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Cameras Buying Guide – Key Features

Looking for a new digital camera? If so, the Sears Cameras Buying Guide can help you make sense of the terminology and make an informed camera decision.

 

Key Features

Megapixels

Digital pictures are composed of a series of dots called pixels; one million pixels equal a megapixel. Therefore an 8 megapixel camera captures 8 million pixels. The more megapixels you have, the more detail a camera can capture, which directly translates to how big you can print your picture before it becomes grainy or unclear.

The chart below should help you determine how many megapixels you require:

Print Size Megapixels Required
4x6” 2MP
5x7”    3MP
8x10” 4MP
9x12” 5MP
10x13” 6MP
12x16” 8MP
13x19” 10MP

It’s very important to keep in mind that higher megapixels don’t always produce better prints. The combination of megapixels and the sensor is what will determine the quality of your image (in addition to other factors such as your lens).

Sensor

Instead of film, digital cameras have a small sensor that captures the image in digital format. These sensors record the pixels, and each pixel holds one tiny segment of your image. So, the more pixels a sensor has, the more detailed the image will be. The sensor also has a major impact on the quality of your image, how your lens functions and how it performs in low light conditions.

There are currently two sensors available - CCD and CMOS. While both types of sensors do the same thing, they produce different results. CCD sensors produce high-quality images, but they are more expensive and consume more power. A CMOS sensor is less costly to manufacture and is larger, so its surface is capable of capturing more light. Therefore, they are more sensitive and produce images higher in quality. Due to their size, cameras using CMOS sensors tend to be bulkier. The bottom line is, though, that neither sensor is better than its counterpart, they are simply different.

SD Cards

Once the sensor captures your image, it is saved on an SD card, which is a small, roughly 1” square plastic card that is stored in a small slot inside your camera. SD cards are easily removed and replaced. SD cards range is size from very small (such as a 32 megabyte card, which will hold only a few images) to very large (up to 32 gigabytes, which can hold several thousands high-quality images). A small card may be included with your camera, but it would be in your best interest to invest in a larger card.

Zoom

The zoom function is handy when you want a picture of a subject that is far away but can’t quite get close enough to satisfy your photographic needs. You may see one, two or three different types of “zoom” on the camera specifications: optical zoom, digital zoom and/or total zoom.

Optical zoom is determined by how far the lens can physically extend from the camera body. This will allow you to get “closer” to your subject without actually moving. Using optical zoom will ensure that you don’t lose any image quality and is really the only zoom spec you should look for.

When the optical zoom reaches its end, the digital zoom then kicks in to allow you to appear “closer” to your subject. Digital zoom is in essence an optical illusion as it actually blows up a portion of the image and just enlarges the individual pixels, which in turn creates a lower-quality image that is pixilated and contains additional “noise”. Therefore, digital zoom is more of a bonus; use it sparingly and try not to rely on it like you would the optical zoom.

Total zoom is actually the optical zoom multiplied by the digital zoom. For example: 5x optical zoom and 6x digital zoom equals 30x total zoom. Be sure that the optical zoom is what you are looking for and consider the digital zoom as an added bonus feature.

Image Stabilization

There are any number of elements that can cause an image to become blurry: if any element is moving (the photographer or subject), insufficient light, incorrect manual settings…the list can go on. Even something that may seem insignificant, like the wind or a miniscule shaking of your hand on a cold day can make your image less than 100% sharp, which can ruin an otherwise perfect shot. To compensate for these factors, many cameras have image stabilization built in, where basically part of the lens is movable, so if the camera moves in one direction, the lens will move in the opposite direction to compensate for the motion, resulting in a sharper image.

ISO

The ISO refers to the “speed” of your image sensor. Basically, the higher the number, the more sensitive to light the picture will be. For instance, on a bright, sunny day at the beach, your ISO should probably be 100 to 200; when you’re taking a picture at night or in a room with poor lighting, your ISO could be 1600 or 3200 or higher (in most cases, the numbers double with each step up – 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400 etc). Just keep in mind that the higher the speed, the grainier, or “noisier” the image will be, which will limit the sizes with which you can print your images. The ISO is often automatically chosen by the camera, but if you prefer to handle things manually, most DSLRs have a wide range of ISO options.

LCD Screen

Point-and-shoot cameras usually feature a large, bright LCD screen and no viewfinder; DSLRs usually have an LCD screen to review images and change settings, but pictures are taken by looking through the large, clear viewfinder (which produces a more accurate depiction of the actual image than an LCD representation).

Video

A video option is fairly standard with newer digital cameras, and many are able to shoot in high-definition 1080p, providing you with dazzling motion images that look like they’ve been taken with expensive camcorders. Keep in mind that if you know you’ll never be taking videos you can often find a non-video version of your camera at a more affordable price.

Red Eye Removal

A near-ubiquitous setting, red eye removal ensures that the red eyes you sometimes see in pictures of people or animals is far less noticeable, or gone altogether.

Camera Size

Point-and-shoot cameras are extremely lightweight, compact and flat. They weigh very little, from ½ - 1 pound, and are easily stored in a small pocket. DSLR cameras typically weigh more than one pound, and are often well over that number, especially when you factor in additional lenses.