Digital Cameras

This section covers in some detail what to look for in a digital camera, as well as providing some handy digital camera resources on the web.

Note: Some of the information contained in this section is the opinion of the author, Brandon Cummins, and may not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Kansas State Research & Extension, the Department of Communications, or Information and Educational Technologies.

Gerry's Digital Photography Handout (pdf, 646k) : Contains information outlining many basic camera features, features for creativity, storage options, and other camera extras.

Digital Cameras:

Digital Cameras If you have an interest in digital photography, the first if not most important decision you will have to make is what kind of camera will best suit your needs.  There are many different levels of digital cameras available now, ranging from basic point-and-shoots, to more complex digital SLR (single-lens reflex) cameras.  Small low-res digital cameras are even being embedded into cell phones, PDAs, and MP3 players.  However, if your goal is to take fairly hi-res, detailed pictures, I would not recommend using the latter, although they do prove useful for those "Kodak® moments" when you do not have a camera available!   

There are several important things to take into consideration when choosing a digital camera:

  • Resolution (Megapixels)
      • The resolution of a camera is what determines the quality of the picture.  A higher resolution means a larger, sharper photograph.  With digital cameras, the unit of measurement that designates resolution is the megapixel.  The higher the megapixels a camera has, the higher resolution, better quality photos it can take.
  • Camera Brand (In the camera world, brands DO make a difference!)
      • There are a quite a few different camera brands to choose from, especially in the digital market.  These range from from Sony® and Panasonic® , to Canon®  and Nikon® .  However, one thing to keep in mind is that if you know a company has a good reputation in the standard camera market, they are likely to have just as good, if not a better reputation in the digital market.  Companies such as Canon, Nikon, and Olympus® are all strong competitors for high-end digital cameras.  Although companies like Sony also produce good quality digital cameras, the photos aren't nearly as sharp, or detailed as those produced by comparable models by Canon and the like.  However, another major difference between the companies is price.  The Canon cameras tend to be pricier than the Sony models, so in some cases, you get what you pay for.
  • Functions i.e.: Do you want to be able to take extreme close-ups? (macro), or use interchangeable lenses? (SLR cameras and some point-and-shoots)
      • Other important things to consider are what functions you want your camera to have.  Are you looking for just an everyday point-and-shoot, or do you want a higher-end digital SLR? Most of the point-and-shoots come with variable presets, allowing the user to adapt to whatever environment they are photographing.  There are quite a few different presets that tend to come standard now on most digital cameras.  Their names are also fairly intuitive.  Settings such as Portrait, Landscape, and NightShot each change autofocus and lighting settings to accomodate their surroundings.  Other features that you may want to look into include: Macro, which uses a Macro lens allowing the user to take extreme close-up pictures (i.e. detailed photos of flowers, insects, etc...); Manual Exposure and Aperture settings, allows the user to take control of how large the iris of the lens is, and how long it will be "exposed".  The main advantage to owning a digital SLR is the use of high-quality interchangeable lenses.  SLRs are also considered to be professional grade cameras, are much more "manual" than point-and-shoots, and require a bit more knowledge to use.
  • Size (Is the size of your camera a deciding factor?)
      • In today's market, digital cameras come in MANY different sizes.  The tendency is that smaller is better.  Digital cameras are being condensed down to sizes that rival that of a man's wallet.  Some are even beyond that.  If size is an issue for you, then you definitely have plenty of solutions.  An example of how small cameras are becoming is Sony's "Qualia 016".  The camera measures just 2.7" x .9" x .7".  However, one thing to be wary of is that with a drop in size you may also see a drop in quality.  This is not always the case but just something to be aware of.
  • Price (Many higher-end digital cameras tend to be a little pricey, so be aware!)
      • Digital cameras can range in price anywhere from $100 up to $2,000 or more!  Also keep in mind that with most cameras you will want to purchase accessories, i.e. camera case, backup storage cards, etc...  So be sure to allow yourself some cushioning for spending!
  • Storage Medium (Do you have a preference of medium you would like to save your photos to?)
      • Most of the digital cameras today use small memory storage cards, i.e. CF (compact flash), SD (secure digital), SM (Smart Media), or MS (Memory Stick).  These cards range in size anywhere from 32MB up to 2GB or more! (note: there are 1000MB in 1 GB, and the more MBs you have the more pictures you can take!)  I would recommend purchasing at least one backup card to have in case you fill up your original.  Also know that these cards are reusable indefinitely.  Once you have transferred your pictures to your PC, or printed them, you can either back them up to disk, or erase them from your memory card, giving you a brand new empty card!
Links to other Digital Camera Resources:
ZDNet Digital Camera Review  
Digital Photo Shortcourses  
Steve's Digicams
School of
Digital Photography Review  
Kodak Digital Learning Center