December 15, 2008

Digital Camera Buying Advice For Christmas for Non-Geeks

How do I buy the right digital camera for my budget? Which brand is better? How many megapixels do I need. What the heck is a megapixel?

These are some of the questions that I will try to answer for you guys here on The Horse this holiday season.

A common problem that non-geeks have when buying a digital camera is the wide range of choice and brands available in point and shoot and DSLR cameras. Well, I'm going to help you out by giving you some definitions that you can use on your salesperson to sound (and actually become) more knowledgeable about digital cameras:

Point and Shoot: this is a still camera designed primarily for quick and simple operation. Most of them use an easy autofocus system for focus and automatic systems for exposure and whitebalance as well. Most are relatively inexpensive and manufacturers are adding more and more features as time goes by. These are very popular and a great buy for the casual photographer.

DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex): a digital camera that uses a mechanical mirror system and pentaprism to direct light from the lens to an optical viewfinder on the back of the camera. DSLRs are often preferred by professional still photographers because they allow an accurate preview of framing close to the moment of exposure, and because DSLRs allow the user to choose from a variety of interchangeable lenses. Most DSLRs also have a function that allows accurate preview of depth of field. (from Wikipedia)
Most of these bad boys are fairly expensive (start at around $500) but are well worth the trade-off in features and speed. More on these in a later post...

Optical Zoom: The ability to physically zoom the camera with the mechanics and glass of the lens. This amount is measured in "X" (ie. 4X Optical Zoom)

Digital Zoom: this type of zoom is actually a cropping of the sensor in your camera and the software interpolating the digital resolution of the cropped area. Because interpolation disturbs the original pixel layout of the image, as captured by the camera's image sensor, it is usually considered detrimental to image quality. Also measured in "X".

Josh's Camera advice: Digital=BAD, Optical=GOOD. You want more optical zoom on your point and shoot.

Flash Memory (and other storage media): this is the place where your pictures will be stored on your camera. Most are small cards, some less than one inch in length that are removable. Flash memory can be erased and programmed many times. Some types of flash memory are:
  • SD Flash (very common, comes in "Mini" and "Micro" versions)
  • Compact Flash (older but still used in some Nikon cameras)
  • Memory Stick (Sony proprietary)
  • xD (Olympus and Fuji proprietary)
Be sure to know what kind your new camera has and how to use it or transfer you pictures to a computer or printer.

Megapixel: A megapixel is 1 million pixels, and is a term used not only for the number of pixels in an image, but also to express the number of image sensor elements of digital cameras or the number of display elements of digital displays. For example, a camera with an array of 2048×1536 sensor elements is commonly said to have "3.1 megapixels" (2048 × 1536 = 3,145,728). (from Wikipedia)
This may sound nerdy, but basically, the more megapixels the camera is rated the higher resolution you can take pictures at. Of course there are downsides to a larger megapixel rating:
  • larger memory storage card needed (more expensive)
  • each picture takes up more room on you memory card
  • longer transfer times and slower shooting times on a P&S
What it boils down to is: Unless you are printing out 8x10's or larger, the normal consumer needs no more than 6-8 Megapixel sensor to print out very sharp 4x6 photos.

Josh's Camera advice: don't splurge on the bigger megapixel rating on a point and shoot. 6-8 Megapixels will be enough.

So, to finish off, some of the best new point and shoots for this season in my opinion are:
  1. Nikon Coolpix S series
  2. Canon PowerShot series
  3. Sony CyberShot series
Other great picks are: the Kodak EasyShare series and Fujifilm FinePix. But research your camera before you buy it using your new knowledge (above) and get the best features for the best price for your giftee (which may just happen to be yourself ;-)!

Enjoy, and I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas!
Remember the reason for the season...


  1. Hey, Josh, this is a great article. You've covered some really important factors in getting the best digital camera for your needs.


    Digital Market

  2. Thanks Anthony! If there's anything you think I missed, let me know and I'll cover it in the next post. I'm trying to write more "helpful" articles like these in the future. Thanks for the comment and feel free to link us up on your site if you think this post would help people!

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