As a professional photographer for 20+ years, having used DSLRs as well as digital point and shoot cameras in my work, the answers to these questions actually change by the minute in todays technology. What was sufficient today is superseded by tomorrow in the digital world of photography. Which is great for the technology but hard on the consumer to know what to buy and for what reasons.
There are two basic trends in digital photography right now, the DSLR and the All-In-One digital point and shoot. DSLRs are typically more expensive to invest in, as like their SLR lineage, they often require buying different additional lenses and accessories such as flashes or add-on battery packs to meet the needs of the photog in more demanding situations. You can expect to spend initially $700+ for a basic DSLR with a standard zoom lens kit but as you expand the system, it could develop into well over several thousands of dollars before you are done.
The biggest advantage to DSLR users is that if they have a previous SLR system already, its possible to migrate their lenses and accessories into the digital line of camera bodies by their manufacturer and that saves significantly on startup costs when moving to digital photography. Users should check and see what is offered for their systems that will meet their needs and budgets before making a purchase. Information is readily available on the Internet and at their local electronics dealers.
In contrast, Digital All-In-One cameras have got a host of exceptional features for the price involved and are often smaller than their DSLR cousins in size and are easier to handle and reduce fatigue if you spend a lot of time shooting. These All-In-One cameras also use one lens that is permanently attached to the body and non-removable. This reduces weight, eliminates dust from entering the body and lens, reduces cost factor but also can limit the range of photography flexibility, as one lens probably cant produce all the wide angle-to extreme zoom ranges a DSLR system can.
But most All-in One cameras can perform a big slice of what their DSLR cousins can at a cheaper price overall. Determining which models fit your needs and wants is the key.
As a professional, I use both DSLRs and Digital Point-and-Shoots with great success. As a non-professional shooter, Id recommend the current offerings of Digital Point and Shoots as the way to go if you arent going to drop a bundle on your camera system and want the biggest bang for your buck. If you are a serious shooter, you should go the DSLR route, as the investment in additional lenses and accessories will not depreciate over the years as camera bodies and features change. If you want to upgrade your DSLR, you just purchase a newer body and keep your lenses and accessories and protect your investment.
Whereas, with the Digital All-In Ones, you may find that after a couple of years, what you bought initially maybe soon out-dated and if you want additional feature sets in your camera, you will need to re-invest in an entirely new All-In-One camera to do this and suffer a financial loss on your initial camera in doing so.
Which may or may not be a bad thing.
If you really are into photography, having more than one camera is essential since its commonly known that your digital camera will always develop a glitch or a failure of some kind right at the moment you have a prize-winning picture in front of you. Having a second backup camera in your bag is therefore required anyway.
Our reader asks several questions about performance and usage and cost and deciding which factors will dominate his decision process is the determining factor.
Megapixels- Having sufficient megapixels is important as the more your camera has, the better the detail will be rendered and when editing, if you have more megapixels at your disposal, you can easily crop your images without losing much detail. A 5.0-megapixel camera is the least Id suggest considering and the most to be 10-megapixels. The more, the better, but when you start shopping prices, the more pixels, the more expensive the camera.
Multiple photos- Most cameras that are 5.0 megapixels and up also can shoot some form of motor drive sequence of pictures for the user. But it will vary with number of images it can record successively and the size of the images it can render. Generally, as you move up the megapixel chain of cameras into the higher megapixels, the cameras have additional processing power to handle the larger resulting images and the additional demands of motordrive shooting. You have to investigate exactly what the camera specifications are in each model to determine this ability.
Panoramic photos- this specific need can be met by any digital camera, regardless of type. There is software available both Freeware and Buyware that can take several images shot by the user and create super-wide angle panorama shots using some basic photography technique. But to do this well, it is necessary to start out with a camera/lens that has a good wide-angle ability if possible. Point and shoots are now being offered with 24mm wide-angle ability that previously was not possible before. DSLRs obviously have very wide angle abilities, but these camera/lens combinations can be very, very pricey.
Poster size prints- Poster to me means anything that is 24x36 in size and up and to acquire good image quality at these sizes, you are pretty strictly entering into a demanding specification that only a DSLR can do. Up to 24 x 36, you can get a pretty fair to good print using anywhere from 5.0 to 8.0 megapixel ALL-In-One cameras. But beyond that, the higher professional level DSLR with their higher specs of 10-14 megapixels and better lenses is a must in todays technology.
