Find Your Perfect Camera
Once you’ve decided how you’re going to use your camera, there’s still the challenge of figuring out which one to buy. If the dozens of brands weren’t hard enough to keep track of, picking a digital camera sometimes feels like a trip back to kindergarten with all the new numbers and letters to learn. There are MPs and D-lighting, and what’s that number with the F beside it? Here’s all you need to know from aperture to zoom:
The Lingo: 7 Key Words
(Or only 2 if you’re going to stay on automatic)
Abbreviated MP, the megapixel refers to the millions of tiny, tile-shaped bits that come together to create a digital picture, the more MPs, the better-quality image – so take this into account when buying (though for most purposes 7.2 MP will do the trick). More megapixels give higher “resolution” to the picture, making it possible to use the image to create larger items (such as poster-sized prints) or to zoom in on parts of the image. Although be warned that the higher resolution from more megapixels does not guarantee a picture is sharp; that’s up to your photography skills.
Short for Digital Single Lens Reflex camera, it just means your camera comes with detachable lenses – fancy. These cameras usually have an automatic setting, but they’re also set up with a variety of options to give you control over your pictures. Usually more expensive, they’re also more versatile than a standard point and shoot, because you can change lenses depending on the context of the picture or the effects you want.
- Point and shoot
A camera with just one lens, which usually retracts inside the body when it’s powered off. Generally less expensive, they’re smaller and easier to carry. The point and shoot digital cameras typically allow you to view the scene on an LCD screen BEFORE you take the picture (an option on some DSLRs but not all) and offer the fully automatic capability that’s easy for anyone to use.
- Aperture (a.k.a. “F-stop”)
The number with the “f/” beside it is the aperture, sometimes called the “F-stop” on a camera, and you’ll be learning a lot about this if you plan to turn off full automatic mode. Technically referring to the amount of light that will come through the hole in the lens, it describes the depth of field a camera is capable of capturing. The larger f/ numbers make for a longer depth of field, meaning objects farther away from the camera will be equally in focus to those nearby. The smaller f/ numbers represent the opposite and are better for portraits or other photos focused on just one object or person. A camera with an “Aperture Priority” setting will allow you to decide the depth of field while the camera automatically sets other factors to help create the best photo for the conditions.
- Shutter speed
Another set of numbers to learn if you’re going to go manual, the shutter speed is often seen as a fraction such as 1/1000 or 1/250. Adjusting those numbers changes how much light the camera collects and how quickly a photo is taken. Fast shutter speeds (i.e. higher numbers on the bottom of the fraction) are optimal for freezing the action, such as the movement at a child’s soccer game. The longer exposures (a lower number on the bottom of the fraction) are best for low-light, non-flash situations, such as a child blowing out his birthday candles.
Technically, it means International Standards Organization and refers to your camera’s sensitivity to light, ISO is another number range that determines the quality of your shot, if you’re using your camera on manual. Low numbers (think 100 to 400) are good in most lighting conditions. High numbers are better for low light (a cloudy day or indoors with no flash), so look for a camera with a wide ISO range.
- White Balance
Most of today’s cameras offer an automatic white balance setting. Because different lighting conditions will alter the colors in your photograph, learning to adjust the white balance allows you greater control over the quality of your photo. This is another setting that will help you get great photos, but an automatic mode will pre-determine this for you.