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How to Choose your Digital Camera?

Updated on July 25, 2014

Types of Digital Cameras

Before I guide you on how to choose the right digital camera, let me give you a brief introduction about types of digital cameras, which will help you understand the instructions in this article.

In general, there are two main types of digital cameras, point & shoot camera, which is typical pocketsize digital camera, and DSLR cameras, which is a professional digital camera. And there is third type comes in the middle, which is advanced compact digital camera.

Just from the names point & shoot and professional we can easily recognize that point & shoot digital cameras are easy to use, all what you have to do is point your camera to the subject and press the button! While professional cameras relating to a person's work, especially work that requires special training. We already know that Professional people have jobs that require advanced education or training.



DSLR Camera, Nikon D3S

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Canon Digital IXUS 850 IS-ar 5to4-fs PNr°0268b

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How to Choose your Digital Camera?

There are some facts related to the camera itself, and others related to you. Let me start with facts that related to the camera:


Megapixel:

Megapixel is one million pixels, used as a measure of the resolution in digital cameras. The pixel is the smallest controllable element of a picture represented on the screen.

Many people think that high megapixel means better photo quality, while this is not completely true, however, megapixel dose affect your photo cropping or enlargements. Therefore, more megapixels give you more flexibility when cropping or making enlargements.

Choosing the right megapixel for you completely depends on your use of the image, for example: You do not need higher megapixel if you are just going to share your photos online. On the other hand, you do need higher megapixel if you are going to use your picture in large advertisements or HD video.

At a minimum, you should consider cameras with two megapixels, and for higher resolution consider digital cameras with a resolution of six megapixels or more.

However, keep in mind, your choice depends on your use, and if you going to enlarge your photo or not.

To have better understanding about megapixels, let me give you this example; you need

18 megapixel to print 69-by-46 inches photo, if you are just want to take photos for family and friend and then share it online, then you perhaps do not need this 18 megapixel camera! Let us say that you want to sell your photo and earn some money. Well, in this case you need a camera with more megapixels such as 18 megapixels, a few less or a few more.



Optical zoom:

Let me ask you the following question: Why can't you see an object that is far away? For example, writing on board when it is 100 meters away with your digital camera? The answer is simple: The far away board does not cover enough pixels on your retinal sensor for you to read the writing. Well, to make this possible you need to collect a lot light of the subject, and then take that light and magnifies it to take up a large portion of the retina. Actually, this is how telescope works; it has the ability to make faraway objects appear much closer.

The optical zoom enables you to get a closer view of the subject before taking your picture (like the telescopes). When using optical zoom, quality remains the same and the full resolution (Megapixels) of the camera can be used on the zoomed image.

Optical zoom referred to as a number followed by x, like 2x, 3x …etc. the higher the optical zoom, the better photo quality. On the other hand, there is digital zoom. The idea behind digital zoom is that it takes a portion of the image and expand that image to the full size of the picture. What happens here is that the section of image that you are looking at becomes bigger, not closer. Digital zoom is like when you zoom in a photo in your computer. Image quality reduced when you use digital zoom.

So, when you go to buy a point and shoot digital camera, consider a camera with bigger optical zoom rather more digital zoom. Optical zoom in not something to think about when buying DSLR because it has interchangeable lens.

Have a look at a recommended digital camera with a good optical zoom in the link below.


Lens aperture

While this feature is related to the lens, DSLRs lenses are interchangeable , it is not the same in point and shoot camera.

Point and shoot cameras have fixed lenses, which means, you cannot change the lens, so you cannot change the aperture. But it is very important to have a camera with small aperture number such as f\2.8(See the link below), especially if you like to take photos indoors without flash or from a reasonable distance.


Sample of Telephoto zoom Lens

I captured this photo by sigma 70-300 mm telephoto lens at focal length of 70 mm.
I captured this photo by sigma 70-300 mm telephoto lens at focal length of 70 mm. | Source

Lens focal length

The focal length of the lens determines the angle of view captured by the image sensor; wide angle of views capture greater areas (Such as a landscape of a canyon), small angles smaller areas (Such like a shot on the soccer field). The shorter the focal length (e.g. 28 mm), the wider the angle of view and the greater the area captured. The longer the focal length (e.g. 140 mm), the smaller the angle and the larger the subject appears to be. All lenses except prime lenses are graded in focal length, and they are often given numbers that indicates how wide and small the focal length is.

