Digital Camera Buying Guide – part 3

Chris Lane / Camera parts, photography / / 1 Comment / Like this

Here is part three of the digital camera buying guide. Look for part four next week. 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 next weeks post.

Part 1 covers:

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


Part 2 covers:

Resolution
The Sensor & Processor
Macro
Screen
Manual Options

Part 3 (this post) covers:

ISO
Durability
Battery
Size, Shape and Weight

Part 4 covers:

Flash
Memory Cards
Other Options
Video


ISO

ISO is what determines the sensitivity to light. A high number for ISO allows the camera to shoot in much dimmer light. The problem with this is that a camera will often list that it can go up to such and such high number ISO, but that doesn’t mean that the images will look good at all. High ISOs typically make the sensor much hotter, which creates noise in the image. So a high ISO combined with an anti-noise feature can be pivotal in dark situations.
Normally, you want to try shoot with the lowest possible ISO for the light situation. Just like film, an ISO of 400 or even 800 is perfectly acceptable. 100 ISO is good, if it is bright enough, or you are able to shoot with a slow enough shutter speed. The main thing to keep in mind is that changing the ISO will require a change in shutter speed. So a high ISO will require a faster shutter speed, whereas a low ISO will require a slower shutter speed.
ISO will range from as low as 50 anywhere up to 25,600, though both those numbers are on higher end cameras. The typical will be from 100 to 3200, or even less range in between. But again, take the high numbers with a grain of salt. It is best to look at sample images if possible.


Durability

Durability can be a pretty big issue if you are either clumsy or just go into harsh environments. I live in far northern Minnesota, so in the winter it gets really, really cold. I have shot photos outside in -50°F. This is just one kind of harsh environment. If you live on the coast, you would have to deal with the salt water or humidity or maybe in the desert dealing with extreme heat. These situations are something to consider. Some point-and-shoot cameras are specifically designed for these situations and will say so in their advertising. Many point-and-shoot cameras, however, will not deal with these conditions well. Salt water in particular can be very harmful to cameras that have a lens that expands out of the body. So maybe in those cases a fixed lens would be better.

For DSLRs, the higher end cameras and lenses are dust and moisture proof. Of course, this still takes into consideration proper care. If you don’t replace lens and body caps, stuff can still get in there. Take care to use a strap so you don’t accidentally drop it in the mud.
Beyond the camera itself, there are many accessories available to further harden your camera. You can get underwater housings. These are quite expensive, but nothing is going to get in there. Another less expensive option are armor skins. These are usually rubberized or even hardened plates that connect to the camera to give it some shock absorbency to falls. There are many more options available, but will inevitably increase the price of the camera you choose.
One final thing to consider for harsh environments is battery life. Very cold or very hot temperatures will dramatically reduce battery life. In cold climates, you can put a hand warmer in your pocket with your batteries and leave them in there until you are ready to use them.


Battery

Not too much to mention on battery, but a couple things to take into account. I prefer rechargeables, because I think it’s a waste to throw out your batteries every time they are used. The problem is that many cameras have proprietary batteries, meaning that only that kind of camera can use that kind of battery. I don’t find this as a good thing. For one, rechargeables are fine when you are in a place that you can easily charge, but what if you are overseas? Some other countries use different plugs and different voltages, so you would need to have a charging adapter or quite a number of backup batteries. On the other hand, if a camera uses just AAs, which can be found anywhere, you would hardly ever be without power. It is sometimes possible, especially with DSLRs, to get an adapter that accepts standard batteries.
For the batteries, take into account how it charges, how long it takes to charge, and whether you can only use one special kind of charger that comes with the camera. Check if the batteries can be charged in a standard off-the-shelf charger. Where can you buy extra batteries? Is it only in specialty camera stores, or only order from a catalog or online, or can you just go into your local supermarket and pick up a pack? How much does an extra battery cost? You should always have at least one backup battery, if not more. It depends on how long you will be away from a charging unit.


Size, Shape and Weight

This isn’t very important for the actual function of the camera, but can be pivotal to the quality of use for the shooter. If possible, you should go to a store and play with the actual camera before finalizing your purchase. This way you can see for yourself how it fits and feels in your hand. If you haven’t used a DSLR, are you going to be bothered by the weight or large size, especially if you are used to using a small point-and-shoot. Or maybe the issue will be that the point-and-shoot is just so small it is awkward to use. This way you can also feel the build of the thing; to see whether it feels like it will stand up to normal abuse or if you would have to be especially careful with it. If the latter is the case, I wouldn’t recommend getting it.
Ergonomics can also be an issue if you are using the camera for long periods of time. Weight and shape are big factors here. If you are holding it and something seems to be poking into your hand, then the longer you use it, the more annoying it will get. Ergonomics isn’t only about how it feels in the hand; it covers everything to do with using it. For small cameras, take note how it fits in your pocket. Does it stick out, or does it fit nicely? Does it slide in and out with ease or does something catch on the edge of the pocket? If it is a DSLR or a larger point-and-shoot, do you have a bag that will hold it safely and conveniently, or do you need to get something new?
For DSLRs, another thing to take into account is that accessories will add more weight. Think of this, if you are shooting with a large DSLR, with a long 300mm lens on the front, a flash unit sitting on top, and an added battery pack attached to the bottom, it will become significantly heavier. Or maybe if you are working on video, you would replace the flash with a constant light unit, a shotgun microphone, and maybe a 6” LCD or a screen loupe on the back. It is not uncommon for a DSLR to get upwards of 4.5 pounds or more, whereas many P&S cameras are only a few ounces.

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