Camera lastability- Is that a word..? Anyway, you sort of get what you pay for in that specification. Cheaper digital cameras will be made of plastic and their lenses will have plastic elements in them. As you go up the priceline, you will see less plastic, better lenses with glass elements, better ruggedness factors overall and more metal in the bodies such as lightweight aluminum, magnesium and composite metals. If by lasting you mean electronic failures and such, I ALWAYS buy extended warranties with my digital cameras at the time of purchase. Ive had several digital cameras fail as a pro and the extended warranties have saved me from huge repairs past the original manufacturers standard warranty. If you drop it on the pavement, no warranty is going to save you and the camera will fail. If not immediately, probably it will soon after the drop. So handling, storing and protecting digital cameras well is essential to making them last.
Media Cards- Cameras use a wide range of cards and time of their write speed is important as the faster you want to shoot, the faster you want the camera/card combination to perform. A lot of the decisions are made for you by the manufacturer of the camera selected. They will require a card that can keep up with the cameras performance factor. In the cards that are 5.0 megapixels and up, the most popular cards are CF, Micro Drive and Memory Sticks. The price of these cards is determined by their capacity and their speed of transferring data from the camera to the card. CF cards specifically made for photographic use are preferred, but they are typically expensive and the larger their capacity, the higher their cost. Micro Drives are a good compromise between writing speed and capacity and lower cost. And Memory Sticks are also good, but they are limited when it comes to larger storage capacities and can be pricey. Cards and what your camera uses will be a factor in determining which type camera you buy.
As a professional, I use a backup portable HD reader when shooting that allows me to immediately copy to a 40GB HD my 4 GB Micro Drives after I fill one up. It also will accept my Memory Sticks, too. That allows me to erase the cards once copied and reuse the card in the same session. This means I dont have to have 20 Micro Drives or CF cards or Memory Sticks in my bag to get thru a shoot. It also means that I avoid a CF or Micro Drive or Memory Stick failure later back at the computer trying to download them separately. This has happened before. That can be expensive, both for your income as a pro and your ego as a photographer.
Camera Brands-I use Canon DSLRs and Sony All-In-One digital cameras. But there are an ever-growing number of brands to choose from and which to use is strictly up to your determining factors of use, spec., cost and final output. Id direct anyone to the website called
Digital Photography Review
..where all the major brands and models are reviewed by professionals and in language that is understandable. They also have extensive forums where you can ask users for any camera what they like or dislike about their cameras and you will get real-life info on those cameras to help you make an informed buying decision.
I hope that helps and happy shooting..!!
Submitted by: Tim Q.
Quite a tall order. Before we begin, you should know that a camera that does all you are looking for will cost quite a bit, probably in the $500-1000 range or more. If that's breaking the bank, you might want to consider what features are most important and get a camera that can do most of what you asked for (you can actually do quite a bit for just under $300). If you're not suffering from sticker shock yet, then $1000 will get you the camera of your dreams.
Let's start with megapixels. Think of a photo you see on the cover of a newspaper--it's made of thousands of little dots and as long as you don't look too closely the picture is clear. Larger pictures need more dots to be as clear. Megapixels work the same way. You can't actually fit more than 3.2 megapixels on a 4x6 print, so if that's all you're printing, you won't notice a difference between a 4 and a 7 megapixel camera. For your needs, poster-sized prints, a camera with 7-10 megapixels should suffice, and cameras in that megapixel category would have those extra features you're seeking as well.
On to zoom. There are two different types of zoom, digital and optical. Optical zoom is "true zoom," the same type of zoom you would find on a 35mm camera, so it actually uses the lens. Digital zoom simply stretches the pixels on the camera, something you can easily do with any photo editing software. Extreme digital zoom will make your photos look grainy. So digital zoom is a throwaway, and you should get a camera with as high of an optical zoom as possible. On a side note, if you're going to go for a high level of zoom, like in the 10-20x range, you may want to either get a tripod, or make sure the camera has some sort of image-stabilization software, or both.
Going panoramic has its own set of opportunities. Many photo editing software packages now come with the ability to stitch several photos together (though for those pics to turn out well, you'll definetly want to use a tripod to ensure consistency). A quick search of froogle.com yielded many cameras that have "panoramic assist" modes than cameras that can take true panoramic photos. But the good news is that the panoramic assist function can be done right on the camera so you can preview the final product on scene and retake if necessary.
Being able to take multiple photos quickly is another beast altogether. Most digital cameras have a bit of a lag, both between when the capture button is pushed and when the camera actually takes a picture, and between when the camera takes a picture and is ready for another. You may have to sacrifice some image quality for rapid capture. Be sure to read user and professional reviews on a camera for performance on this feature, as what a company boasts and how it performs in the real world might be different.
http://reviews.cnet.com/4520-6451_7-6296352-1.html has a good chart that details the needs for you card based on the type of camera you buy, though as the article suggests, choosing a card is not an exact science. SD cards seem to work well, and Sony uses its own proprietary Memory Stick cards. Some Fujifilm and Casio cameras use XD. Those three are pretty much the standard now. Two bits of good news here though: most new computers and all in-store photo developing stations have card readers that can read just about any card type; and flash memory is a rapidly evolving field, so the cards keep getting cheaper, larger (in terms of capacity), and faster. Sandisk just released an 8GB SD card, and while it's near-a-grand price tag takes it out of availability for most consumers, it does underscore the growth of flash memory technology. You should buy a camera first and then get a memory card that maximizes performance on that camera (for instance, you would waste your money if you bought a memory card that had a write speed that was faster than your camera).
