Points to ponder before buying a digital Camera

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So you want to buy a digital camera. Perhaps its your first one, or maybe you are upgrading your old model. What should you be considering?

Often, its only when you have played with your new camera for a while that you notice its shortcomings, this guide will hopefully give you some advice on what to think about,and what questions to ask before handing over your hard earned cash.

In no particular order,  here are the top things to consider.

  • Battery Life / Type of battery used.
  • Addon Lens / Filter Capability
  • Internal / External Flash
  • Remote Control
  • Lens protection
  • Type / Capacity of Removable memory
  • Usage in low light levels
  • Durability
  • Ease of use of controls
  • Speed
  • Megapixel Count

Lets discuss each one in turn. The guide should give you enough information to arm you for  a proper search, or some interesting questions to fire off at the camera store.

Battery Life / Type of battery used.

This is a VERY important aspect, that many people often forget about when the buy a camera, and one you can be sure the camera shop WILL NOT TELL YOU ABOUT unless you ask. Its great having a nice camera to take out for a day trip, but no so great if the battery goes flat after 10 shots, and it uses a proprietary battery that is very hard to find in any shops....

To give you an example, my second digital camera,  a Ricoh RDC5000 was so battery hungery, that if you put in a set of AA batteries from the pound shop, they would go flat after half a second (yes you read that correctly.)

In contrast, my first camera, a Ricoh RDC-2 would last for days on end with the same type of AA batteries.

ASK about battery life, find out how long you can have the camera on, with the display turned on, and using the flash before the battery gives up the ghost. Also find out what type of batteries it uses.

Many cameras now use li-ion batteries, which offer a longer life, in a smaller/lighter space, but these cost more, and can be hard to find outside of specialist camera shops if you are caught short without access to a charger.

Check the availability of the batteries (and how long they will be made for, you dont want to spend hundreds on a camera to find the batteries wont be on sale in three years time......)

Be cautious of buying "third party" batteries, especially li-ion ones, as if they develop a fault, you can bet your bottom dollar the warranty from the seller wont replace your camera that blew up with the battery. Some may be fine, but do your research, and ensure you buy a quality replacement, that has the required built in safety features, and check they are not counterfeit batteries.

Addon Lens / Filter Capability

Whilst many people are happy with a simple point and shoot camera, it is always nice to be able to add on extra lenses if your skill/needs increase over time. Wide angle lenses, Telephoto Zooms, and various special effect filters are available, but can the camera take them?

A digital SLR camera should be able to take addons like this no problem,. but not everyone can afford the high cost of such a camera. Most consumer level digital camera's have built in lenses, and cannot take any addons. However some "prosumer" cameras, such as the Kodak DX6490 do allow addon lenses. In the case of the kodak you buy a cheap "tube" that screws around the existing lens, allowing you to add any standard 55mm accessories. These are available from koday, or ebay sellers. Note many of the ones on ebay are 52mm, so check what size accessories you plan on adding, and make sure you buy the right size addon!

One advantage of having addon lenses, is you can put a UV (ultraviolet) or Skylight filter on the front of your camera, and it protects your original lens from damage/dirt/greasy fingers.

Internal / External Flash

Most, if not all, digital cameras come with a built in flash, and this is fine for most snapshot type photographs. You should make sure the flash is easy to operate (especially in low light conditions, where you may struggle to see tiny buttons on the camera) and it should come with a red-eye mode (a preflash to make pupils contract to reduce the red look in eyes on photographs.)

If you want more control over your flash photography, including the ability to photograph subjects more than a few feet from the camera (most built in flash bulbs have a short range, so things need to be fairly close) then you will need to use a external flash gun. Does the camera allow you to fit a external flash?

If it does, it will either need a "hotshoe" to fit the flash on to, or a PC-Sync lead to plug a external flash in. You will need to check also, what triggering voltage the camera can handle, if you plug a older flash unit into most digital cameras, then you will blow the camera. If you plug a older flash into say a kodak dx6490 then it will be fine, as long as the flash is not over its 500v range (yes 500v!, most cameras die after about 6 or 12v!). 

Remote Control

Can you operate the camera by remote control, for self portrait shots, or shots that require total stillness, no camera movement or shake? Some cameras (for example the old RDC-5000 allow operation via a small infrared remote control, a optional addon). What about a remote shutter release, pretty standard on most film SLR cameras, but a rarity on digital cameras.

Lens protection

Is the lens well protected? It should retract into the body, or stay in the body, when not in use, and should have a easy to use (or better a automatic) lenscap to protect against scratches and dirt.

Type / Capacity of Removable memory

Cameras usually allow you to add "removable" memory cards to store your photo's on, these come in many forms, compact flash, smart media, memory stick, Secure digital and others.

You need to price the cost of addon cards, and make sure you can afford to get a decent sized card for your camera. It is also VERY important to check what size cards the camera can support, my old RDC5000 was limited to a 32 meg card if I remember correctly.Usage in low light levels

Again, not something you may notice in a brightly lit camera store, is how the camera performs in less than ideal lighting conditions. MANY digital cameras have difficulty focusing in low light (especially indoors, or late evening, you may as well give up trying to photo anything with some cameras!)

This is something you should try out for yourself before parting with your cash, as its very frustrating when a auto focus camera wont focus. Check also if you can operate the camera in low light conditions, are the buttons visible, a well designed camera may illuminate the buttons so you can see them in the dark.

Durability

Is the camera well built? Will it survive the knocks, bumps and abuse it will get on your travels, or will it fall apart the first chance it gets? Just search ebay for the amount of cameras on sale as spares or repairs and you will see how easy most cameras are to break..... Get them wet, or drop them and they dont like it.

Is the case metal, or just plastic, painted to look like metal - the paint wears of some cameras, leaving a ugly white plastic showing through.

Ease of use of controls

Very personal this, what is easy to use for one person, is another persons nightmare. Make sure you are happy controlling the camera, if it does not feel intuitive, or the buttons are too cramped, or in awkward positions, move on and find something you will be happy using for long periods of time. Remember you want to be able to switch on, take a photo quickly, not mess around with menu options for five minutes before taking a photo.

Speed

Some cameras are SLOW. You need to ensure you get a camera that operates at a speed you like. Test how long it takes from switch on to taking the first shot, some cameras are about 1 second, some take 6 or more seconds.

See how long it takes to focus, and how long it takes writing the photo to the memory card, before it is ready for the next shot. You will quickly get frustrated if you miss great shots because your camera takes 3 seconds to do anything after you press the shutter button, and takes 10 seconds before you can take the next shot!

Megapixel Count (is it real?)

Just because a seller lists a camera as "10 mega pixels",does not have to mean it really IS a 10 mega pixel camera, often they are "interpolated" which means its only a 2 or 3 megapixel camera and the pics are enlarged on camera or in software to 10 megapixel size.

There are many guides that will talk you through how many mega pixels you need for certain tasks, you may be suprised that you dont always need a super high megapixel camera for your needs. Do some research, find out if it can print the size prints you need, and look for yourself. (also check how much the camera compresses the images, too much compression, and the picture lacks detail, too little and you can only store a handful of pics on the card.)

Hopefully you now have some extra thoughts to consider before deciding which camera you want,dont forget to read reviews of the cameras on the internet, look for example photographs from that model, and most of all, hold the camera in your hand, and try it out!

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