Community Newsletter: Q&A forum: I'm ready to purchase my first digital camera. Need advice!

by: Lee Koo (ADMIN) October 26, 2007 4:29 AM PDT

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I'm ready to purchase my first digital camera. Need advice!

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) ModeratorCNET staff - 10/26/07 4:29 AM

Question:

I'm so glad I found this newsletter; it has been so helpful in many ways for me. Lee, you have many wonderful people here who have a lot of knowledge, and I hope they can help out this grandpa here. I know my question is not a complicated one, but to me it's quite frightening, so here it goes. Before I head into the holidays, I'm ready to purchase my first digital camera, and I know nothing about them except that it doesn't need film. I don't want to ask my kids for help because I really want this to be a surprise to them that an old geezer like me still has a knack for technology these days; besides I have a lot of time on my hands. I'm not looking for anything fancy, just a good reliable camera to take good pictures and put them on my computer for viewing and printing them to share with my friends at my local senior club. I would love if I can get some pointers to start me out on this big venture of mine, like things to look for and disregard, the dos and don'ts when buying a digital camera. The one thing that I've heard is that megapixels are overrated--megapixels that's beyond me. Simplicity is what I have in mind, as I'm quite forgetful these days--so the less complicated, the better. I'm grateful in advance for your recommendations and advice. Please forgive if this question is all too simple, but I have my glasses on, pen in hand, and ready to take some notes. Thank you!

Submitted by Walter H.

Answer voted most helpful by the CNET Community newsletter readers:

Megapixels Aren't Overrated


Walter,

You've got great timing on deciding when to get into the digital camera arena. With prices so low, in all likelihood you will get an affordable camera that will meet your needs. Based on what you said in your question, I would recommend a more basic "point-and-shoot" camera (meaning not too expensive, just turn it on and go). So here's what you need to know:

Let's start with megapixels. They aren't overrated, but they sort of are. A pixel is a small unit that makes up the picture. Think of a newspaper picture. It's made up of little dots of different colors; a pixel is just a digital version of one of those dots. A megapixel is one million pixels. So a 4 megapixel camera can take a picture that is composed of 4 million pixels or dots. So the more megapixels the better, right? Not exactly. A 4x6 print can hold approximately 3.2 megapixels. Since most basic cameras have 4-6 MP, most new cameras ought to take decent pictures. You will need more than 4-6 megapixels if you want to do one or more of the following: crop and zoom (use your computer or a digital developing station to select a portion of the picture and resize that portion to fit a 4x6 print), make prints larger than 4x6, or project your images on a large screen like a video projector. If you don't need to do those things and the salesman tries to upsell you to the 10 MP model that has the same features as the 5 MP, don't bite.

Zoom is also important, and you need to know the difference between digital and optical. Optical zoom is true zoom, like you would find on a traditional 35mm camera. Digital zoom just stretches your pixels. It's like putting a magnifying glass to the newspaper. Eventually digital zoom will stop looking like a picture and start looking like a bunch of dots. 3x optical zoom is pretty much standard, anything more is gravy. Don't even bother with digital zoom. You can do the same thing later on your computer.

There are some other things that make a good picture. A good quality lens helps capture the picture. Fast "shutter speed" will also help reduce blurriness. But the number one extra you should concern yourself with is image stabilization. This makes the camera a little more forgiving if you accidentally shake it while taking a picture, especially when zoomed in. Some cameras are even able to automatically focus on faces in a picture.

So what else do you need to get started? You'll definitely want rechargeable batteries. Some cameras come with their own specialized batteries. They usually last a bit longer but if you lose the battery you're stuck having to shell out $50 or so for a new one, plus if you run out of juice and don't have a spare, you're done taking pictures for a few hours to recharge. Some cameras take AA batteries, and for these I recommend getting Nickel Metal-Hydride (NiMH) rechargeables. If you run dry, you can always use a spare set or even use some standard alkaline in a pinch (though they won't last as long). You'll also want a memory card. The camera will come with enough onboard memory to hold 5-50 pictures. A 512 MB or 1 GB card will expand that memory to the hundreds or thousands of pictures. You can put pictures on the card and take it to a photo station to develop your pictures.

If I were you, I would stick with the name brands like Sony, Kodak, Samsung, or maybe Fuji. One other option is to buy a kit that has a camera, docking station, and 4x6 printer all in one. It's not economical to print large numbers of pictures from the printing station, but it sure is easy, and the pictures look just as good as any others. Lastly, go to a store with a good salesman that will heop you and a generous return/exchange policy. So happy shopping!

Submitted by jskrenes

If you have any additional advice or recommendations for Walter, click on the reply link and share. Please provide as much details as you can in your answer. Thanks!

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