Once again, searching for cameras that do what you're looking for yielded results like the Canon PowerShot G6, a 7.1 megapixel camera. It retails for as high as $1300, and that much money would fetch you similarly featured products from other greats like Sony, Nikon, and Kodak. Many of the web retailers, and probably local dealers, selling these cameras offer accessory bundles, everything from cases to memory cards to tripods to photo-editing software that will maximize your performance and enjoyment. So before you buy, do your homework by reading pro and user reviews and look into accessory bundles. Happy shopping!
Submitted by: Jeremy S.
You began your post by asking a very good, very intelligent question that most camera buyers never pick up on: Which is more important, optical zoom or megapixels? Optical zoom beats megapixels almost every time. Say that you have two cameras, one that can fill the screen with the subject because of its 6:1 optical zoom, another that can only enlarge the subject to fill one-quarter of the screen with the subject (thats one-half vertically and one-half horizontally) because it only has a 3:1 optical zoom. At that point, a camera with only two megapixels of actual image sensor but the 6:1 optical zoom will be as good as an eight-megapixel camera and the 3:1 optical zoom. This is a point that a lot of people miss.
A related point that people often miss is that on any camera, the image quality depends very much on the lens quality. A digital camera is still a camera. You could build two cameras with absolutely identical specs across the board ... both optical zoom and megapixels, indeed everything. In fact, the cameras could be absolutely identical except that one might have a glass lens, and the other a plastic lens. Well, those cameras would not have identical image quality, because the lens ... not just its specs, but its construction ... counts for a lot. And there is no way to judge this from the specs, indeed most amateurs cant judge it even in casual use of the camera. Thats why it is critical to supplement your own search with professional, objective reviews. Fortunately, these are available on the web at quite a few sites. The site that I like best is http://www.dpreview.com but there are others as well. You can also get opinions and comments from existing owners, but most owners tend to like the camera that they bought, so this is a bit less subjective.
[You also brought up another point, which is the sometimes annoying even critically annoying time from shutter button press to actual picture taking. And, related to that, how quickly can you take a series of photos. But you can judge these yourself in a store.]
As to panoramic shots, you can always crop any shot taken with any camera to panoramic proportions in a photo editing program after-the-fact. And, in fact, thats essentially all that a camera with a built-in panoramic setting does also ... the camera really isnt any different. However, when you do that, you are throwing away perhaps one-half of the picture (e.g. one-half of the megapixels), so you want to start with a high-megapixel camera that will still have a good degree of detail left after you do this. Similarly, being able to blow up photos to poster size is also a function of getting a high quality picture to start with, and that again comes back to megapixels and the lens. But now I need to add one more complication, and that is that even with lens quality and number of megapixels being comparable, all n-megapixel cameras are not the same, because some image sensors (where the megapixels reside) are better than others. For example, the 6 megapixel sensor in a digital SLR is going to be dramatically better than a 6 megapixel sensor in a compact point-and-shoot camera, largely because it will be larger (a LOT larger, ten times larger), and larger sensors produce generally better photos with much less noise even if the number of megapixels are the same.
Which brings up the question of camera size, and of format: compact point-and-shoot, SLR-like pro-sumer with a good but fixed lens, and a digital SLR. And there is another issue that you didnt mention, the ability to shoot video as well as still images, which digital SLRs generally cant do at all (and some cameras that can do it dont have sound). You have to trade off the pros and cons of these formats, because many people will sacrifice image quality and zoom for tiny size and ease-of-use, while other people put image quality first above all else. And, of course, there is the matter of cost as well: how much can you or do you want to spend?
In terms of quality, if you stick with the major brands, the overall quality today is pretty good.
As to the memory cards, most point-and-shoot cameras are going to use SD cards (secure digital) or sometimes xD cards, and in todays world that is not a big issue. [Sony cameras will use their own memory-stick]. The higher end, larger cameras will take Compact Flash (CF) cards, and many of these have two card slots, one for CF and a 2nd slot for either SD or xD. CF, SD, xD and memory stick are all well supported, and for most people this isnt a reason to choose any one camera over another. You do realize, I hope, that these cards are all erasable and reusable; Ive run into a few people who did not realize that, and your question about breaking the bank with respect to the cost of the cards leads me to point out this fact that many of us take for granted.
