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Digital camera choice, SLR or compact?

Elvis Elvis

Digital photography was, for a long time, out of reach of most people, other than the very rich. It was certainly many years before I took the plunge and bought my first digital Nikon ! Not only was the cost too restrictive, but the quality of the early systems just wasn’t a match for good ol’ film.

But now, the technology is well within the reach of most amateur photographers, and has become an exciting and rewarding hobby for many more people than ever took an interest in film photography.

Everyone now seems to own, or is thinking of owning, a digital camera of some description. But apart from pointing at something and clicking, most never use the camera to its full potential, and then wonder why the results are so poor. Anyone can produce photographs to be proud of – or even make an income from.

The popularity of this medium must also be due to the fact that you get an instant result. No more waiting weeks until the film in the camera has finished, and then more delay while the film is away being developed. Photos can even be quickly and easily shared with friends and family all over the world by e-mail.

Unlike film, which has to be bought and developed, the process of retrieving the image is done by your home computer. So, there is no other cost involved, unless you want to make prints of course. Once downloaded, memory cards can then be cleared and used over and over again.

Relativly affordable, no film to buy, or to develop, instant results, and easy to use. Looks like digital photography is here to stay !

Before purchasing your new camera, even if it’s not your first one, there are a few important things to consider.

Digital cameras are usually very different between makes, as manufacturers try to come up with different styling and functions. And even models in the same manufacturers range can vary tremendously.

This will become very apparent when you try to choose between two or three models. Chances are, each one will have some features you like, but none will have everything that suits you. It would be great if you could pick and choose all of your favorite features and have them available in one camera, but compromises will probably have to be made.

Digital camera choice, SLR or compact?

My own cameras are not very old, but already they are obsolete ! Unfortunatly, the subsequent models don’t suit me personally, so for the time being I’m sticking to what I’ve got.

Recently, prices have dramatically dropped for many cameras. Single Lens Reflex (SLR) cameras that cost £500.00 to £600.00 a year or two ago can now be had for £300.00 to £400.00. In this price range, these cameras will have great features, traditional styling and an interchangable lens systems. They are similar in appearance and style to the old 35mm film cameras, and the preferred format for most professionals.

At the compact end of the market, you will still find 10 mega pixels, an LCD monitor, optical zoom, a removable media card, rechargeable lithium batteries, and in some cases a docking station, for £100 to £200.

There are cheaper cameras available, but they may have very few features, as well as a digital zoom instead of an optical. Digital zooms simply enlarge an area of the image, therefore the quality will be reduced (imagine taking a small area of a negative from your old film camera, and getting it enlarged into a print, the result would be grainy and un-sharp).

If cost is really an issue, look for retailers selling off older stock when a new model is released. Sometimes, the only difference will be in the styling, or slightly more mega pixels – but you could pick up a real bargain and save £100′s !

Cameras at all price points will include software specific to the camera. The software is also very likely to include basic photo editing.

Before making a choice, think about what you want from your camera. Ask yourself :

What will I use it for ?

If you intend to put your photos online, you may not need one with high mega pixels. Even with a broadband connection, high resolution images can take a long time to load. The higher the resolution, the slower a photo will load on the internet.

If you want to make large prints, the higher mega pixel is the best choice. Each pixel contains information that makes up the detail in the image. A photo looses sharpness and detail once it is enlarged past the point that the available pixels can cope with. Therefore, more pixels – more detail !

If you want the best of both worlds, buy a higher (6 to 10) mega pixel camera, and adjust the settings depending on what you want to do with the image. The best option of course, is to shoot everything at the best quality on the camera, then reduce it on the computer using a suitable software , if that’s what you need.

How large do I need the LCD monitor to be ?

Most LCD monitors measure between 1.5 and 2.5 inches diagonally. This is adequate in most cases, but it is often difficult to see much detail, especially in bright sunlight. With the SLR system, most people use it in exactly the same way as the old 35mm film camera – through the viewfinder.

Some compact cameras also have a viewfinder as well as the LCD screen, which eliminates the sunlight problem. But the eye-piece does tend to be a bit on the small side, and what you see through it may not be exactly what is captured by the camera !

Is the size of the camera important to me ?

Obviously, the smaller the camera – the easier it is to carry around. Again the answer depends on what you want from your photography. When travelling, a compact camera can be carried in a shirt pocket or a small bag, and is always to hand for a quick shot. Also, if you have large hands, the view finder is often placed in such a way that your fingers get in the way and can ruin an otherwise great photo.

But for a landscape image that will be printed up large, you will also need other equipment, like a tripod, so the compact size of a camera is not really an issue.

I use my SLR system for 99% of the photographs I take, but I never leave home without a camera of some description. Walking the dogs, going to the shops, driving to the cinema – a photo opportunity can present itself at any time. So my compact camera is always with me -just in case!

What type of digital media card you prefer ?

Unlike film cameras that produce images on a roll of film, a digital camera writes the photos to a storage device. These devices, commonly called media cards, work similarly to each other, but differences include their size and shape, their storage size and their write speed. The camera manufacturer decides which type of storage card to use, and they are not interchangable. Unless it’s one of the very early digital cameras, each model will use some type of media card, whether it is the SD (secure digital) card, the compact flash, the MMC (multi-media) card, or the memory stick.

If you own another device such as a digital photoframe or an MP3 player that use memory cards you may prefer to choose a camera that uses the same type. Memory cards save photos files, data files and music files.

What is my preference for transfering digital photo files into my computer ?

In order to see the photos on your computer you first have to transfer the files. This can be done by using the USB cable that comes with the camera, by using a memory card reader, or by using a camera dock.

Any of these methods are ideal, but there are considerations with each one:

When transferring files directly from your camera through a USB cable, the cameras battery power is used. If the batteries run down during the transfer, you will lose your images.

Memory cards can be removed from the camera and slotted directly into the computer, providing your computer has this facility. If not, you can buy a memory card reader which connects to the computer via a USB cable. Make sure the reader is compatible with your card type, or buy one that accepts multi-types.

A digital camera dock usually comes with the camera when you buy it, and transfers the files while charging the camera batteries. Not all cameras are able to use docks, so your choice of cameras is limited.

The JPEG file format is widely used to write photo images to the media card. The file format choice is important because as technology advances, there are no guarantees that a lesser file format will continue to be supported. If you do not own the software that reads the discontinued file format you may not be unable to open the image file. This is an important consideration when buying pre-owned equipment.

Camera Care

Digital cameras are small computers, and they have a circuit board inside that is somewhat delicate. Protect the camera as much as you can with a suitable bag and try not to let it drop or bang into anything

Extreme temperatures can damage your camera. Never leave it closed up in a hot car, or in direct sunlight. If the weather is really cold, allow the camera to warm up a bit before taking pictures. Keep compact cameras in an inside pocket of your clothing – preferably close to the body.

By choosing the appropriate digital camera for your wants and needs and by following a few simple photography tips you can have a great time capturing Dartmoor, or anywhere else you might be.

Remember though, whatever your choice, it’s what you do with it that counts.

But if you’re not happy with a photo – just take another one ! You are only limited by your imagination and the size of your memory card. Delete the ones that you are unhappy with and share the photos that you are proud of.