[LEARNING CURVE]Digital camera decision a question of needs

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[LEARNING CURVE]Digital camera decision a question of needs

As someone with a minor reputation as a photographer, without a doubt the most common question people ask me these days is “Which digital camera should I buy?” There is no simple answer, but there is a way to figure it out for yourself.
But before I get into that discussion, allow me to set the record straight. For most people, most digital cameras capable of four mega pixels or higher produce images that are as good as film. And even for professionals, the most recent, high-end single-lens reflex cameras can match and even surpass film images. In other words, while film will hold its own in niches for special artistic needs, it is on its last legs.
One other comment: if you are planning to use your new camera for an upcoming vacation, buy it soon. Nothing can be more frustrating and disappointing than learning how to use your new camera during a special, never-to-be-repeated occasion. Get your camera early and shoot often so you have basic knowledge of it.
To select a camera, consider the following: how much you are willing to spend, what kind and size of photos you wish to take and how skilled are you in photography. If you are really starting out with a clean slate, you can find some selection tools on the Internet. One address that I have given to others is the product adviser at www.myproductadvisor.com/mpa/camera/inputSummary.do
This is a good way to go to get some ideas for the low end up to the so-called “prosumer” level cameras. It is not designed to help you select a professional quality camera. Another good site for this type of selection process is found at PC Magazine’s site at www.pcmag.com/category2/0,1738,5,00.asp, since these days digital cameras are becoming increasingly like mini computers with lenses.
Please be aware that these recommendations are likely to be influenced by the sites’ advertisers. While you probably will not be steered to a bad camera, you may not be introduced to cameras of firms lacking comparative influence.
If you are looking for a very serious camera and willing to pay for extra quality and control, one of the better web resources is The Luminous Landscape’s product review index page at www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/index.shtml.
This page lacks a product selection tool but offers some great, in-depth product reviews untainted by advertisers’ influence.
Regardless, a good hierarchy of considerations in choosing a camera is as follows: how you plan to use the camera; how much can you afford; brand preferences or dislikes; how large of a camera are you willing to carry; the minimum resolution or pixel count (I would recommend four mega pixels or more); special features that you desire; and finally, what the deal-making feature is?
A consideration for higher end cameras is whether to go with a digital single lens reflex (SLR) camera.
The higher end digicam with a zoom lens built into the body can be your best value. Also, since you can’t change lenses, there is no chance of dust getting on your internal imaging chip that eventually will require professional or delicate cleaning.
Besides the obvious advantage of being able to use a wide array of lenses ― including possibly lenses you have invested for a prior film camera, shutter response speeds are much faster on digital SLRs.
Most digital cameras are notorious for slow shutter responses and in effect render them almost useless for action photography. However, most digital SLRs have excellent shutter responses and are the most practical way to go. Still, cameras continue to improve, and before making a final choice, you may wish to compare the shutter response specifications between your favored digicam and your favored digital SLR.
Finally, if you are really into digital photography and plan to use or are already using high end graphics software such as Photoshop, you may wish to consider if your camera can save images in RAW format rather than automatically saving them in the more compressed JPG or TIF formats only.
RAW images are similar to undeveloped negatives that allow the photographer greater latitude in manipulating an image to its maximum potential using a computer. Working with a RAW image is an extra step, but for perfectionists is the way to go.
Tom Coyner’s photography may be viewed at http://www2.gol.com/users/coynerhm/.

by Tom Coyner
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