You asked about brands and there are almost too many brands and models: Canon, Olympus, Fuji, Kodak, HP, Sony (which recently acquired Konica/Minolta), Nikon, Panasonic, Samsung. Again, Id really like to direct you back to the really good review sites (http://www.dpreview.com and others) where you can better investigate the characteristics of specific cameras that you might be considering.
Submitted by: Barry W. of North Canton, OH
Hi, Lee! Digital cameras are a wonderful improvement over the old film based technology, but they're still in the process of evolutiuon; new features are constantly being added, and prices are falling with every new generation of cameras.
In reading over your letter, it looks like you 'want it all'; an inexpensive, yet durable camera that has sufficient resolution to enable poster size enlargements. Sadly, the industry just isn't there yet; durable, high resolution cameras are still expensive. However, expense is relative; with the money you'd spend buying and processing 100 rolls of 36 exposure color film, you can buy a very fine digital camera indeed. So, if you take a lot of pictures, even an 'expensive' digital camera may be an inexpensive solution.
Here are a few items to consider:
Durability: most cameras these days are made of a high impact polycarbon (plastic) which is reasonably resistant to small impacts. In the old days, camera bodies were made of metal; be aware that an impact great enough to dent a metal body, will shatter a plastic one. If you want a metal body, you can still find them; but they're expensive. Good examples of durable, metal bodied cameras are the Nikon D200 and the Canon 5D. Both are made of Titanium, and are very strong and light.
If you're a casual photographer, durability may not be as important as it seems. The reason is that with reasonable care, a plastic camera will still last several years; and over that span of time, enough evolution will have occurred in digital cameras that you may wish to upgrade your camera, regardless. Professionals and hobbyists, on the other hand, use their equipment enough that durability is important.
Another often reported statistic is resolution, which is expressed in megapixels; the more megapixels, the larger you can make an image without seeing imaging artifacts such as pixellation. Interestingly, a surprisingly small number of megapixels is necessary to make large prints; for example, you can make a very nice 20" X 24" print from the Nikon D50, which is just 6 megapixels. And remember, in order to double the resolution you need to quadruple the megapixel count; for example, in order to double the resolution of a 6 megapixel camera, you would need a 24 megapixel sensor! No commonly available digital cameras currently offer a sensor with that much resolution. Most professionals agree that there's no visible difference in the results generated from an 8 or a 10 megapixel sensor; large increases in the number are necessary to realize even a small visual difference.
What is even more important than the megapixel count - and is often not reported - is the physical size of the sensor. Manufacturers like to use small sensors; they're much cheaper to make, and they enable inexpensive zoom lenses with wide zoom ranges, often as great as 10:1 or more. But small sensors have a big problem: they're noisy. This noise shows up in the final prints, and results in a fine, static-ey overlay that looks a lot like film grain. There are aftermarket software programs such as Noise Ninja that will reduce the effect of noise; but they often reduce detail as well. If you want to make large prints, you'll want to avoid tiny sensors. How do you know which cameras have tiny sensors? Well, virtually all of the inexpensive pocket size cameras have tiny sensors; and usually, all the cameras with non-removable lenses and long zoom ranges - say, 8:1 or greater - have tiny sensors. One surprising exception to this rule is the Nikon D200, equipped with their amazing 18-200 zoom lens; however, this combination is almost $3,000.
You can evaluate the noise levels of different cameras, right in the camera store. Increase the sensitivity setting of the camera (called the ASA) to its maximum position, and take a picture of a grey card. Do this with several cameras, take the pictures home and look at them on your computer. This will allow you to eliminate any cameras that have more picture noise than you desire.
Another factor you'll need to consider is whether you want a camera with interchangable lenses, usually referred to as an SLR or Single Lens Reflex camera. These tend to be pricey, but offer a lot of additional flexibility; if you want to mount your camera on a telescope, or take extreme wide angle interior photos, or make extreme close ups of stamps or bugs or flowers, you'll need an interchangable lens camera. If you want a camera for casual holiday and family get together photos, you probably don't need interchangable lenses; but if you're more of a hobbyist, you might find benefit in this feature. Another advantage of an interchangable lens camera is that you're always looking through the lens that's taking the picture; so it's really a 'what you see is what you get' situation. There is a type of camera called an 'SLR-Like' camera; these cameras look like SLRs, but have non-removable lenses and really aren't SLRs at all. In 'SLR-Like' cameras, you are looking an an electronic image in the viewfinder; these tend to be hard to focus manually, have poor detail, and usually exhibit an awful lot of 'drift and delay'; the imaging doesn't happen in real time, and the lag between your moving the camera and the movement showing up in the viewfinder can be very distracting.
