Digital Camera buying guide – part 2

Chris Lane / Camera parts, photography / / 2 Comments / Like this

Here is part two of my camera buying guide, in time for the holidays. Look for part three and four in the next couple weeks. Hit the links below to go to either part 1 or individual categories. You should definitely subscribe (hit the button in the left hand sidebar) so that you won’t miss any of the installments.

Part 1 covers:

Point-and-shoot or DSLR? (the basics)
Budget
Response Time and Speed
Zoom

Part 2 (this post) covers:

Resolution
The Sensor & Processor
Macro
Screen
Manual Options

Part 3 covers:

ISO
Durability
Battery
Size, Shape and Weight

Part 4 covers:

Flash
Memory Cards
Other Options
Video

Resolution

Resolution is typically the biggest selling point for cameras in any category. Just because a camera has a higher resolution, doesn’t mean the camera is better, though. One thing to take into account is what you plan on doing with your pictures after you take them.
A higher resolution can print to a larger size, but maybe you only need to print 4″ x 6″ photos. The resolution required for that is a mear 1200px x 1800px, which is only about 2.25 Megapixels. Now I wouldn’t suggest limiting yourself to just that, but it is something to keep in mind. And even then, I don’t think you could find anything these days other than a toy that would have that low of a Megapixel rating.
To print an 8″ x 10″ you need 7.2 Megapixels. The formula for this is take the print size, multiply each number by 300, then multiply your two results. (X*300)*(y*300)=Mpx for print. The reason these numbers are used is because the typical recommended print resolution is 300 dots per inch (dpi). I recommend getting a Megapixel rating that is at least one print size larger than your typical intended print. This way, you have the opportunity to crop and so forth. It just gives that much added flexibility.
If you never actually plan to print, instead preferring pictures just on the computer or the web, any Mpx rating will be fine. Web resolution is quite small.
And the reason that more doesn’t always equal better is primarily because of …

The Sensor & Processor

Sensors are not only what creates the amount of resolution, but also the quality of the resultant image. In point-and-shoot cameras the type of sensor is not usually mentioned in catalogs. With DSLRs, you can see whether it has an APS-C or similar (commonly called a crop sensor) or a so-called full frame sensor. The full frame is called that because it is the same size as a 35mm film negative and the APS-C is slightly smaller. Some things to keep in mind are what kind of photo you plan on taking and how the sensor can affect that.
Full frame sensors typically have less noise, so they are better in low-light conditions. Lenses placed on 35mm sized sensors are “true,” which means that the length of the lens is what you get. This is particularly nice for wide lenses, because an 18mm lens is an 18mm lens, which can be food for landscapes, for example, when you want more in the frame.
An APS-C sized sensor will give the lens a 1.6x conversion, because the sensor is seeing a smaller part of the image. So a 50mm lens will function more as an 80mm lens. This can actually be beneficial if you are taking long zoom photos, such as wildlife.
Processors are proprietary technology, meaning they are specific to a manufacturer. Typically DSLR processors are better but some of the better point-and-shoot cameras will use the same processor as that manufacturer’s DSLR.

Macro

Macro photography is where you can get the camera really close to the object, be it a flower or insect. Macro is really an issue with lenses, but I will go into it briefly. With a point-and-shoot, obviously you are stuck with whatever fixed lens is on the camera. So if you plan on taking macro photography, look at the distance to object the camera can focus. I have seen some point-and-shoot cameras that the object can literally touch the lens and still focus. That is incredible! But because of the focal length and small sensor, the object still might not be life size. Now, when I say life size, it means the object will appear on the sensor the same as it is in life. So, on the print or digital file it can be blown up WAY bigger than life size.
On a DSLR, you would have to look at the lens itself of whether it has macro capabilities. It will be considered a macro lens if it can take a photo that is at least 1/2 life size on the sensor plane. This is due to a combination of the focal length (or zoom capability) and the focus distance. The better macro lenses (which equals more money) can do full life size or even magnified.

Screen

A large screen can be very nice, but be careful, as larger size isn’t always better. A large screen can actually be bad, if the screen resolution isn’t high enough to match. A high resolution will help with checking sharpness of the image, but if the resolution is too low everything will tend to look blurry. So compare between similar sized screens, and choose the one with the higher resolution screen.
Using the screen to shoot is now common even on DSLRs, which was used through the eyepiece traditionally. But make sure to check if you plan on buying a used camera. This is usually the only option available on a point-and-shoot. I still prefer to use the eyepiece on a DSLR, but the screen can be handy to fine tune focus. This is because when using the screen you are able to zoom in on the back of the camera before taking the shot. This is only really useful for still subjects, but can be pivotal in macro photography.
Another really nice option to have is a flip out screen. If you are taking photos using the screen, and you turn the camera at an awkward angle, either high above, below, or around a corner, you won’t be able to see a screen that is flat on the back of the camera. A flip out screen is handy because you can turn it any which way so that you can still see what you are shooting.

Manual Options

The manual options I am referring to are the shutter speed, aperture and ISO. These settings, set manually, can drastically alter a photo. These are set prior to pushing the shutter button. I always shoot in manual mode. This gives me much more creative control over my photographs. I, personally, would never buy a camera that didn’t give me full control.
You may just be interested in capturing moments quickly, as setting manually can take more time. Many point-and-shoot (PAS) cameras don’t have manual settings, though some do. All DSLRs allow manual setting. If you are just recording, maybe you just want the ease of use of full auto. DSLRs and some PAS cameras have multiple versions of an auto function. There is the full auto, aperture priority, and shutter priority. The full auto does as it says and you can just point and the camera will decide what settings to shoot at.
Aperture priority mode lets the user adjust to what aperture he wants and the camera will decide on everything else. This is useful if you want to manually set what kind of depth-of-field the image has.
Shutter priority mode lets the user adjust the shutter speed and the camera sets everything else. So if you are shooting say, a waterfall, and you want to blur the water, then you can set your shutter speed slower and the camera fills in the blanks.
Most point-and-shoot cameras use full auto mode with a few scene settings. These can be anything from portrait to fireworks and it will adjust the settings accordingly. I have never been overly fond of any of these scene settings and usually leave them alone.

Any questions? Feel free to ask in the comments below. When this entire thing has been posted, I will make a dedicated web page where the the white paper has been compiled into one downloadable file.

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© This article is copyright of Chris Lane Photo and should not be found elsewhere.