting from a beloved SLR? Do you want to just take a picture or is full control of camera setting important to you?

Considerations return to top of page

1) megapixel size- Refers to the size of the image (1 megapixel=I million pixels) NOT the quality of the image. Get at least a 3 megapixel camera. This gives you the option to print wonderful 4x6 prints, pretty good 5x7's and decent 8x10 photographs.
Click here to compare megapixel sizes.
Click here for a megapixel to print size chart.

2) lens- the quality of the lens can have equal bearing on the quality of your image. Glass lenses are preferable to plastic lenses. Most of the quality camera makers pair quality optics with their cameras.

Look for a threaded lens if you plan on using filters or other lens attachments.

If you own a set of SLR lenses check with the manufacturer to see if they make a digital camera body that is compatible. Be advised, digital cameras offering this option are high end products with prices to match.

3) optical vs. digital zoom lens- Optical lenses use the optics of the lens to bring the image closer (like a telephoto zoom on a film camera). Digital zoom enlarges the pixels of the image creating a false sense of zoom and reducing the overall quality of the final image. Don't compare optical and digital as equals.

As an alternative to zoom professional photographers will tell you to GET CLOSER. This works well with babies and poorly with bears. Another option is to use image software to enlarge the desired portion of the image. This will create a final product that still retains better quality than a digital zoom offers.
Bottom line: buy an optical zoom.

4) memory card (digital film)- there are several types of available. The key issue here is capacity. Tied closely to this factor is the size of the image that the camera can take (megapixels). The larger the image the more space it needs. Megapixel vs. memory card comparison chart here. Another good comparision here. The larger the card the more images (files) that it can hold.

Compatibility is another issue, particularly with Sony products. Sony markets a semi-propietary card called a Memory Stick. This storage works with their cameras, PDA's, phones, etc but not in many other non-Sony products. Remember Betamax? If you have other devices that use memory cards it might be useful to have a digital camera that uses the same type of card. Read the shopping list below for more details.

5) usability- Perhaps this should be number one on the list. Consider the following before you buy:
-does the camera automate your photography to your satisfaction? This is important of you are used to point and shoot cameras.
-does the camera offer enough options to control settings like aperture and shutter speed? Do setting changes require menu access or can you simply turn a dial? If you are used to a 35 mm SLR this is important.
-how do the buttons work for YOU? Are they conveniently located? Are the buttons too small? Consider where you will take most of your photographs. If you are thinking outdoor photography will you wear gloves?

6) shutter lag- this plagues digital cameras. Shutter lag is the time that elapses from the time you press the shutter button to the time that the camera actually takes the picture. There is nothing more frustrating than missing candid, action or baby's first steps while the camera warms up. There is a similar issue related to the time it takes a camera to recycle between shots.

Bottom line: try before you buy. Visit a store where you can handle the camera, turn it on and take a picture. If not, leave. Borrow a camera for a day and see how you use it.

7) boot/start up time- "Look, he's crawling! Get the camera!" The camera takes five seconds to power up and the moment has passed. Most digital cameras take between two and five seconds to start up. Manufacturers are addressing this issue as it has become a hot button for consumers. Try before you buy.

8) viewfinder- do you want one? Camera manufacturers have noticed that more users are abandoning the viewfinder in favor the LCD when taking photos. Some have eliminated the viewfinder entirely. This does boil down to personal choice- try different models before you buy. Remember that an LCD screen may be hard to see in direct sunlight and the glow may be distracting in some situations. Plus the LCD will increase battery consumption. Example: Casio EX-757
>optical viewfinder- simple viewfinder for composing photos.
>EVF (electronic viewfinder)- provides a small duplicate version of actual image and may incorporate a preview based on camera settings.
>TTL (through the lens)- This viewfinder carries over from film SLR cameras showing EXACTLY what scene will appear on the image. Given that a mirror blocks the LCD sensor until the picture is taken most cameras with this feature will show the image on the LCD until after the picture is taken. Commonly found on digital SLRs.
CNET viewfinder discussion.

9) Pictbridge- this is an industry effort to create an easy connection between camera and printer without the need for a computer. Cameras and printers displaying the Pictbridge logo will seamlessly connect and print images as requested. See photo printing below. Click here to learn more about Pictbridge.

Shopping list-essentials return to top of page

two sets of rechargeable batteries- digital cameras burn through batteries so it is a good idea to have two sets - one charging or charged and one in the camera.

larger memory card- most manufacturers include a fairly small memory card that will not hold a sufficient number of images to keep you happy. Buy at least a 128 megabyte card. Remember, the higher the larger the image (megapixel) the more space it will require on the memory card. Storage capacities of up to 4 gigabytes are available in Compact Flash Type 1 cards. Click here for more details on card capacity vs. megapixel size.

memory card reader- saves batteries by allowing you to pull photos from the camera to the computer without powering up the camera. This saves batteries.

camera case- protect your investment. Get a case that fits your camera and has room for batteries and a lens cleaner.

Shopping list-extras return to top of page

photo printer, toner and photo paper- turn your home into a photofinishing lab. You can edit and print your photographs conveniently at home with results that almost equal a professional print. My personal bias: the cost of a printing supplies may equal or exceed that of any online photofinisher. Plus, what is your time worth? See the photofinishers section for alternatives.

photo editing/organizing software- while your camera will most likely include software for editing and organizing photos, this new market offers many options. Adobe Photoshop Album 2.0 has received rave reviews and I highly recommend it..

another memory card- useful if you fill the first memory card up and can't move the images to a laptop.

laptop- when you fill up the memory card and you have a week left on you vacation the laptop provides storage for your photos. If this seems excessive, consider the next item.

portable storage device- these devices provide a less expensive, more portable alternative to a laptop. Look for a device that has a slot for the type of memory card used by your camera. Some offer the bonus of a small LCD screen so that you can view your photos without draining your camera's battery. Examples: Epson P-1000, Delkin PicturePad, Wolverine FlashPac and SmartDisk Flashtrax.

The Delkin USB Bridge ($69.00) is a promising option due in July of 04. It promises to connect your camera to any storage device- usb flash drive, PDA, iPod, etc. This could be big.

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