What Should You Look for in a New Camera?

These parameters are discussed at 2 levels:

-Based on degree of functional use of available features

-Based on the type of photography you want to attempt

-->Based on degree of functional use of available features

A person who is happy with his or her camera model usually responds with the following words of praise.

'Incredible ease of use'

'User-friendly controls'

'Intelligently and thoughtfully designed'

'Excellent value for money'

'Light and compact'

These are the kind of terms that you will come across from camera owners who are satisfied with their camera models. These superlatives sum up what people usually look for or could look for at an overall level in their camera. It is a broad evaluation based on design elements, size and affordability.

Before you make a decision to purchase you should explore a little further and study the type of features available to you. Unless you make the attempt to understand the features at your disposal, there is the risk of being stuck with a model that does not suit your particular requirements. Let's take a look at what features you should look for, as well as the features that you should be wary of when you choose a camera system.

-->Features to Look For

1. The lens is by far the most important device in your camera. The quality of the lens ensures the sharpness of your image. The camera lens is described by length (given in mm), known as the focal length of the lens. 50mm is the standard focal length in a lens. A lens of shorter length is known as a wide-angle lens and is used usually by landscape photographers. A lens with focal length greater than 50mm is called a telephoto lens and is especially useful to professional photographers in capturing distant images.

There are also cameras with a zoom lens. A zoom lens can offer various focal lengths, so you have a lens capable of many focal lengths. Simple put, when you use a zoom lens you can make your subject bigger or smaller within the frame.

For instance, a wide-angle zoom can cover a range of focal lengths below 50mm, or a telephoto zoom gives you a range of higher order focal lengths. Some superior zoom lenses can take you from wide angle to standard and through to telephoto ranges. The power of the zoom lens is defined by the extent of magnification from a lower focal length to a higher end and is given as 2x, 3x and so on.

Some lens tips:

--A 50mm or 100mm lens is considered adequate for most non-professional hobby users. The professionals usually go for telephoto lenses of 200mm or more. A lens with higher focal length costs a lot more. Most beginners don't need to invest in a telephoto lens.

--Check if your camera is compatible with the range of lenses that the manufacturer of your model has on offer. Most manufacturers have hundreds of lens options on offer and your requirement for lenses varies as you progress in photography. Your camera has to be compatible with lenses of higher focal length and speed. If you are planning to upgrade your camera by buying another model from the same manufacturer, check for compatibility with older accessories so that you can put to use some of the lenses already available with you and save yourself an additional expense.

2. Depth-of-field preview button

A depth-of-field preview button is a necessity if you want to achieve better focus. It allows you to identify the area that will be in focus in your photograph. This area is referred to as the 'depth of field'. When you adjust the focus in your camera the preview button is a useful tool that can help you vary the focus and depth of field in different shots.

3. Image sensor resolution

In digital cameras, there is no film in use but this is instead replaced by a device called the image sensor. The image sensor renders colors, is sensitive to light and is the device that captures images in small pixels on its surface.

Image resolution is a measure of the sharpness or level of detail in photographic images. Image resolution is expressed as a number and is measured in mega pixels. High-end professional use cameras have an image sensor resolution of around 12 mega pixels and the most advanced professional models go up to almost 14 mega pixels. At the mid range you have camera models with resolution ranging from 2 - 6 mega pixels. To deliver large format prints of superior quality, you should go for models with resolution greater than 3 mega pixels. At the lower end, you have models of 1 mega pixel or less and the sharpness of the photograph is slightly inferior compared to cameras with higher values of image sensor resolution. Lower pixel models are best suited for small format prints.

4. If you have the facility for Auto-bracketing it can be a very useful tool. Auto-bracketing enables the camera to automatically take 3 exposures or in some cameras 5 exposures of the same shot by varying the Exposure Value (EV) to lighten or darken an image. Each of the images will be slightly differently exposed and this is a great tool to ensure that you capture the moment perfectly. You can bank on at least one being a properly exposed picture. This tool comes in handy especially for professional photographers.

5. If tonal quality of the photograph is your top priority when you choose a camera then it is best that you go for a digital camera. Photographic prints of scenes captured on a digital camera have a level of tonal quality that is far superior to best quality traditional prints.

6. There are sophisticated camera models available today that can capture movement and audio-visual images. If you want to go beyond static images and capture the first steps of a child or activities during family get-togethers, then you should look for a camera with these advanced capabilities. It will create a better experience when you go down memory lane. The Kodak Easyshare LS753 Zoom Digital Camera is one such model that offers audio-visual capability.

-->Features to be Wary Of

Some features or the lack of certain functions can prove to be a stumbling block for a photographer. Be careful when you select your camera system and pick those models where such drawbacks are minimized or not present. Being aware of such drawbacks is important if you want to make a smart choice.

1. If you want to go in for a camera model with a zoom lens, look for an optical zoom, not a digital zoom. The optical zoom provides variable focal length whereas a digital zoom merely increases the magnification in the center portion of the picture. If the camera you choose has both optical and digital zoom, then make sure that you can disable digital zoom.

2. Some cameras are not all that effective in low light conditions and dark places, the flash a not powerful enough. Be sure you don't select such a model.

