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Digital Camera Features You Should Know Before Buy

Updated on November 25, 2015

Look for the Important Digital Camera Features Before Your Purchase

Digital Camera Features vary widely between models. Some features might be absolutely necessary, but others might be useful only for highly specialized uses. As you prepare to make your purchase but not sure how to buy a digital camera then first learn more about these features, which most digital cameras carry.

Zoom Lenses

This kind of lens is really composed of several different lenses or lens elements and allows you to vary your focal length. This way you can be flexible in framing your shots and closing the distance between you and your photo subject. A zoom lens is wonderful if you wish to quickly execute a close up shot. A mainstream camera usually has a 3x zoom lens. This means it can go from a moderately wide-angle view (35mm) to a moderate telephoto view (105mm). If you are looking for versatility in shooting at various distances, you can buy cameras with zoom ranges between 5x and 50x. If you are looking for a greater view angle to take group portraits or panoramic landscapes, check out cameras with a wide-angle end of the zoom range as low as 24 or 28mm.

Zoom lenses usually protrude from the camera when you turn it on. However, a few compacts and several subcompacts and superzooms have lenses that are non-telescoping. Some superzooms and larger compacts also have a manual focus ring like ones you would find on an SLR lens. The manual focusing of a point-and-shoot works differently than an SLR’s manual focus.

Digital zooms work by magnifying the center of the frame without increasing the detail of the picture, and optical zoom is preferable to digital zoom. Point-and-shoot digital cameras almost always have zoom lenses. SLRs can use interchangeable lenses and often come from the factory with a zoom lens, but they also work with nonzoom or prime lenses.


Exposure Modes

You will find that most digital cameras, including SLRs, are highly automated, and carry such features as automatic exposure control. This is one of the best digital camera features that varies the aperture and shutter speed after analyzing the available light. When the camera is operating in this mode, it usually automatically adjusts autofocus and ISO as well. There are, however, program modes in which you can control specific settings, such as aperture and shutter priority and special scene modes. If you want full manual controls of things like aperture and shutter speed, some cameras offer this capability.


Image Stabilization

Almost all cameras on the market today feature an image stabilizer, which compensates for handheld camera shake. Many times the IS feature will allow you to use a slower shutter speed than you ordinarily could without getting a blurry picture due to hand shake. This feature won’t, however, compensate for motion of the photo subject. There are different types of image stabilizers: optical (in the lens) and mechanical (in the camera body itself) image stabilizers are better than the simulated stabilization found in some cameras.

Some SLR brands use mechanical stabilizers which apply IS to every lens. Other SLR brands, however, only feature optical IS in long zoom or telephoto lenses: the lenses that need IS the most. Generally speaking, optical-based IS functions better than mechanical IS, but you won’t be able to use IS with every lens if it’s not built into the camera body. You should watch for image stabilization as a must-have feature, especially if the camera you are looking at offers optical zoom greater than 3x.

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Face Detection and “Smart Camera” Features

Among the various digital camera features, this feature tries to look for a face in the image on which to base color balance, exposure and focus so that any faces appear well-exposed and in focus. We have tried the feature and find that it generally functions well. You have to turn on the feature in some cameras, while others come from the factory with the feature enabled but able to be turned off. Newer cameras are starting to feature variations on this capability, such as smile shutter mode, which recognizes a smile on a subject and shoots a picture. Other features include intelligent ISO and a blink warning, which lets you know when a subject may have blinked in a photo.


Shooting Modes

Most cameras give you three options for shooting a still image: single image, burst mode and self-timer. Burst mode means you can quickly take a series of photos. This will give you several or sometimes dozens of rapidly-shot photos. With some SLRs, you can very quickly take more than a hundred photos in a burst – this is measured in frames per second, or fps. Some of the newest advanced point-and-shoots are able to take burst shots as well. The self-timer mode is fairly self-explanatory. It allows for a delay between the moment the shutter is pressed and when the photo is taken. Some cameras allow the user to adjust the length of the delay and the number of shots taken after the delay.

Playback Modes

All digital cameras allow you to review images on the LCD. There is also exposure and other information embedded in this image file. This allows you to quickly take a look at the photo you’ve taken and delete it if it’s unsatisfactory. Many cameras boast automatic orientation capabilities that will rotate the photo vertically or horizontally to match the way you took the photo. You can magnify portions of a photo with zoom features while reviewing it. The LCD screen is also used to access the camera’s menu system if you wish to change settings or access features. A handful of cameras feature touch-screen LCDs or swiveling LCDs. The best LCD screens won’t change color or tone (also known as solarizing) if viewed at an angle, but we didn’t test for that feature. Some cameras include slideshow features and some can even allow you to add music or create a multimedia slideshow right on the camera.

ISO

This setting indicates the setting’s sensitivity to light. Many cameras allow great flexibility in ISO settings – a common range is from ISO 100 to ISO 12,800, although more advanced cameras, especially SLRs, offer even greater ranges. Being able to set a higher ISO means added flexibility to adjust shutter or aperture speed. Say you need to shoot a photo at 1/250 of a second because you want to “freeze” an action shot, but the light available is only enough for a shutter speed of 1/125 of a second. You could increase the aperture to allow in more light. If you’re already using the widest aperture, you can also increase the ISO to 400 ISO and then can set a higher shutter speed.

