Digital Cameras have become a common site wherever you go. If you’re getting ready to purchase your first digital camera, or maybe you’re looking to replace one you already have, it is best to familiarize yourself with the knowledge of what makes one digital camera different from another and choose the one that is right for you. In this article we’ll cover one of the most significant factors in picture quality. This is the “digital film.”
Just like with a film camera, the digital camera has a lens which brings light into focus on a bed of light sensitive material. In the digital camera, that light sensitive material is a circuit bed called a “CCD.” The CCD plays the same role as film in a film camera and the lens allows light to fall onto the CCD which is then converted into a digital image. The quality of the lens can make a significant difference in the clarity of that image. Very cheap digital cameras may even use a piece of plastic as the lens, which will usually have an uneven surface and light transmission. This will be noticeable in the picture but may not be an issue for a security camera or a web cam. Better quality digital cameras will have ground-glass lens and high-end digital cameras will even have interchangeable lenses as do high-end film cameras. The lens still plays the important role of bringing light clearly to the CCD surface for a distortion free picture.
A CCD also provides an interesting advantage to the digital camera. It is possible to automatically adjust light sensitivity to improve contrast, shoot in dim light, or even take black and white, sepia or infrared and ultraviolet light pictures with the touch of a button. Because any of these images are stored as the same data on the memory card, a digital camera can offer unsurpassed versatility without the need to change film types. Not all digital cameras have these features built in, but they are options you may see in some cameras. While the possibilities are cool, ask yourself if you that is a feature you need in a digital camera.
With digital cameras, CCD is a grid of light sensitive points which capture the image for conversion into a digital image. The number of points on the CCD is measured in terms of “mega pixels.” The mega pixel rating is a completely new bit of terminology and is unique to the digital camera. The mega pixel rating is a measure of the resolution of the camera, or its ability to store details of am image. For example, a digital camera with a maximum resolution of 1280 by 768 pixels (dots) comes out to a total of 983,040 pixels with which to describe the digital image. As each mega pixel represents one million pixels, we can see this isn’t even one mega pixel. Some digital cameras have mega pixel ratings at 5.1 and even 7.1 mega pixels. What does this mean to you? The more pixels the more detail stored. If the image is going to be viewed on a screen or a TV, this isn’t very meaningful because video displays have resolutions which are usually well below one mega pixel. However, when printing on a high quality photo printer, the difference between a 3 mega pixel digital camera and a 5 mega pixel digital camera can be very obvious.
Some people will try to evaluate a mega pixel rating by how large a print can be made from the digital camera’s image. The truth is that any digital image can be printed to any size. The real issue is what it looks like. Most people print their film to 4×6 prints and many are now doing the same with their digital cameras. Ask to see printed samples of pictures which are like the type you would normally take and compare the same prints between different cameras. Many stores will try to dazzle you with colorful still life images of piles of multi-colored fruits and hot air balloons. Do you take pictures like that? Probably not, so perhaps they’re not the best images to be scrutinizing. If you take pictures of friends standing around, use each camera to take pictures of people standing around. Then use a demonstration printer at the store to make prints and look at the results. Do you see little dots in the middle of solid colors? Does the image look like it was taken with a poor quality film camera? Don’t seek out the digital camera that happens to take perfect pictures in a perfect setting, contrived by the marketing department of the digital camera’s manufacturer. Look for the digital camera that takes pictures you like in the settings in which you most commonly find yourself.
Another issue to consider is that some digital cameras are designed for “point and click” use while other cameras are designed with lots of settings which must be manipulated for optimal results. In my personal experience, I have found that Kodak makes digital cameras which are ideally suited for simple “point and click” use and consistently take great looking pictures in a wide variety of settings. I have also personally found that digital cameras from Nikon work best when you set them to “manual” and do not rely on the automatic settings. This seems to be true of their film cameras as well. Does this make one digital camera better than another? Only if one fits your needs and skills, and the other does not.
There are many magazines available on digital cameras today. Most recognize these differences in digital camera quality, based on needs and intended use of the owner. Before buying your new digital camera, pick up a few of these magazines and familiarize yourself with the latest reviews. Remember that the pros and cons are still written “through the lens” of the reviewer. If you see a negative about a digital camera that you otherwise like, ask yourself if that negative is meaningful to your needs. Next ask yourself if that negative might be meaningful to your needs as you become more experienced. If the answer is yes, ask yourself if you would still be using that camera as a more experienced photographer in the future or would you perhaps sell it and buy an entirely new digital camera? It’s unlikely that the digital camera you buy today is going to be the only one you’ll ever have. Buy the digital camera that most reasonably meets your needs and how you normally plan to take pictures.
Memory cards and battery life are also consideration factors which will be covered in other articles. For now, I hope this information has taught you more about the workings of a digital camera and some of the factors to consider when choosing one. Take your time and learn a bit about digital cameras before your purchase. Sure, it’s not like buying a car, but photography is a very personal experience and the right digital camera will truly make a difference in your enjoyment of capturing the moment with digital photography.