What is the ideal focal length is depend on your use, if you are going to shoot landscapes, building and indoor, then a camera with wide angel lens like 28 mm or wider (Smaller number) is the better choice. But, if you are going to shoot far objects like birds or sport events, then a camera with longer focal length is better. In general, wide-angle lenses provide greater depth of field (DOF) than normal or telephoto lenses.

However, in point and shoot digital cameras, where the lens is fixed, focal length can be 28-140 mm, 22-675 mm or any other focal length. In DSLR cameras, lenses are interchangeable , which means you can change the lens and thus the focal lens


Sample of Wide Lens

I  captured this photo by 10-22 mm wide angel lens at 10 mm focal length.
I captured this photo by 10-22 mm wide angel lens at 10 mm focal length. | Source

Sensor size

Sensor size is one of the factors that determine image quality; the rule is the larger the sensor is, the more sensitive to light it is, and that benefits image quality. In small sensors light spills across sensor, causing a kind of internal flare and reducing overall image contrast, while this is not happens with larger sensors.

In general, there are three basic size categories for sensors:

Four Thirds: Small, like sensor of phone camera, point and shoot cameras.

APS: Large sensor, found in consumer DSLRs and Pro consumer DSLRs.

Full Film Format. Larger sensor, found in Pro DSLRs.

Large sensors are available in large cameras (Like Canon 5D), small sensors are available in small cameras like point and shoot, smartphones and tables. This leads us to the conclusion that even if you have a camera with high resolution (More megapixels such as 10 MP) but its sensor is small; you are going to get bad image quality. This fact may seem frustrating to many!

Cameras with larger sensors performance better in low light condition, and allow you to use higher ISO setting. In addition, you will get better print photos when using camera that has larger sensor.

Most DSLR cameras fall into the APS size range (14mm by 21mm to 16mm by 24mm) or what is referred to as a “crop sensor”; often described as 1.5x, 1.6x, or 2.0x crop factors.

Last other factor about image sensor size; it is the depth of field, where the sensor size affects the viewing angle of the lens. In larger sensors, you will have more field of view, while in smaller sensors; the angle of view is magnified.

Here is an example for this matter: Let us say you have two cameras, a crop sensor camera, let us say Canon T3i, and Full frame camera like Canon 5D, and you have 50mm prime lens for both cameras. Now, the result field of view of both cameras is not going to be the same; in the full frame, you will have the same focal length, which is 50mm, while in the crop sensor camera you are going to have about 75mm (Focal length 50mm × crop factor 1.6 = 80). Because of this factor, the APS or crop sensor camera works well in wildlife photography, where a 200mm telephoto lens will give 300mm focal length in crop sensor camera. On the other hand, 200mm will stay 200mm in Full frame camera. And as a result of this, Full frame camera works better in wide-angle photography like landscapes, where a 16mm lens will give you extreme wide field of view in Full frame, but 16mm will cropped to 24mm in crop sensor camera.

To choose a camera with the ideal sensor size for you, try to make comparison between different models and brands, many online photography stores offer this feature. The ideal sensor size depends on your use as well as type of photography.





Body Construction

Point and shoot cameras are portable and can easily fit your pocket; they are also stylish and come in different colors and elegant designs. DSLRs cameras are larger and heavier than any types or brand of the point and shoot cameras due to their larger sensor and lenses. DSLRs bodies make you feel solid and durability. However, DSLRs makers have taken into account that the camera suits your hands, with various buttons and wheel controls placed strategically at your fingertips.

The powerful structure that the professional cameras have is useful for outdoor photographer such as journalistic, travel photographers, adventurers, sport photographers and other users who face environments with a lot of dust and difficult situations that could damage the camera.

On the other side, point and shoot cameras are not scrap! They are really good and sturdy enough for family use.

When you go to the camera shop, try to hold the camera (Whether it is a point and shoot or DSLR) and feel its buttons and wheel controls, make sure that the body is appropriate with your hand and fingers, if you feel comfort and familiarity, then this is a good sign!

Image format

There are two types of image format that cameras record, JPEG and RAW. Every format has its benefits and disadvantages, and therefore certain uses and specific users. Most point and shoot cameras capture image as a JPEG, this format is easy to edit and store, it occupies less space in your camera memory and computer disc. JPEGs are easy to share online or use in the website due to their small size. They are also supported by many software-editing programs, transporting, sharing and downloading is shorter and faster. Disadvantages of JPEG format is its limited possibilities in post-production, where this will be hampered in its color mode RGB and missing some vital information (Image quality).

The JPEG format is great for snapshots (Such as family, friends, sport photography and press uses), quick proofs, and photography that do not require much post-production manipulation, especially, if you are not a fan of image post- production. RAW files (Often in DSLRs) are larger than JPEGs; they take more space on your memory card as well as your PC or laptop, you will also require a powerful computer to view or editing your RAW files.