Beware of using high ISO settings on a point-and-shoot camera. They have smaller sensors than SLRs and high ISO settings will often lead to so-called image noise, which means a grainy photo with poor image quality. Although point-and-shoot cameras often feature ISOs up to 6400 or higher, the results may disappoint. We are concerned about the relationship between sensor sizes and high megapixel counts. It seems as if the more megapixels the camera manufacturers can fit onto a sensor of the same small size, the more flawed the camera’s images are.

LCD Viewers/Viewfinder

Optical viewfinders were once found on almost all cameras, but they are rarely seen these days on compact or subcompact cameras. Optical viewfinders are becoming rarer because larger, sharper LCD viewers are replacing them. Some LCD viewfinders are up to 3.5 inches in size. LCDs give you a more accurate view of the actual image that will appear in a photo than the optical viewfinders. The drawback is the difficulty you might have in seeing the viewfinder in bright sunlight. A more versatile camera will have both LCD and optical viewfinders, which is helpful in photographing in bright light or when you need to conserve your battery. Some point-and-shoot and SLR cameras now boast a swiveling display that is helpful for taking photos at hard-to-achieve angles.

Flash

In today's market, flash is also included in digital camera features. The flash (or strobe) uses a short burst of light to illuminate your photo subject. Almost all cameras have an auto-flash mode which automatically utilizes the flash if sensors detect a lack of adequate light for your shot. Most cameras will also feature other flash modes such as red-eye reduction, which corrects a common issue that occurs when using a flash camera. You can also fix red-eye by using image-editing software after you have downloaded the image to your computer. Garden variety consumer-level cameras are likely to have one of two kinds of flashes. A built-in strobe usually sits above or diagonally above the lens. This flash might be a pop up variety or might be built into the body of the camera. You can also buy an external strobe as an accessory; it will connect to the hot shoe of an advanced point-and-shoot, SLR-like, or SLR camera.


Image File Formats

The file format most commonly used by cameras is the JPEG, which is a compressed image format. A JPEG will allow you to use the file in a number of ways: you can insert it on a Web page, attach it to an email, or of course print the photo. SLR-likes, SLRs and advanced point-and-shoots also can use a format commonly known as RAW to save images. RAW images are usually not compressed like a JPEG and, unlike JPEGs, the image isn’t processed inside the camera. RAW files are advantageous because they often yield the best image quality and because they allow more flexibility in using software to manipulate the image.

Memory Cards

Of course digital cameras don’t use film. Almost all of them store their photos on flash-memory cards; however, some models also carry their own onboard memory capabilities of more than 1 GB. The most widely-used of these formats is SecureDigital, or SD. Other types of memory cards are xD, Memory Stick Duo, and Compact Flash or CF, which is used mostly on SLRs. Memory cards used to be very expensive but they have come down a great deal in price in recent years. Some of the new cameras also can use higher capacity types of SD cards such as SDHC and SDXC, which is the latest format allowing manufacturers to create cards with capacities of up to an enormous 2 terabytes.

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Video

Your basic point-and-shoot cameras have offered the capability to capture video for years, but oddly SLRs have added this feature only recently. While most cameras today offer HD-resolution videos, some still capture video in standard definition. This type of video will not appear as sharp when viewed on an HDTV, so be aware of that when choosing a camera. Some of camera models available today offer video quality that make a separate camcorder an unnecessary expense. Many cameras now offer the convenient feature of a dedicated button for video – this allows you to quickly capture a video even while taking still photos. If you are looking at a basic or advanced point-and-shoot camera, find out if the camera can zoom while taking videos, because not all models can do this.

3D Capability

Some cameras have the ability to capture 3D video, 3D photos, or both. These digital camera features are great really because they accomplish this by capturing two different images of each shot (or using software to create them), replicating the perspectives of the right and left eye of an observer. The differences between the images are what give a 3D image its sense of depth. When you wear special glasses, your brain can combine these two images into one seamless image. The glasses provide each eye with its own distinct view. You can also view the images on a 3D LCD.


Connections

Saving images typically involves transferring them to a computer by connecting the camera with the USB port or FireWire port of the computer, or by inserting the memory card into a special reader – many new computers now feature built-in memory card readers. Alternately, certain printers can connect to cameras or read memory cards: either of these options allow you to print your photos without downloading them onto your computer. A video output that allows you to view photos on your TV is also included with most cameras. Some cameras even feature an HDMI output, either on the camera dock or the body itself,that can allow photos to be viewed on an HDTV. However, these extra cords and docks might not come with the camera, depending on which one you buy. Digital cameras are starting to face competition from smart phones with more sophisticated cameras and improved images, so expect to see more digital cameras that offer the wireless internet connectivity that smart phones have. This would let you transfer images to the web via a Wi-Fi router, smart phone, or both.

Wi-Fi

In today's world, digital camera features include Wi-Fi capability; however this is still a niche market. Wireless features, found both on basic and advanced cameras, allow you to wirelessly transfer videos or photos to your computer and back them up on a hard drive or upload them to a social networking site.


© 2014 mjkamrul

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