The Whole Picture

Megapixels still matter a lot to shoppers, in part because manufacturers and retailers hype that specification above all others. If you’re having a hard time figuring out which camera to buy, you may be tempted to make a decision based solely on megapixel count.  Please don’t do that!

A camera needs more than just a high pixel count to take great pictures, so pay attention to other traits as well. For example, a slow camera that takes too much time between shots may miss the best action. A camera with no manual controls may take fabulous shots in bright sunlight, but lousy ones in more poor conditions.

Important Features You Need to Know About

Resolution: If you intend to take pictures only to e-mail them to friends or to print at snapshot size, a camera of most any resolution will do. Even so, having more pixels gives you greater flexibility–you can print sharper pictures at larger sizes, or crop and print small sections of pictures.

Size, weight, and design: To some users, how much a camera weighs and whether it fits in a pocket may be more important factors than resolution. Small cameras are convenient, but they frequently have tiny dials and buttons that make changing settings very difficult.

Zoom lens: Inexpensive cameras often lack a powerful optical zoom lens. If we had to choose between a camera with more optical zoom and one with higher resolution, we’d take the model with the more powerful zoom lens. A few cameras now offer zoom ratings of up to 10X. These lenses are great for nature or sports photography, but you may need a steady hand or a tripod to avoid blurry pictures at extreme telephoto lengths.

Warning about advertised zoom:  Many vendors combine the optical zoom (which moves the lens to magnify the subject) with digital zoom, which merely captures fewer pixels and magnifies those. A rating of 24X total zoom (3 X Optical/8 X digital) is not as good as 10X Optical Zoom.

Manual focus: For close-ups or situations in which the camera can’t get a focus lock, switching to manual focusing can help you get the shot.  This can be very important.

Storage: Does the camera come with a storage card?  If so, what is the capacity?  What type of storage card does it accept and is that card readily available from stores or is a proprietary card. On the highest resolution of your camera how many pictures can it hold.

Batteries: We strongly recommend “AA” or “AAA” Nickel Metal Hydride.  These are readily available in local stores and are rechargeable.  Digital cameras use a lot of battery power so don’t try to use alkaline batteres.

Exposure settings: All digital cameras let you shoot in fully automatic mode–just press the shutter release and you get a picture. However, if you want a little more control over lighting and exposure etc., make sure to get one with manual controls too.

Menus: When evaluating a camera, consider how easily you can reach common settings–resolution, macro mode, flash, and exposure adjustments–and how easily you can play back just-taken images. Too many buttons, and you waste time trying to figure out which button does what; too many menus, and you waste time digging through them.

White balance: Almost all digital cameras allow you to choose a white-balance setting via presets. This setting helps adjust for the harsh lighting that most automatic flashes generate.

LCD and viewfinder: Almost all digital cameras have an LCD screen; these vary in size from 1.8 to 2.5 inches. The smaller size limits your ability to review just-taken images on the camera. A good LCD is essential for knowing whether you got the shot you wanted, and can usually give you an indication of whether it was properly exposed.


Well, this little article won’t make you an expert, but it will help you make a more informed decision.  And as always, we’re available for consultation.