Until very recently, the ability to create poster-sized photographs with near-perfect clarity was solely in the hands of professional photographers. The amateur photographer was left with fuzzy 4x6 snapshots developed at the local drugstore. Since the advent of digital point and shoot cameras, the professional and amateur worlds have radically collided. Now, spending a few hundred dollars gives the armchair photographer the power to create the same images as the pros. With new technology, however, comes new terminology. Megapixels? Optical lens? Red-eye reduction? Pronto’s Point and Shoot Digital Camera Buying Guide breaks down these confusing terms and facts so you choose the camera that could make you the next Ansel Adams or Robert Doisneau (see also Digital SLR Camera Buying Guide).
No two point and shoot digital cameras are made alike. Some are small enough to be mistaken for a stack of credit cards, while others mimic the shape and form of miniature 35 mm cameras. Do you see keeping the camera around your neck? Or do you want to be able to slide the camera in your pocket?
On the back of each point and shoot camera is an LCD display that will allow you to view the images. Also, menu items allowing you to change camera operations will be displayed on this screen. Is the menu easy to understand or confusing? Does the screen of camera A have better resolution than the screen of camera B?
Easily on of the most overlooked features before buying a camera, the speed at which the camera takes pictures is very important. If you are using your camera for taking pictures at your kid’s soccer games, speed between pictures is key. You don’t want to wait 4-6 seconds while the digital image saves before you are ready to take your next picture. Shutter speed over 4 seconds is considered slow, while one second is fast. Under 1 second, think about a career as a Paparazzi.
Don’t fall into the ‘more megapixels means a better camera’ trap. Review the discussion of megapixels in the full guide, think of your needs, and see what other features are available in your price range. If you have no desire to create a 20x30 print, but are more interested in using a powerful zoom lens, you would want to go for a camera with a medium megapixel number (4-5, for example) and focus more on the size of the optical zoom lens (12x versus 5x).
One of the most popular extra features on point and shoot cameras. This feature will eliminate the occurrence of a red ‘dot’ that can occur due the light emitting from a flash bouncing off your friend’s pupil.
This is the amount of information that your camera stores digitally. For point and shoot cameras, the numbers range from 2-8MPs. The number will determine the quality of the final output. Remember that 8x10 is the minimum size that all point and shoot cameras will produce with very good quality.
This it the ability for the camera to automatically ‘zoom’ into a subject for greater detail. The number associated with this (5x, 10x) will determine how much detail the camera will produce; the higher the number, the greater the detail.
The memory card is the hard drive of the camera. All of the digital images are stored on the memory card, which is ejected from the camera to download the images on a computer. Memory cards come in different sizes that –with the JPG setting – determine the number of images available.
A JPG is a digital image file. You can set the quality of JPG files on your camera from low to high quality to determine final output. The number of images available in each quality is determined by the size of the memory card.
Why purchase a digital point and shoot camera versus the more traditional film-based camera? You can view your image instantly after shooting and either save it or delete it and shoot again. Also, you’re not limited to the number of exposures on a roll of film—depending upon how much memory your camera has, you can shoot hundreds of images before you run out of room. You’re also able to download images from your digital point and shoot camera and edit or enhance them before printing. Lastly, digital photos are easy to share via email or by posting them to your personal Web site or photo-sharing communities like Flickr, Snapfish and Kodakgallery.com. So, how do you choose a digital point and shoot camera? There aren’t many differences between the major brands, but use the links in this Pronto Buying Guide to study online comparisons.
The days of asking yourself ‘how many more shots do I have on this roll of film?’ have been replaced with ‘how big is this memory card?’ and ‘how many more shots do I have left on it?” Memory cards are thin, interchangeable cartridges that are inserted into your digital point and shoot camera. Your camera saves the image information on the memory card. Think of it as a mini-hard drive for your digital point and shoot camera and just like your computer’s hard drive, digital camera memory cards come in different sizes. It’s important to note that digital camera memory cards are not standard; each camera may have a different sized card, and each card will have different capacities. Unlike film, memory cards can be reused again and again. Once they’re full, clear the images and start again!
Megapixel size determines the quality of the final printed photograph. And, of course, as with all art work that is subjective, this quality lies in the eye of the beholder. Without delving into an in-depth computer science discussion, all you need to know is that a digital point and shoot camera with 2 megapixels will not produce a print with the same quality, at the same size, as one with a higher number (8). What you need depends on what you’re photographing and what you’re going to do with those photos. Snapshots for an album or scrapbooking won’t require the same number of MPs as poster-sized artwork to maintain quality. So, before purchasing your new digital point and shoot camera, you should have an idea of what the largest print is that you’ll want to create (digital point and shoot cameras now offer crystal-clear quality in formats ranging from 11x14 to 16x20 and beyond). Point-and-shoot cameras come in a wide range of resolutions. Most fall in the range of 5 to 8 megapixels of resolution. If you mainly want to print 4 x 6 and 5 x 7 photos without a lot of editing and cropping, something in the 4- or 5-megapixel range is about right. Cameras with higher resolution let you create very nice 8 x 10 or larger prints and give you more latitude for cropping and image editing. Here is an approximate chart of how the number of megapixels relates to the quality of the printed piece in inches:
|Megapixels||Maximum Image Size(inches)|
Keep in mind that images can be created up to at least the next size up for each camera (for example, an 11x14 image with a 2MP camera), but the quality may not be as good. There may be cases where this is your desired effect and sometimes the increase in quality you hear about isn’t visible to the naked eye. As much talk as there is about megapixels, more aren’t necessarily better—other factors also determine which digital point and shoot camera suits your needs.
Virtually all point and shoot digital cameras offer an optical zoom lens, which allows you to ‘zoom’ into your subject for greater clarity or ‘pull back’ for a wider view. All you have to do is press a button and the camera will automatically retract or expand the lens for you, and you’ll see the change occur in the viewfinder (the small rectangular window you look through) or LCD screen (digital screen on the back of the camera). The higher the optical zoom number, the closer you can zoom into your subject.
Additional features will distinguish the different price points among cameras. Whereas the lower-end cameras may have very few manual capabilities, the more expensive cameras may allow the photographer more direct control on the image. Like other higher-priced cameras, these point and shoot cameras could allow the user to manually focus the subject and determine the shutter speed and aperture setting to create advanced photographic effects. Some cameras even have specific features such as red-eye reduction, which eliminates the red glare found in pupils caused by the flash. Finally, with the rapid change of technology, virtually all of the lower-end point and shoot cameras offer plenty of options to make even the most amateur photographer feel like a professional. The 2MP camera – the entry level point and shoot a mere few years ago – is already en route to obsolescence.
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