Regarding cards: the emerging standard is the SD (Secure Digital) card. The speed of the card does not affect the speed at which the image is taken, or captured; but it does affect the speed at which information flows from the camera buffer to the card. During this write time, the camera cannot take pictures. Most cameras that feature rapid fire imaging have an internal buffer that is large enough to permit several images to be taken without writing anything to the card. In addition, most cards are now fast enough that the write speed is measured in fractions of a second.
Another feature that is often available on digital cameras is optical image stabilization. Image stabilised lenses have a small gyroscope that controls a floating lens element in the lens; this lens element keeps the image centered on the sensor, even if the camera shakes a bit. Image stabilization can improve the sharpness of an image over 2 to 3 shutter speeds; that is, an image taken at between 1/15 and 1/30 of a second will exhibit sharpness equivalent to an image taken at 1/125 second. Nikon claims a full 4 shutter speed improvement on their latest VR (vibration reduction) lenses; this means that a picture taken at 1/8 of a second has no more image blur than one taken at 1/125 of a second! No matter who makes it, a good image stabilization system is a very definite advantage. Konica/Minolta had developed a system which acted to stabilize the sensor itself, with the result that all your lenses would benefit; but Konica/Minolta has now abandoned photography in order to concentrate on other products. However, this technology might show up in some future Sony cameras.
In terms of high end cameras, the two market leaders are Canon and Nikon. The Canon Rebel XT is an 8 megapixel, plastic bodied interchangable lens camera that has proven to be a runaway best seller for Canon, largely because of its impressive feature set and very attractive price point. Most enthusiasts believe that the standard 'kit' lens is not particularly sharp, and are opting for a better Canon lens than the base model. Competing against the Rebel are the Nikon D50 and D70, which are both 6 megapixel cameras; and the Nikon D200, which is a 10 megapixel, titanium bodied interchangable lens camera at a significantly higher price point. The D200 has met with rave reviews, and is currently considered by many as the 'one to beat' in prosumer camera equipment. However, times change, and Canon isn't sleeping. In very general terms, Canon is probably superior to Nikon in marketing, and in offering a wide feature set for a low price; on the other hand, most consider that Nikon cameras have somewhat better lenses, and have better ergonomics: they just feel better in the hand. But both companies make excellent cameras, and are fierce competitors.
In terms of less expensive cameras, The Panasonic DMC FX-01 combines a low price point with a 6 megapixel sensor, a high quality Leica zoom lens and optical image stabilization. However, the camera - like most in its class - has a small sensor which produces noisy images at higher ASA ratings; make sure you take some sample pictures in low light situations, and can live with the noise in the images.
So there you go, Lee! There's an awful lot of information here - without knowing more about your personal situation, I can't make more specific recommendations. But this should get you started, and let you sort through the claims intelligently. Good luck on your quest!
Submitted by: Charles W.
I know exactly where you are coming from. I am a marketer's nightmare. I never impulse buy and always dig deep before committing hard fought for funds. I started my search for the ideal digital camera over two years ago and once I got up to speed, I kept my finger on the pulse as they came and went. I came to rely on several of the independent review sites and as much as I love Consumer Reports, I didn't find their reviews as useful. My favorite review site is Digital Photography Review (http://www.dpreview.com) Standing in a store you'll never be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. The camera that captures your senses also often eats batteries voraciously. You just can't tell. Store shopping for look and feel is the last step before price shopping.
Megapixels are simply how many dots make up the picture. Large numbers of megapixels produce cameras that are more expensive as it is harder to manufacture flawless sensors. You'll also find on cameras with large megapixel values, it takes longer to transmit all of that extra data, either in the camera or over your USB or Internet connection. Keep in mind when using your pictures on line that many people still do not have broadband and will give up trying if your pictures take too long to download. They do, however make for sharp and impressive enlargements. I have a friend who is a lifelong photographer. His shot I adore most was taken in Death Valley with a 4 megapixel compact camera on a huge tripod. (Aside: As a backpacker I have invented what I consider the world's lightest "tripod". It is nothing more than a variation on the old beanbag tripod but I leave out the beans. I use a zip lock bag and fill with whatever I can find on the ground, wherever I go. Works great.) It's easy to go over kill on megapixels. Unless you regularly do big enlargements you probably don't need more than 5 megapixels.
Optical zoom vs digital zoom. Digital zoom is what you use, in a pinch, to get closer accepting the fact your picture quality will degrade. It simply fills a frame with a subsection of pixels available from a larger field of view. To appreciate the affect move your face closer to a picture in the newspaper. Optical zoom is different. With a good lens system, quality can be retained. Here is an example where a high megapixel camera can be useful. By looking at only a portion of a high resolution (lotsa megapixels) image you have a zoomed equivalent of a lower resolution camera. Much more importantly, any seasoned photographer will tell you the value of a good wide angle over a big telephoto. It's much harder for lens designers to create a zoom that goes to a decent wide angle and so it is less common and much more pricey. Most people find themselves wanting to back up more often, to get the full scene in, rather than zoom just a little closer. Remember too, big zooms accentuate camera vibration. Don't even consider a large zoom on a digital camera without a good tripod and/or image stabilization system. Quality varies a lot here.
