Photo Technical

What to consider when buying a digital camera – A35

It’s getting on to three years since I began writing this column.  The first articles provide essential information on buying a new camera and with the time that has passed you could be in the market for an upgrade.  Let’s go through the buying steps and see what has changed and what the latest advances.

When buying a digital camera you have a range of choices that can seem daunting.  Which type of camera do you buy?  You have to determine which category of user you fit into, what advantages you want and what disadvantages you are willing to live with.

Simple and easy to use cameras have the advantage of just that – being simple and easy to use without much thought by just pointing, clicking and hoping for the best.  The results can be compared to a hale-Mary pass in football, at times you may get lucky.  Oh, they will also be among the most inexpensive to purchase.

The disadvantages, if giving up control is not among them, is that these cameras are usually not manufactured to the highest quality standards with all plastic bodies, small chips, poor sensitivity to low light, and the spoiler of missing that special moment due to shutter lag.

It will be explored in greater detail later, but shutter lag is the time between pressing the exposure button the actual moment of exposure.  In these cameras there is a lag time long enough to spoil capturing many an instant expression of a mate, or that split second ending of an event.  (Panasonic DMC LS80 and LS75, Samsung Digimax S760, Canon Powershot A470 – look into these and similar cameras.)

The next step up is standard plus digital cameras.  You will still have the cheaper plastic bodies and a potential for shutter lag as disadvantages.  On the other hand the positive features will include, better images quality, not only due to more pixels, but better lens construction.  You will now find controls for setting shutter speeds and apertures.  Accessories, such as lens converters and underwater housings become available with this upgrade.  Of course, the price goes up.  (Canon Powershot A720 IS, A650 IS, A570 IS, 590 IS – look into these and similar cameras–NOTE ‘IS’ = image stabilization)

Making it a true pocket camera adds to its price.  These cameras are one inch or slightly less thick to slide into your jeans pocket.  They are likely to have a lightweight metal body.  Do to the size control features will be lost, making them similar to the basic point and shoot.  Their small size also results in smaller lenses in physical terms, smaller flashes, and having both closer together.  In order, this means less resolution quality, less ability flash light output, and more chances for red eye.  (Fuji Finepix F50fd, Canon IXUS 90 IS & 85 IS & 80 IS, 70 – look into these and similar cameras.)

So far all the options have given us rectangular boxy cameras.  Again for a bit more in the purchase price you can jump up and own a more stylized digital camera.   The size will be slightly larger, for the ladies not a problem in a handbag.  Control features continue to be limited, but the picture quality will be good, the flash reached better, the LCD screens slightly larger, and the zoom capability for now remains the standard X3.  Everyone of these cameras come in silver metal bodies. (Canon IXUS 970 IS & 960 IS & 860 IS – look into these and similar cameras.)

For all the boaters out there the super zoom digital camera will likely seem the most attractive, as out at sea distances are great.  Some of the previous types discussed can use converter lenses (as these can) to increase the telephoto capabilities, but this means having to carry and then attach it to your built in lens.  The results with converter lenses can be satisfactory, but my preference is to have a more versatile built in lens.  These add on lenses also add on costs.

The zoom capabilities are given as 10X, or even today as high as 18X.  The important thing to determine is if this numerical multiplier represents an optical or digital zoom.  Optical zooms are true to the physical resolving power of the lens, whereas digital zooms are electronic fabrications, and in my experience they look that way, that is un-appealing and pixilated.

With these zoom capabilities and the standard manual control features designed along the lines of the traditional SLR, these digital cameras are larger in size and heavier.  Most all have a flip up flash, which moves them further from the paralex of the lens, meaning no red eye.  At near the longest zoom settings I have read that all of them suffer from purple fringing of the image taken, and this would have to be removed with digital software. (Panasonic DMC FZ8 & FZ18, Olympus SP-570, Canon Powershot S5 IS and SX100 IS – look into these and similar cameras.)

There are advanced versions of the super zoom digital cameras that offered a higher level of construction and lenses designed to overcome the purple fringing, but there are fewer models to choose from in recent years.  The reason is SLR digital cameras have become so affordable.  (Canon Powershot G9, Nikon Coolpix P5100, Fuji Finepix S9600, Panasonic DMC LX2 – look into these and similar cameras.)

The final level, comparable to a traditional 35mm level camera, would include the Nikon D3 and D300, and the Canon 5D and EOS-1D Mark 111.  These are called SLR’s, meaning single lens reflex, which is related to the mirror in the camera that allows you to compose your image through the viewfinder, then when you press the shutter release it pops up to expose the image.  Therefore, for one thing these cameras (as well as many super zooms) will have viewfinders in addition to LCD screens.  They will allow changing lenses and do just about everything you ask of them.  That may be a disadvantage if you are not an advanced photographer and these cameras are the most expensive of its type.

If you have any money, this should help you get ready for the gift giving season.  In the meantime, I’ll take permission to come ashore.