In RAW files, you have full control over the white balance, tone curve or sharpening of the image when it comes to post-production. This feature is not available in JPEG files where editing causes losing of information or data and thus loss of color gamut and bit depth.

RAW files are camera-specific format, which means, not every software program can support them. In this case, you would need to the camera’s conversion software or a third party that supports your camera’s RAW files in order to convert the RAW files to a file format that is printable or publishable on the web.


RAW format is great for professional photographers, especially those who work in studio photography, portrait, fashion photography, model photography and other professional and commercial uses.

CanonEOS100TopLeft

A dial with more modes
A dial with more modes | Source

Manual Control

Manual control means you have full control over shutter speed, aperture and ISO. The use of these features affects the depth of field, motions and light in your photo. You also need some time to set the right shutter speed, aperture and ISO before you capture your photo. However, the results are professional and wonderful Photos.

The manual control feature is available in DSLRs and advanced compact digital cameras. Point and shoot cameras has pre-set modes for various subject and lighting situations, which means the camera will take the proper decision regarding the right shutter speed, aperture and ISO in your behalf! So, just point your camera to your subject and take your photo.

Let me show you an example; let us say that you are going to capture a landscape of a valley, is you have a DSLR you will need to set the shutter speed to be slow and the aperture to be small in order to have nice depth of field, you will also need a tripod to avoid the distortion. On the other hand, just set your point and shoot camera in the landscape mode and let it deiced setting of shutter speed and aperture.

The pre-set modes in point and shoot cameras make them fun and easy to use, moreover, you would not need a lot of time setting your desired shutter speed and aperture. Most automatic modes in point and shoot cameras (As well as DSLRs & advanced compact) cover the basics such as portrait,

landscapes, night, sport, macro and even other modes such as snow and beaches..etc . if you are not expert, and do not want to spend more time before capture the photo, then go to the point and shoot cameras and safe a lot of money! But if you are a serious photographer who want to capture more details and give a special impact in every photo, then DSLRs and advanced compact cameras are the right cameras. The good news is that all DSLRs and advanced compact have pre-set modes and manual mode, which means the ability to choose the desired mode.

Different types of White Balance

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White Balancing

White balance determines how colors appear in your photo, for example, if you shooting in sunset time, yellow color would be the most obvious, if you shooting indoors under fluorescents lights, blue would be the most obvious. While our eyes can easily recognize the situation and give the proper balance, our cameras dose not. Every digital camera need to tell what is the source of light (Sun, bulbs, fluorescents..etc) to adjust the right white balance.

Most digital point and shoot cameras have preset white balance controls like Sunny, Tungsten (Indoor), Fluorescent, and cloudy, many other cameras have a custom white balance choice that will allow you to set it for a particular shot. The photos in the right show different setting of white balance.


Batteries

In general, there are two types of batteries rechargeable batteries and AA type batteries. Most point and shoots now a days come with rechargeable batteries of some sort (With its charger), while some point and shoots may use AA type batteries.

AA batteries (rechargeable or regular) are great for travelers or those who always forget to charge their batteries! The bad thing about the disposable AA batteries is the cost, where you should always buy new batteries. However, there is a rechargeable type of AA batteries, which cut the cost of disposable batteries.

Most DSLRs come with a standard lithium ion battery that is rechargeable. This type does not cost you, but it may be spam to lose power away of your charger! While it is enough to capture several images using this type of batteries, however, it dies quickly when shoot in Video mode.

In order to avoid quickly dies of battery, it is recommended to carry more than one battery. For example if you have three batteries, you will put the first in the camera, the second in the charger and the last one should be fully charged in your pocket; this way you will not be worry about missing a shot!

Another way to keep the needed power is by having a battery grip; it is device solution to extending your battery life. This device attaches to the bottom of the camera with a portion of it entering the battery chamber, secured by the tripod mount.

Typically, two lithium ion batteries can be stored in the grip, effectively doubling your battery life. Many battery grips also allow you to use AA’s as well as lithium. This is useful when you forget your battery or in different country, the AA batteries can be ordered anywhere.

So, when you go to buy a digital camera, think about the battery, if you are going to travel a lot with your camera, use it in sport or journalism photography, then you need to have a digital camera with an AA battery or extra standard lithium ion batteries. If you use your digital camera at home or from time to time, then one standard lithium ion batteries is good.