3. The shift between exposure-modes should be a simple one-step process. In some models shifting between 'shutter priority' and 'aperture priority' takes longer since it is a little more complicated, involving more than one step in the process of shifting between modes.

4. In some camera models you run into the problem of dust collecting in the film compartment. Look out for any obvious fine openings that can cause this problem.

5. Slow and noisy Auto Focusing can be irritating. Look for a quieter model.

6. A camera has to have the four key exposure modes: auto, manual, aperture priority and shutter priority. There are models with many more exposure modes but choose such models only if your requirements warrant the confusion that goes along with having a whole host of exposure modes.

-->Based on the Type of Photography Your Want to Attempt

You choice of camera and the functions that you need depend quite a bit on the type of photography that you go in for.

1. If you are into wildlife photography, look for a camera that includes Center-weighted metering.

Center-weighted metering is considered best by wildlife photographers for the flexibility it offers. With the center-weighted meter the attention is on the center of the frame as the meter reads the light reflected from the subject. The sensitivity of the meter is concentrated on the subject located at the center of the picture frame. You can adjust the size of the sensing area to 8mm, 15mm or 20mm based on the size of the subject and its distance from you. Nikon is credited with introduced the world's first Center-Weighted Meter.

2. For landscape photographers, the key features suggested are -a spot meter, a wide angle lens and a memory exposure lock. These three features are considered the perfect tools for landscapes.

The spot meter allows for creative thinking when you compose your shot because the spot meter has a major role to play when you want to meter only a small portion of the scene. The spot meter allows for concentrating the meter's sensitivity on a chosen spot of the scene during exposure. Using a spot meter can be time consuming but its application in executing creative ideas makes the time spent worthwhile. For instance, taking a shot of the sun setting over the sea or capturing the pattern of snow atop a mountain peak can be done with the help of a spot meter. The memory exposure lock is the mechanism with which you can lock the spot meter reading. The camera will use the locked in reading when you click for an exposure.

A wide-angle lens is capable of highlighting objects in the center or foreground. In landscape photography the tendency is to usually have a prominent object like a tree, landmark or person in the foreground to emphasize the scale of the picture against the distant elements in the scenic setting. This feature brings out the depth in the photograph and the wide-angle lens makes this effect possible.

3.Those who indulge in trekking and mountaineering and are looking for functions that is adaptable in contrasting light conditions such as night-time camp fire or early morning at sunrise or at sun-set, should go in for a feature known as 'multi segment metering'. The multi-segment meter divides the frame into several areas and takes into account the different tones of color in the scene.

4. If you are an inveterate traveler then the camera size and weight should probably be a key consideration. Compact, light cameras are ideal during travel or for trekking.

5. Digital cameras are evolving at a rapid pace in their capabilities. Available to you are cameras that can offer 'programmed scene modes' for different types of photography situations and these options are available to you within the same camera model. For instance, the Kodak Easyshare LS753 zoom digital camera has around nineteen automatic scene modes. The mode can be varied depending on the subject and the scene before you, such as - children, snow, beach, backlight, flower or fireworks. This model also has the night mode for night shots and the sport mode that allows you to capture action without the problem of blurring. If your interest in photography is varied but you don't have the technical knowledge to change the settings for different scenes and subjects, then a digital model with automatic programmed scene modes is your best bet.

6. For beginners still learning the ropes of photography, the criteria for selection should be on features that simplify usage rather than those that complicate the process of learning. For instance, some cameras have a feature called the viewfinder LED. This feature allows the camera to determine the shutter speed that is required for a proper exposure. If you don't use the right setting, the LED changes from green to yellow to give a warning that the shutter speed is too slow to get a sharp picture. This is a form of auto-assistance that can be a big help to a new photography enthusiast.

To sum up, it is imperative that you explore all your options before you make a final purchase, no matter how time-consuming this process may be. The Internet is a great way to do some pre-purchase information search. Do your Internet research to shortlist options - most major camera manufacturers have websites with extensive product descriptions and price details. You can also do your cost comparisons online at sites like shopping.com. Shopping.com lists 410 products in Point and Shoot Cameras, 153 products in 35mm SLR Cameras, 1,500 products in Digital Cameras besides other camera types and accessories.

Once you have a shortlist, make a visit to the retail outlets. Check out a few alternatives brands and models based on your requirements. Assess them on size, weight, ease-of-use of controls and features. A beginner usually looks for a user-friendly model with significant simplicity in operation. Camera models with manual dials are considered easier to use and quicker to learn and manage by some beginners. But some prefer the panel of buttons. Choose the type that suits you. Ease of use in placement of buttons has to be checked. You have to be comfortable with the 'layout' of the various buttons when you handle your camera. The placement of the control layout has to be logical.

And then finally, zero in on the camera that you want. Anyone who wants to experiment, learn and enjoy photography should look for a model that is versatile. For example, your ideal camera could be one with a combination of optical zoom lens of 3x magnification (this is a standard level), a depth of field preview button and an image sensor resolution of at least 3 mega-pixels.

If you make the right choice, your camera system can take you on a long fruitful journey of creativity, learning and fun.

The author, Chris Haslego, is founder of http://www.cameramanualstore.com, the internet's foremost source of camera manuals. With over 4000+ camera manuals available from all major manufacturers.

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