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Digital Photography 101 - A Beginners Guide to Digital Cameras

If you've never been around digital cameras, they can be rather intimidating at first. Buzzwords like "mega pixels" and "optical zoom" help to build a language barrier between new users and the industry, and sometimes it's hard to understand what exactly you're buying. So here is a quick walk through of the major elements of digital cameras to help you make the best judgment on which one is right for you.

The Difference Between SLRs and Automatic Cameras

An SLR looks and operates exactly like a non-digital camera, except instead of exposing film it exposes a light-sensitive sensor. If you pick a digital SLR, you will be able to manually adjust settings like shutter speed, aperture, focus and ISO. And generally speaking, if you're looking for the highest quality images, then digital SLRS are the way to go.

Automatic cameras or point and shoots often have a large LCD screen on the back and usually only require a single button press for taking a picture. Point and shoot cameras take lower quality pictures (although not by a lot) but provide a lot less customizable options. On the flip side, however, they are great because of their small portable size and ease of use. And if you're not planning to print out large pictures, then the quality difference is minimal.

The Mega Pixel Debate

One of the most important features camera manufacturers talk about is the number of mega pixels. But what are mega pixels anyway?

Mega pixels are how manufacturers measure the pixel count of an image created by a camera. A one mega pixel camera means that the camera will take pictures with 1 million pixels. You can think of mega pixels as the actual picture's resolution.

So which megapixel value is right for you? It really depends upon what you want to do with you pictures. For most users, who wish only to shoot a few photographs and upload them to their website or email them to friends at smaller sizes, anything in the 2MP to 7MP range is absolutely fine. If you're going to be blowing your work up to larger sizes, you should work with cameras that shoot at higher resolutions (10MP and above). The bigger you want your photo, the more important the mega pixel value.

The Difference Between Digital and Optical Zooms

Many digital cameras feature both digital and optical zoom. Optical zoom can be defined as the distance the camera is able to zoom its lens, whereas digital zoom is the distance the camera can "pretend" to make it from that distance. What an optical zoom does is magnify the subject like what a zoom lens would do, while a digital zoom simply takes a part of the image and blows it up. One good example of a digital zoom, is when you see on tv the video footage from a security camera that shows the pixilated and blurry face of a robber.

Generally speaking, a digital zoom is a useless feature so you're better off ignoring it when shopping for a digital camera. Images created using digital zoom have low quality and look pretty terrible, so if you're not close enough to catch it with optical zoom it's best to either get closer or shoot with what you have.

Buying a digital camera doesn't have to be a frustrating or scary experience. Just be honest about what you need and expect from your camera, as well as what your price range is, and go from there. As long as you pick a camera that suits your needs, you will be happy with the results. If you're not sure what digital camera is right for you, you're better off starting with a more basic camera and then upgrading later if you need to.


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