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Digital Camera Basics

Understanding digital camera basics is important whether you are looking to purchase your first digital camera or thinking of upgrading an existing one. This page on digital camera basics is a good starting point for understanding some of the important features to consider when buying a digital camera.

With all the different types and models of digital cameras available today choosing the right one for you can be difficult. Often the choice will come down to deciding between several very similar models.

In order to get the best value for your money and make the most informed decision when choosing a digital camera it is important to understand some basics of digital cameras. This page on digital camera basics will give you a brief overview of some important camera features and provide you with links to more in depth information on digital camera basics.

What Type Of Digital Camera Is Best For You?

Choosing the right digital camera or cameras to best suit your needs is an important decision. As you consider which digital camera to purchase there are several important factors to consider.

Digital Camera Basics #1....Consider the Price of the Camera

How much do you have to spend? Camera price is important especially to those on a budget. With the wide price range of digital cameras today we have many choices to choose from. What we are going to use the camera for and how much we really can afford to spend are two important things to keep in mind when choosing a digital camera.

If you plan on getting serious about photography or are thinking about doing it professionally you need to invest in a good DSLR and some high quality lenses and learn how to fully use them. But for many people another type of camera might serve their needs just as well.

While a DSLR or other Interchangeable Lens Camera will give you the best photo quality the cost of additional lenses can quickly add up. When you are considering buying a DSLR (digital single lens reflex camera) remember you are really investing in a camera system, as most DSLR users will add additional lenses over time. For some who do not want to mess with interchangeable lenses and the extra costs one of the super zoom cameras can be a good alternative because of the wide focal range they have.

Digital Camera Basics #2...Consider the Size of the Camera

The size of the camera is important because you want a camera that not only is comfortable to use but also one that you will not mind carrying with you.

As the quality of cell phone cameras continue to improve they can become an alternative for some people rather than also carrying a point-and-shoot camera. Smaller cameras that can fit in a purse or pocket have the advantage of being easy to carry but also have smaller image sensors which means more digital noise and a generally a lower quality image.

Camera size is an important feature and whether you choose a smaller Point and Shoot camera or a larger DSLR remember to consider the advantages and disadvantages of both and decide what features are most important to you.

Having the best camera and lens available does no good if you leave it at home because of its large size and extra weight.

Digital Camera Basics #3...Picture Quality

  • What will you be using the photos for?
  • Do you plan on making enlargements of your photos?

These are the type of questions you need to answer when it comes to determining what type of camera will meet your needs. If all you will be doing is posting your pictures to the internet or printing 4x6 photos you can be less concerned with things like the size of the image sensor than you could if you plan on cropping the photos or making enlargements of them.

How you will use your camera and what type of settings you will be photographing in can help you determine which features are more important when considering a digital camera. The person who will be primarily photographing people will likely need less optical zoom than one who wants to take pictures of birds or wildlife.

Today's cameras often have so many advanced settings and features that it can seem overwhelming. Understanding which ones will be most important to you can help you make a better decision when choosing a camera.

Also as you do comparison shopping between models you will often find that Camera A has the advantage in one area while Camera B excels in another....knowing which is more important to you will help you determine which camera is a better fit for you personally.

Digital Camera Basics #4...Consider the Features of The Camera

There are many features to be considered when purchasing a camera. Answering some basic questions will help us determine which might be more important to us.

What type of subjects will you primarily be shooting?

Do you need a camera that can capture several frames per second?

Do you need the ability to zoom in on subjects or will you be taking more wide angle photos?

Will you be taking photos in low light settings where a high ISO Setting will be needed?

How serious are you about photography?...or....What are you going to do with the pictures you take?

These types of questions and many others should be considered when choosing a camera so you get one that will best meet your needs.

Here are a few of the many features to consider when choosing a digital camera.

  • Image sensor size--The size of the image sensor plays an important role in the overall picture quality the camera is able to capture. The smaller image sensors on point and shoot and super-zoom cameras typically will be more susceptible to increased levels of digital noise when taking pictures in low light settings. Understanding how the image sensor relates to the camera's crop factor and to its 35mm equivalent focal range is important when considering a digital camera.
  • Image Resolution--How many megapixels does the camera have? This is closely related to the size of the image sensor. But be wary of being taken captive by the "megapixel myth" and assume that more megapixels are always better. Image resolution is closely related to what you will be doing with your pictures. If you are not going to be enlarging them or cropping them much then you can easily get by with a lower megapixel camera.
  • ISO Range or Sensitivity--This is especially important if you plan on taking pictures in low light situations. Learn more about ISO at our webpage on digital camera settings.
  • Lens Interchangeability--One of the advantages of buying a DSLR, a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera or a Four Thirds format camera is the ability to switch lenses to match the lighting conditions or amount of zoom needed. The disadvantage is the cost, as lenses can easily run almost as much if not more than the camera itself.
  • Optical Zoom--Another very important feature on fixed lens digital cameras is how much optical zoom does the camera have. Digital zoom should be avoided at all cost as it can have a drastic effect on picture quality. Carefully consider the type of pictures you will be taking and how critical the ability to zoom in on your subject will be.
  • Burst Rate--How many frames per second do you need? This is an important feature if you are planning on doing sports photography or other fast action photography.
  • Battery Type--Rechargeable batteries are preferred but it is also nice to be able to substitute AA or AAA alkaline batteries if needed. Battery life is also an important consideration especially with rechargeable batteries. Knowing how many pictures a camera can take on a single charge is important when comparing two cameras, especially if you will be taking a lot of photos while traveling, etc. You don't want to run out of battery life and miss a great photo opportunity.
  • Memory Type--Some type of external memory storage is preferred rather than only internal memory. Having extra memory cards available will ensure that you do not run out of storage space needed to capture your images.
  • Overall value...this can only be determined by you. How you will use the camera and what features are most important will generally help determine the camera that has the best overall value for you.

For more information on the many different types of digital cameras be sure to check our Digital Camera Comparison page.You can find more information on digital camera basics in our Beginners Guide To Photography section that covers basic camera settings, camera modes and many other things related to digital cameras.

I hope you have found this overview of some key digital camera basics helpful as you consider what to look for in your next digital camera.

Tags: Digital Photography