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Choosing a Digital Camera

Introduction

During the holidays last year, your brother-in-law wowed the whole family with his new digital camera. 10x zoom! Video mode! 24 special effects! 4 megapixels! Enough technical doodads to make you envy his position as King of the Digital Castle!

 

Well, his camera may be very nice, but is it the right one for you? In this issue, I will give you tips on how to identify your photography needs and actual level of experience with digital photography.

 

Three categories of cameras

The first step is to divide the digital cameras on the market into three groups according to the types of users.

 

1. Casual Photographers: Vacations, Get-togethers and Leisure Activities

 

Most people fall into this category. Their photography needs basically consist of taking pictures during birthdays, vacations and cultural or sporting events. An easy-to-use camera is crucial in order not to miss the action as it happens.

 

A 2 to 4 megapixel compact or super-compact camera with a 3x to 4x zoom is ideal for the average casual photographer. Light and easy to use, these cameras can be carried in a pocket or purse. Most camera manufacturers have positioned the buttons for adjusting the settings with convenience in mind and made the function menus appearing on the screen easy to understand.

 

These cameras also give you the opportunity to make short videos.

 

You can print excellent 4 x 6 and 5 x 7 pictures from a compact or super-compact camera.

 

 

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2 megapixels

3.2 megapixels

4 megapixels

 

Water- and weather-proof cameras are also available for the more outdoorsy photographer. 

 

 

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Water and weather proof

 

If your budget permits, you can opt for a 7 megapixel model with a 10x zoom lens.

 

However, this range of cameras is designed for those who take a lot of nature shots or go on photo safaris, as well as those who want superior quality pictures.

 

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7 megapixels

10x zoom lens

 

2. Advanced Amateurs 

Advanced amateurs are those for whom photography is one of their favourite hobbies.

 

If you are an amateur photographer, you undoubtedly already have a regular reflex camera or are thinking about buying a second digital camera. The important thing here is to pick the camera and accessories that are better adapted to the type of pictures you want to take.

 

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Macro

Accessory for close-up

High-performance autofocus

 

  • Do you like to take pictures of flowers and butterflies? Make sure the camera you want has a macro mode for taking close-ups
  • Do you prefer to take pictures of sporting or cultural events? You will need an autofocus system that works well under a range of lighting conditions.
  • Do you love to visit museums and art galleries, where you are often obliged to take pictures without an electronic flash? You should get a camera with an image stabilizer that will allow you to take pictures at very slow speeds.
  • Do you often use powerful zooms of 10x or higher? You are sure to appreciate using an image stabilizer to increase magnification from 6 to 10x.

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Stabilizer

 

Resolution is also an important factor for advanced amateurs.

  • If you often make prints larger than 8" x 10", you should then opt for a 6, 7 or 8 megapixel digital camera.

 

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8 megapixels

 

This type of high-resolution camera offers reflex (through the lens) viewing. While you have to look at the subject through the optical finder for some cameras, most models allow you to see the image on a display screen in the viewer.

 

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Optical finder

Display

 

Please note video mode is more effective when using the zoom. An entire range of lenses and lighting accessories are available for these cameras.

 

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Accessory 1

Accessory 2

 

3. Reflex Cameras

Now you're playing with the big boys! Just like for standard film cameras, reflex digital cameras give you more flexibility for taking pictures under a wider range of conditions.

 

The advantage of using an SLR body with interchangeable lenses is that you can progressively acquire only the photography equipment you really need, one piece at a time, just like building a puzzle.

  • Do you like architecture? Start by getting a wide-angle lens.

  • Are you both a photographer and sports fan? Choose a 70-200mm/F2.8 vari-focal bright lens.

  • Taking pictures of insects will be made easier by using a lens with 1:1 magnification.

But do not base your choice of a reflex camera body simply on the available lenses.

 

You must also consider the following:

  • the performance of a larger sensor;

  • more efficient colour management;

  • faster focussing mechanism;

  • whether the optical reflex viewer accurately captures the image of the picture you want to take;

  • cascading images (burst mode) in some models; and

  • images recorded in RAW format, which gives you more flexibility for changing exposure and colour settings.

 

A word of caution:

 

If you already own a lens that can be mounted on the camera body you want, make sure the lens gives you good results when you use it with the camera in question.

 

Digital reflex cameras often require superior quality lenses for the camera sensor to operate at maximum efficiency. (See the issue on choosing a lens.)

 

 

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Canon 20D

Nikon D70

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Pentax ISD

Konica Monolta Dynax 7D

 

Batteries

Using high-quality batteries is important in digital photography. As digital cameras need a lot of power, you will need high-performance batteries! I recommend a first-rate fast battery recharger and 2300 MH batteries.

 

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Conclusion

The best advice I can give is to speak to experts before you buy a digital camera, who can recommend the model best suited to your needs.

 

All too often, people limit their information gathering activities to visiting specialized Web sites for specs and prices. Buying a digital camera is like buying a car: you have to like the model you choose, which must be fun to use, meet your needs and not exceed your budget.

 

So the next time you meet your brother-in-law, Mr. King of the Digital Castle, you can show him you are no Knave when it comes to digital cameras!

 

Happy picture taking

Jacques Bourdages, pfe

  

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