Image Stabilization

It is frustrating to discover that the photos that you took in your trip are blurred! You may spend a lot of time to capture a perfect photograph; unfortunately, this perfect moment is blurry because of the shake of camera or slow shutter speed (Usually happen in night photography). To avoid this problem, many point and shoot digital cameras now have image stabilization or vibration reduction feature built into their fixed lenses. For DSLRs, this feature is available in their interchangeable lens.

Image stabilization is great feature and it is a good idea to invest in this feature. For DSLRs, the technology of image stabilization is constantly being refined and is being incorporated not only in lenses but in newer DSLR camera bodies as well.

Extra Features

Wireless WiFi

Wireless WiFi feature allows you to send images wirelessly to your computer.

Movie Mode

The common video size in point and shoot is 640x480 at 30 frames per second, lower resolution than DVD quality. However, this handy feature allows you to take impromptu video of family and friends and distribute them on a website or through email.

DSLRs can capture full HD video, which is 1920x1080, so this feature is great for budget filmmakers.

Underwater and Anti-Freezing Construction

Some consumer digital cameras features underwater using, this is great to take pictures of your kids while they are sowing in the pool! For DSLRs, there is special type of box and bags that allow you to put your DSLR in it and enjoy underwater photography.

Sensor Dust Reduction

Usually dust entering the camera (DSLRs) occurs during a lens change, this feature help shake off the dust currently on the sensor.

Shutter Release

Pressing the shutter button with your finger can cause the camera to move slightly, especially if you use low shutter speed (in manual control), resulting distortion to the image. To resolve this issue you should mount your camera to a tripod and use self-timer or Adding a shutter release cable to your camera, which allow you to control the shutter at the end of the cable. Another solution is using a wireless remote controller.

Most point and shoot cameras have self-timer, most DSLR’s have both self-timer and shutter release cable, wireless remote controller can be ordered separately for many DSLR’s, features like this are helpful for low light condition – or any case you use low shutter speed -

Flash

Most DSLRs and point and shoot digital cameras come complete with a built-in flash that usually pops up from the top of the camera when needed. This flash is very useful not only in low light condition, but also for filling shadows on sunny days.

In DSLR’s, you can also use a separate flash that mounts to your hot shoe (Some DSLR’s have no built in flash like Canon 5D), using a separated flash has its advantages. You can light a much larger area; you can also bounce the light off ceilings and walls. Using a separated flash can help you to avoid the “red eye” in your subjects’ eyes.


The decision to buy a camera is determined by several facts; those facts are related to technology and\or the buyer. I have introduced the technical facts in the previous pages, now; let me introduce the personal facts:

Your level

If you just started out in photography, you will have some difficulty in dealing with professional cameras like DSLR, even if you are serious about photography! While you can overcome those difficulties in DSLR –as a beginner- by learning and practicing, Point & Shoot or compact digital cameras still better choices.

If you are just some one who wants to take photos of his children, family and friends for joy and online sharing, then a Point & Shoot is your choice; it is:

* Easy to use.

* Portable and can fit your pocket.

* Comes in different styles and colors.

* Small image size on your computer and easy to share online.

* Cheap.

If you are serious about photography and have some basics, a DSLR or advanced compact camera will satisfy you desire. DSLR are for professional and semi-pro photographers, while advanced compact cameras are for those who want to be semi-pro photographers.

Advanced compact cameras have basic manual control (as well as auto control), which needs some basics to understand and use. Advanced compact cameras provide better image quality in small compact and cheap digital camera.

DSLR cameras are very professional (Back to the types of cameras page 2). DSLRs are more expensive and bigger, results are much better than other digital cameras and for professional uses.

When you go to buy a camera, think twice about your level! Do not just go to “the better in market”!

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Your budget

Any camera needs some or a lot of other gear such as bag, tripod, memory card, battery, flash, filters, lenses…etc. This means more costs than the cost of the camera itself, so take the cost of the accessories into your account before you buy the camera.

The type of the camera has a great effect of the required accessories; in general, a Point & Shoot requires fewer accessories than a DSLR.


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Type of useType of use

Are you going to use your camera in family and friends photography? For travel? Or in more advance uses like landscapes, portrait, wildlife, sports..etc? Whatever type of use, it affects - certainly – what you should choose.

If you are interested in wildlife photography, you need a camera with a telephoto zoom lens. If you are interested in landscape photography, you need a camera with a wide angel lens. If you are interested in portrait photography, you need a camera with a small aperture.

If you are going to use your camera for traveling, you need an advanced compact digital camera or a cropped- frame DSLR, while Point & shoot is ideal for family and friends.

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