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Digital Cameras

Digital cameras are popular with amateur and professional photographers.

Digital Cameras

Digital cameras have been clicking along, gaining popularity in both the amateur and professional markets. With price tags ranging from under $200 to more than $1,000, it can be hard to focus on what features are most important. Digital cameras that do not use an interchangeable lens system are considered point-and-shoot models. In addition to the type of lens, the image resolution also affects the quality of photos. Unlike film cameras, which capture images by exposing strips of film to light, digital cameras capture images by translating light into picture files that are transferred to computers for storage, manipulation and printing.

Digital Camera Features

Digital camera shoppers should compare features such as shooting modes, video recording, red-eye reduction and digital zoom, as well as the camera's battery life. Shooting modes allow the user to take good pictures under variable conditions, such as low light or a subject in motion. Many of these cameras also shoot video, which makes them useful in situations where it would be impractical or inconvenient to carry both a still camera and a camcorder. Cameras with red-eye reduction prevent the flash from reflecting in the subject's eyes, so the pupils don't appear red. Digital cameras equipped with digital zoom allow users to get closer to their subjects after having already taken their photos without uploading them to a computer and magnifying them with photo editing software.

Battery life is an important consideration for photographers who will be snapping many pictures. Lithium-ion rechargeable batteries last the longest, but require an available power source for recharging. Cameras that work with either a rechargeable battery or disposable batteries offer the best bet for always having a functioning camera.

Digital Camera Lenses

There are five categories of digital camera lenses -- fixed-focal-length, folded optics lens, retractable zoom lens, fixed zoom lens and digital single-lens reflex (SLR) -- each with disadvantages and advantages:

  • Fixed-focal-length plastic lenses have a lower image quality and do not have zoom capability, but are inexpensive and allow for a compact camera size.
  • Cameras with an optics lens that folds into the camera also have a lower image quality, but this design allows slimmer profile and well-protected lens.
  • Cameras with a retractable zoom lens automatically extend and retract the lens when the camera is turned on and off. This popular camera design is limited to 3x magnification, but combines a higher image quality with a compact design.
  • Fixed zoom lenses allow a more serious photographer to attach lens converters for wide-angle and close-up shots. The zoom ranges increases up to 18x magnification, but the bulkier design and more complicated controls are not for everyone.
  • Digital SLRs allow the user to interchange lenses and may work with existing lenses from a 35mm film camera. Digital SLRs have the best image quality and don't require buying a new camera to upgrade to a higher lens quality. However, they are the most expensive and tend to be heavier than other digital cameras.


Image Resolution

Digital images are composed of tiny bits of color called picture elements or pixels. A megapixel, which is the standard unit of measurement for digital cameras, contains one million pixels. The more megapixels a digital camera can capture, the higher the detail and size its images will be. Cameras with high megapixel counts usually cost more than cameras with low megapixel counts. According to PC Magazine most consumers shopping for point-and-shoot cameras should focus on features other than a model's megapixel rating. For a budget-conscious consumer who mainly will be e-mailing photos and printing 4-by-6-inch pictures, most digital cameras will have the necessary resolution. A more serious photographer, who will be printing photos that are at least 8-by-10 inches, should look at digital cameras with at least 8 megapixels.

Methods of Image Storage

A digital camera works much like a 35mm single-lens reflex camera. When the camera's shutter is released, a small set of curtains raises to allow light through the lens system. This light strikes an image sensor where the information is transferred to the digital camera's processing engine and then the image data are stored on some form of media, usually a solid-state memory card. Many of the first digital cameras stored data on flash memory modules within the camera, which the user could then transfer to a computer via a serial cable. Some models offered other media storage options like floppy disc, compact discs or mini-discs.

Digital cameras made more recently utilize flash memory cards such as CompactFlash and Memory Stick. Removable flash memory cards contain a portable data storage device that is very similar to a computer's hard drive. When one of these cards is inserted into a camera, it receives data from the processing engine and stores it until it is removed and then plugged directly or through an adaptor into a computer for data transfer.

The End of Film

The New York Institute of Photography has suggested that 35mm film cameras may soon become obsolete and that digital imaging now accounts for more than half of the images taken with cameras. Even though some people, including professionals like landscape photographers, still prefer film, digital cameras appear poised to become the standard tool for amateur and professional photographers alike.

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