Panoramic photos. This is another case where a wide angle will require fewer stitches to create a panorama. However, wide angle lenses usually have more distortion and are harder to stitch. A good tripod, good photo processing software and experience using them both make the difference here.
Re: Memory cards. There are usually high speed versions and low speed versions of each style. Higher speeds: faster transfers. It's that simple. Your camera manufacturer will pick the style and if you like their camera you go with it. All cameras come with a uselessly small memory. No one knows why they even bother and they could lower the price if they didn't. Regarding capacity; IMHO there is not a lot of point putting in a memory card so huge that it cannot possibly be filled within your camera's battery life. You are also putting a lot of eggs in one basket with big memory cards. You do need them though if you take movies with your camera.
There are a lot more issues but most review sites do a great job of explaining the details. Finally, the truth is I could not find a camera that met all of my requirements so I finally settled on an interim model. It lacks image stabilization and a wide angle but I am otherwise extremely impressed as are other users from what I read on the fora. To see what I bought (paid $316 on-line) see: http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/canona620/ To see user feedback see: http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/read_opinions.asp?prodkey=canon_a620 Good luck.
Submitted by: Dave U.
Dear Lee W:
I will do my best to answer your many questions.
Q.Are mega pixels or optical zoom more important?
A. First of all based upon your other questions, you should look for at least a 5 to 6 megapixel camera. This way you can crop an area and blow it up without noticeable pixilation. That said, how important a wide ranging optical zoom is to you is dependent on the type of photos you take. If you are shooting mostly portraits, you only need an 80 to 100 MM (35 mm equivalent) range at the top end. If you are shooting landscapes you want a minimum of 36 mm at the low end. If you are shooting sports or nature a long zoom (300 mm or more) is best. You also need to couple this with a camera that has at least a shutter speed range up to 1/1000 of a second or better.
Q.I want to be able to take multiple photos instantly by holding down one button.
A. This is easy as most digital cameras have a continuous mode, some being faster than others.
QI want panoramic photos, as well as photos that can be enlarged to poster size without losing quality.?
A. Many digital cameras today offer a panorama mode that allows you to stitch photos together on your computer. See above about poster size.
Q.I want all of this in a camera that will last and not break the bank in initial cost nor the cost of cards. (Speaking of cards, which are the best type of storage type to get in a camera? Can the card actually affect the speed at which the photo is taken?
A. This question has many answers depending on your definition of break the bank. Many point and shoot cameras can meet your needs that cost less than $400. As far as storage, I see no real advantage as to card type, manufacturers pick the one that works best with their camera, except for the fact that some like the xD are less readily available. A high-speed card version will cost more, but will load pictures faster, once taken, so it is a trade off that is affected by the way you shoot. The higher the mega pixels count the bigger card you need. The speed of the card has no impact on how fast the photo is taken. Most cameras have a secondary buffer to load the picture in before it is written to the card. Once your buffer fills up, you cant take any more pictures until it is downloaded to the card, so that is the only impact of the card speed.
Q. There are so many questions. Please direct me to a good brand and help me decipher through the technology mumbo jumbo.
A. This is very subjective, as many cameras will fill your needs. I recently bought an Olympus SP-500 UZ point and shoot camera. This is a 6 MP camera, that has a 10X optical zoom with an equivalent 36 to 360 mm zoom range. It can also shoot RAW, which is rare for a camera this inexpensive (street around $345, though I paid less). It has a large LCD and an electronic viewfinder. It has a panoramic mode and many other scene modes, and can be used in both auto and manual modes. I love it and highly recommend it.
Submitted by: Robert B.
In digital cameras optical zoom is better if you want to conserve space on your digital camera where as mega pixels are more important if you want to get everything and then edit out the bits you don't need on your computer later, or use the digital zoom to edit out the bits you don't need. One other thing watch out for with mega pixels is ensure the camera lens genuinely does the amount of megapixels advertised, some mention that the camera does 10 megapixels digitally (usually these cameras are about 20-30). What this means is that it will take the picture at something like 1 megapixel and then mathematically expand the picture to 10 megapixels by guessing at the information it's missed, most professional brands wont fool customers with this but quite a few cheap brands will.
In addition to this with digital cameras (and normal) you have to consider whether you require an SLR or a Non-SLR camera. SLR cameras are far better for taking professional pictures, and are the type used mainly by professional photography studios. An SLR camera allows usage of various additional units such as additional flash units, lenses etc, and various other alterations such as film speed, shutter speed, etc there are some non-SLR's that also allow different lenses but not many.
