Ten Questions To Ask When Buying A Compact Digital
There is one important question to have answered before setting out to find the perfect compact digital camera: 'How do I want to use this new camera?' Answering this question will highlight the key features we must have in order to get the best results from a shopping trip. The answer will also quickly steer us toward the right family of compact cameras.
Now we have our select group of camera identified. Look at this group and ask these ten questions to find just the right fit.
1) How many megapixels does the camera have? Though cameras have had enough megapixels for a few years now there can be such a thing as too many megapixels! The more megapixels a camera offers the larger the file will be when the image is captured. These larger files will take up more space on your computer. Generally look for a camera with between 10 and 14 megapixels.
2) What is the zoom range? Zoom lenses are expressed in magnification from their shortest length. A lens with three power magnification (written as 3X) has a telephoto magnification which makes subjects appear three times closer than they do at the lenses widest setting. 3X, 5X and 7X are common zoom ranges with 10X to 20X (or more) available on some cameras.
a. Be aware that only optical zoom matters. Every camera has digital zoom but digital zoom significantly degrades picture quality.
b. If you are choosing between two cameras ask for a comparison at their widest lens setting. Not all camera lenses start at the same wide setting!
3) What is the size of the LCD panel on the back of the camera? Common LCD sizes range from 2.5' to 3.5' when measured diagonally. Larger LCD's mean that the camera's menus are easier to read and your pictures are easier to compose. As you can imagine, if your need is for a shirt-pocket sized compact it will have a correspondingly smaller LCD on the back.
4) What kind of batteries does the camera use? While some digital compact cameras use AA batteries, most will use rechargeable lithium ion battery packs. The size of the battery determines how compactly the camera can be made. Lithium ion batteries allow for the most compact and slimmest camera designs.
a. Which battery type is better? That is strictly your choice. Perhaps AA batteries are best if you are a low volume shooter. They can be found at any gift shop or convenience store in the world.
b. Lithium ion batteries generate more shots per charge but you must take your charger with you on a trip. Some camera owners prefer the reusable lithium ion because they believe them to be a 'greener' choice.
5) How long is the manufacturer's warranty? Most cameras come with a one-year warranty while there are a few that have a six-month warranty. Sometimes camera makers will offer extended warranties that add from one to three more year's coverage. The manufacturer's extended warranty is slightly more desirable than a third party extended warranty.
a. How is the manufacturer warranty honored? Can you bring the defective camera back to the place of purchase for warranty fulfillment assistance or must you send it in yourself?
b. Is the warranty the manufacturer's US warranty? This is a big issue. If the camera you purchase doesn't specifically include the manufacturer's US warranty your camera will not be repaired under warranty by a factory authorized facility. In fact, the repair facility will immediately return the camera unrepaired.
6) What camera will solve my most frequent picture taking problem? Are you forever taking pictures in a specific situation and getting poor shots? Make sure that you raise this issue while looking for your camera. There may be a camera model that fills this need perfectly that you weren't aware of.
7) What comes in the box with the camera? Each camera should come with a full set of CD's that include the computer driver and image management software. There should be an instruction book. Cables should be provided to connect the camera to your computer and to your TV. Batteries are included with every camera by the manufacturer. If the camera uses a lithium ion battery it should be included along with the charger. A neck or wrist strap should be in every box too.
a. Check the manufacturer's website if you are in doubt. All manufacturers list 'what's in the box' for each model they sell. Too often we hear of customers who think they have found a great buy but find instead a stripped out kit. By the time they purchase all of the items that were originally included in the box by the manufacturer they have paid MORE than the standard shelf price for the model.
8) What type of memory card does this camera use? While this was a much more important question several years ago, today there are only three dominate types of card in general use: Secure Digital (SDHC), Compact Flash (CF), and Sony Memory Stick. Each has some slight advantage for a given purpose, but all do the same basic job and they do it well. While most cameras have some small amount of built-in memory, you will need to purchase a memory card with the camera.
9) What kind of video does the camera shoot? You would be hard pressed to find a camera that doesn't shoot video today. But what kind? High definition video is preferred and it is useable on an HDTV, Facebook or YouTube. However standard definition video is quite acceptable to many users. Just be clear which camp you fall into before you purchase.
a. Be aware that many cameras cannot be directly connected to an HDTV If this kind of connectivity is desired make sure that the camera offers an HDMI port. Also be aware that the camera may have the port but the HDMI cable is seldom if ever supplied in the camera's box.
10) How durable is this camera? While every camera needs to be treated like what it is a box full of glass some cameras are known to be more fragile. Often cameras with super long zoom lenses are prone to lens damage while fully extended. Other less expensive models may exhibit weaknesses involving their LCD panels or maybe their battery doors.
a. There are cameras that are made to take rougher handling. These cameras are usually waterproof and may also be impact resistant. They should be the choices for photographers who want lots of outdoor usage while boating, camping or cycling.
Summary: Even after getting all of the answers to our questions there is always going to be some compromise. Nobody has designed the ideal do-everything camera yet. However if we ask the right questions and evaluate the answers carefully we are sure to find something very close to our dream camera!