NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, May 2003
Things to Consider When Purchasing a Digital Camera
by Jim Topper, Another Baltimore Computer UG
(click to email author)

Since we are entering the holiday season with gift giving on our minds, I thought it would be a good idea to write about some of the things to consider when purchasing a digital camera.

This is a list of items to consider when planning to purchase a Digital Camera. This is not an all inclusive list. It does contain the features and other considerations I believe should be high on one's list of considerations before making a purchase.

Image size, i.e. number of "megapixels", 2,3, 4, or 5
The higher the number of megapixels, the larger the image file will be. This will allow you to print the images at a higher ppi (pixels per inch) resolution. Generally speaking even a 2 megapixel digital camera should be able to print an 8x10 picture with decent detail. 3, 4 or more megapixel cameras will allow you to print larger images if you wish or give you even more detail at smaller picture sizes, i.e. 4x6, 5x7, or 8x10.

Zoom lens type and "reach", i.e. 3x, 4x, 10x... you get the idea.
Digital cameras have two types of zoom lenses, digital zoom and optical lens zoom.It is best to buy a digital camera with an optical zoom lens. Almost all digicams have digital zoom in addition. However a digital zoom degrades the image quality since it interpolates the image information for the zoom effect. It is best to NOT use digital zoom unless you can not get a picture any other way. For optical zoom, I'd recommend at least a 3x zoom, a higher zoom ratio lens if you can afford it.

Type of storage medium
There are 3 types of storage medium currently that are widely used in digital cameras. These are: Compact Flash cards, Smart Media cards, and Memory Stick cards. All types can be had in sizes up to 128 MB, with Compact Flash cards available at much larger sizes. My picks for storage media would be either Compact Flash cards or Memory Stick cards which are used in most current Sony digicams. The Smart Media cards are somewhat thinner and more flexible and are more prone to damage during handling if one is not careful. Also look for a digital camera that has a USB interface for downloading pictures from the camera. Some cheaper or older models still use serial port connections and they are very slow downloading images compared to USB. Finally most digital cameras ship with rather small memory cards included. You will want to purchase additional card(s) of at least 64 meg size, as your finances allow, for extended periods of picture-taking.

Type of batteries it uses
Digital cameras can use several types of batteries for power. Some models use proprietary batteries, which tend to be expensive. Other digital cameras will use AA size batteries. Be warned, the only type of AA batteries to use in a digital camera are NiMH (nickel metal hydride) batteries, which are rechargeable. Other types will not last in a digicam, such as alkaline batteries. Sony in particular uses its own batteries which are expensive but have a great feature included, circuitry that will tell you how much time is left in battery power before it needs to be recharged. In any case, you will want at least 2 batteries or 2 sets if using AA type batteries. Most digicams only will ship with one, so you will want to purchase a second one, or set.

Optical viewfinder or LCD only
Some digital cameras have both types, others only use a LCD screen located on the back of the camera body. For bright sunlight picture-taking you will want to consider buying a digicam with both types, since almost all LCD screens are unusable in direct sunlight. However you can purchase a separate LCD shade which would help if the digicam you get only has a LCD screen.

Size of the camera and how it feels in your hands and weight
Two of the more important considerations are the above. You will want to buy a digicam that feels good in your hands and has controls that are easy to reach and use. Weight is important too since you may be carrying the camera around for several hours at a time. Most newer digital cameras weigh less than 1 pound and have a neck strap for carrying when not using the camera. I'd be leery of a digicam that only has a wrist strap, since wrist straps make carrying the camera more difficult over a longer period of time.

Some digital cameras have screw threads on the lens body for adding filters. If the digital camera you purchase has this feature, be sure to buy a "skylight" or "UV" filter for the camera. This will protect the lens from dirt, finger prints and scratches. It is much easier to clean or replace a lens filter than the camera's lens!

Almost all digital cameras have a built-in flash. A nice feature to look for is one that has a "red eye" reduction feature. A few of the higher end digicams also have provisions for adding an external flash on a "hot shoe" bracket, or have a jack to plug in an external flash unit. For general picture-taking, the internal flash will be OK. However you should know that almost all internal flash units have a range of +/- 10 feet. Digital cameras that can add an external flash unit will double or even triple that distance for a high power flash unit.

Jim Topper is the Newsletter Editor for Another Baltimore Computer Users Group and may be contacted by email: jimt@cablespeed.com There is no restriction against any non-profit group using the article as long as it is kept in context, with proper credit given to the author. This article is brought to you by the Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an International organization to which this user group belongs.

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