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A Digital Camera Buying Guide

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A Digital Camera Buying Guide

Whether you are buying your first digital camera or seeking an upgrade, nothing is more exciting and overwhelming than studying the dazzling assortment on the market today. Selecting a digital camera is a complex task. Dozens of brands, with hundreds of models, are available through a variety of merchants and websites. You’ll need to do thorough research to get a quality product at a good price.

Types Of Cameras

Point-And-Shoot: What are your needs for a digital camera? Do you want one to take photos of your friends and post them on Facebook? Are you primarily interested in taking photos of your children or grandchildren? Are you a hiker who wants to capture magnificent, outdoor vistas? If so, a good quality, lightweight point-and-shoot camera may be the right choice for you. The advantages of point-and-shoot cameras include their small size and weight, cheaper cost, quiet operation, ease of use, LCD screens for framing photos and video capability. Disadvantages include lower image quality, slower shutter speed, limited manual controls, reliance on the LCD for framing a photo (without a viewfinder, or just a small one), no ability to change lenses and smaller ISO range.

ISO refers to film speed. Even though digital cameras don’t use film, the same system is used to describe how sensitive the image sensor is to the amount of light present. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive the image sensor, which means better photos can be taken in low-light situations. More advanced point-and-shoot cameras add some the features of single lens reflex cameras, but they cannot match their photo quality because of the smaller size of the image sensor and lens.

Single Lens Reflex: If you want better quality photos, a digital single lens reflex or SLR may be a good camera for you. When you take a photo with an SLR, a mirror flips up and the shutter opens to expose a digital sensor to light. The mirror reflects the light up to a focusing screen then into the view finder. What you see through the view finder is what the lens sees, which is one of the primary advantages of an SLR.

Other pros include interchangeable lenses, larger image sensors for better quality photos, optional manual controls, larger ISO range, better quality and larger lenses, the faster shutter speed and better depth of field. Depth of field means more of the photo is in focus from the foreground to the background. Among the cons of SLRs are higher cost, heavier camera and lenses, noisier operation, typically no LCD for framing the photo, more complex operation and typically no video option.

Camera Phones: Although cell phone cameras are improving, their photo quality is far below point-and-shoot cameras. This is especially true in low-light situations because of their small lens and image sensor. Although a cell phone camera can be handy at a moment's notice, it's probably not adequate for all of your photo needs.

Brands

Canon, Nikon, Olympus and Pentax are some of the most established companies. Fujifilm, Sony, Kodak, Panasonic, and Samsung also offer a variety of digital cameras. See Consumer Reports’ “Digital Camera Brands” for a discussion of the range of cameras these and other firms sell.

Costs

A basic point-and-shoot camera will cost from $80 to $500 while advanced ones sell for $350 to $600. For SLRs, prices range from $500 to $2,000.

Saving Money

To save money, you need to determine the features you want and compare prices. If you do not care about a certain feature, then don’t pay more for it.

One important feature is how many megapixels you need. With a film camera, the film reacts chemically when struck by light; with a digital camera, an image sensor sends out electrical signals when hit by light. The information is stored as pixels in a digital file, most often on a camera memory card. A million pixels is a megapixel.

Cameras can be compared by the number of megapixels in a file. Most digital cameras these days have 10-megapixel sensors which will allow you to crop and enlarge photos as well as print snapshots. But the number of megapixels isn’t the only factor that produces photo quality. Other features to consider are size of the sensor and the quality of the lenses. You'll also need to compare the type of zoom lenses, range of ISO, type of flash, quality of LCD screen, capacity of memory cards and type of image stabilizer.

Other ways to save money on digital cameras are to buy a model from last year, look for a camera that can support any current lenses you might have, check for coupons and rebates and watch for sales.

Watch Out For Scams

Do not let yourself be swayed by a camera at a price that looks too good to be true, especially from an online seller. Make sure that you go with a reputable merchant. You could get a great price online, but there could be a reason the price is hundreds less than you're finding elsewhere.

One common scam is calling the consumer after a purchase is made, but before delivery. The salesman says the price you paid was for a gray market camera and asks if you want to upgrade. He also tries to sell you extra lenses, a fancy case and other pricey add-ons. When you refuse the high-pressure sales pitch, you're later notified that the camera is no longer in stock, or it never arrives. Make sure to check out any company you’re planning to buy a digital camera from with the Better Business Bureau.

Selecting a digital camera is a complicated task. Be sure to do research and have an idea of the camera features you want before you walk into a store or shop online. It will save you money, and you're more likely to end up with a camera you that will meet your needs.

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