The only problem with SLR camera's is the price, but at the end of the day you get what you pay for. SLR camera's tend to start from about 500 upwards, where as a non-SLR camera can be as low as 10 (although I certainly wouldn't recommend to go as low as that!)
And finally cards, there are a number of different cards available for cameras. Usually it's best to try and get one that uses similar cards to your other devices, e.g. if you have a Sony PSP it might be better to try and get a camera that takes Sony MemorySticks that way you can share the cards between the cameras. If you go for a camera that takes CompactFlash, these have one disadvantage in the fact that they are quite big and chunky, but have a really good advantage with the fact that you can buy adaptors to allow it use other memory cards such as MMCs and Sony MemorySticks. One thing to certainly avoid is a camera with built-in memory. This style is one of the worst as it means that when your cameras full you need to get back to your computer before you can restart taking pictures. This isn't too bad if your just taking pictures near your house, but if you go away on holiday for a week and run out of space with a memory card camera you just go and buy a new memory card, but with a built-in camera you have to revert to disposable cameras or go all the way home!
The memory card advice above also applies to batteries. It's far better to go for a camera which takes standard batteries like AA's rather than the custom rechargeable that's built in. If it takes AA's and your batteries run out outside, no problem most shops sell them, just pop in and buy a new pack, but if it takes custom batteries you've got to go and find some way of charging it, and then you have to wait for it to charge too. I was lucky with this one recently as I went to Alton Towers for the day with my camera and I remembered when I got there I didn't put new batteries in my camera, so with it taking AA batteries I just went into the gift shop and bought some and I could take pictures all day.
There are a few nice camera's out there that have quite good features.
I did quite a bit of research into them when I went for my last digital camera and ended up with a superb camera. It's robust, has long battery life (and takes AA batteries), has the ability to change lenses and produces some stunning results. The camera I went for wasn't an SLR camera and only set me back 85. It takes CompactFlash so I can get adaptors to use other cards in it if I want, includes a flash and 3x Zoom with 3.2 Megapixels. The camera I bought was a Canon Powershot A75, if you want to be doing posters with it though I'd suggest going up a few megapixels, maybe with the Canon Powershot A610,620 or 700 (all about 5.0 - 6.0 Megapixels).
Below I've listed a few of my recommended cameras...
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ2 -
Canon Powershot A610,620,700 -
Sony Cybershot DSC-S600 -
Or if you want to go for SLR cameras try the Canon EOS range -
Submitted by: Darren F.
I recently just went through the same thing as you, so let me share some of the knowledge I gained through my research. First of all, if you are comparing megapixels, you'll find that they're constantly getting bigger and it makes it hard to decide what your bottom line will be. Basically, if you get anything 4.0 or above, you'll be fine for printing up to 8-1/2" x 11". In my opinion, I'll never print anything bigger than that anyway.
As for the zoom, don't even consider the digital zoom. The manner in which it zooms does not produce a quality image. Look at the optical zoom. Personally I needed a big zoom. When I looked at my old pics I found many images that I wasn't really sure what I was shooting because I didn't have the right zoom. Now I'm more than happy with a 12x optical zoom. However, keep in mind that if you want a big optical zoom, you will usually give up other features to accommodate the physical size of the lens.
Decide if you want different color modes, namely black-and-white, sepia, black board and white board. These modes can be created through some computer editing programs, but are more true when found as a camera feature. They're also lots of fun to play with!
If your hands tend to shake or you like taking action shots, there are 2 features to look for. First is a sports mode which opens and closes the shutter so quickly it can make a quick motion look like a steady pose. I tend to leave my camera in this mode as it cuts down on the blurry photos I might otherwise dispose of. Another feature you might find is sometimes called "anti-shake" which I believe has the ability to "grab" onto particular points in the image and stabilize the picture even if your hand shakes.
Also check out the video feature, if it has one. I was surprised to find a number of cameras that have video without audio.
There are several kinds of memory cards for digital cameras, but I'll just focus on the 2 most popular - SD and xD. The SD cards came first. They are physically larger than the xD cards but come in the same memory capacities. The xD cards are small - about the size of a dime. You will find several versions of these cards and, depending on your camera model, not all versions will support all of your camera's features. Check this link... http://www.olympusamerica.com/cpg_section/cpg_xd.asp and click on "View whcih cameras are compatible" to see a chart for Olympus models. The first xD card made was the 'Standard' Type. These (I believe) work with all Olympus models. Then came the Type 'M' which improved on certain aspects such as speed, but as you can see in the compatibility chart, didn't support all functions of all models. Most recently we have the Type 'H' which again increased the speed at which it performs, works for all functions on all models, and also added neat new features like oil painting and watercolor (shown also on the linked page above).
There are also little things to think about. There are actually cameras that don't come with a lens cap. Silly, but if you can't find one to fit, you could potentially have a problem with damage. The physical size, shape and weight can be important, too. If it doesn't fit well in your hand and you intend to shoot quite a bit, it's something you'll notice.
The camera I decided on is the Olympus C-770. (http://www.dpreview.com/news/0402/04021213olyc770.asp)
I purchased a refurbished one with a short warranty (nonetheless, a warranty) from Broadway Photo Online (http://www.bwayphoto.com) for around $250 - a steal. It retailed elsewhere at the time for $400. I got the xD Type 'H' card in the 1GB size (HUGE!) from B&H (http://www.bhphotovideo.com) for about $75. I am so happy with this camera. The one feature it does not have is the anti-shake. I would probably have liked to have this feature, but I sacrificed it for the 12x zoom and other features. And I have found that keeping the camera in the sports mode allows for clear pictures even if I shake or the image is moving at high speeds. I believe since my purchase that this camera has been replaced with another line that is very similar in features. Just look for their larger zoom line.
But that's just me! You may find you prefer different features. There are so many to choose from. It really is a matter of deciding which are MOST important to you and then accepting or sacrificing those that are less important. Whatever you decide, just keep shooting!
Submitted by: Mandy R.
Welcome to the world of digital photography Lee! Digital photography has taken many changes throughout the years. The first cameras were way over $1000 and had only an one megapixel lens. Now, cameras have been made with much better technology. Consumer cameras are now starting to get as high as up to eight megapixels and 10-12x optical zoom. Let's answer your questions.
"Are megapixels or optical zoom more important?"
It really depends on many factors, including what you are going to use it for. If you want to use it for still scenes where you can get closer to the subject, then megapixels are more important. If you want to photograph actions scenes, such as soccer games, baseball games, etc., then you want a combination of both, but mainly optical zoom to get up close to the action.
Now then, just because you have a high amount of megapixels doesn't mean you're always going to get great shots. Part of the quality relies on the CCD, or tiny mirrors on which the picture is actually on, and the image processor, which compresses the image from a RAW format to a, usually, JPEG format. You might want to keep this in mind so you don't buy generic brands.
One word of warning, stay away from digital zoom. You will end up with a bad-looking picture. If you see a camera that advertises something like 40x zoom, it's usually 10x optical zoom and 4x digital zoom.
"Which is the best type of storage type to get in a camera? Can the card actually affect the speed at which the photo is taken?"
The storage type, once again, depends on your usage. If you like to throw cards into your backpack without caring where it goes, that's a consideration to look into. The most "ruggedized" storage card is a CompactFlash. CompactFlash is very sturdy, but at a tradeoff of it being somewhat bulky. It is also fast to read and write. Currently, the biggest storage is around 4GB. These cards start out at usually 256-512MB for around $50-60, depending where you shop.
Secure Digital, more commonly known as "SD", is a wafer-thin card that is a little bit bigger than a postage stamp. This also means that if you don't take care of the card, it could possibly be broken, although I have yet to hear incidences like this. This format is widely accepted in many cameras and also PDAs and laptops, so if you want to see your pictures immediatly, just slide the card into the slot and your ready! The biggest storage is around 2-4GB, depending where you shop. A 512MB card is usually around 512MB.
Other formats like XD, Memory Stick, including Pro, Duo, Pro Duo, and other combinations, are more proprietary to the card maker's cameras. The XD format is more common in cameras like Fuji and Olympus, while the Memory Stick family is found only in Sony cameras. I would personally stay away from these because these formats are generally the most expensive.
The card can sometimes affect the speed at which the photo is written at, but not at the speeds it is taken.
Now then, time for the camera choosing.
There are many, many cameras to choose from. Some of which aren't the best. I've done some research and found one camera that fits the requirements of panoramic photos and photos that can be enlarged to be the Kodak EasyShare V570. It is a five megapixel camera with two lenses, one dedicated to panoramic shots, and one that is a normal 3x optical zoom lens. Many consumers like this camera, so it would be a good bet. It also does rapid-fire, burst mode, photography. You can take up to 2 shoots per second for only 2 seconds. So if you are at a sporting event, this might be a drawback for you.
This is one feature where digital SLRs really excel. The cameras have lens that are quite fast, although at night you can slow down the speed at which the photo is taken. While these present great features, they aren't cheap. The Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT starts at $800.
For your information, the Kodak camera takes SD memory, and the Canon takes CompactFlash memory.
I hope this helps you and others out. Enjoy your new camera and once again, welcome to the world of digital photography!
Submitted by: Zach F. of Nashville, IL