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Buying a Digital Camera, Pt.2

May 20, 2008 - Dave Hecei
One of the first things to think about when buying a new camera is what do you want to shoot. Are you going to be shooting family snaps or are you into outdoor action/sports or nature? Maybe you want to do portraits or weddings. What you shoot does have some bearing on the type of camera to use.

There are essentially four types of digital cameras available. They can be broken down into: Ultra compact, point-and-shoot, bridge, and DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex).

Ultra Compact (UC): This type of camera has become very popular for the casual user, or even as a secondary camera for the true shutterbug. They are about the size of a deck of cards, sometime even smaller. Newer models now have huge LCD displays, 2.5 or 3 inches, usually taking up the entire back of the camera. The first generation of UCs didn’t have optical zoom capabilities, but today, most models can have a 3 to 5x optical zoom. Some, like the Casio Exilim EX-Z700 and Canon Powershot SD600, have lenses that collapse flat to the camera body. Others, like the Fuji Z100fd and Nikon S6, have optical zooms that do not extend out, the zooming is all internal.

Point-and-Shoot (PS): This is probably the most popular digital camera, making it more difficult to choose one. PS cameras can range in sizes, but are usually fairly compact and easy to carry. They also vary in the range and type of features that appeal to various users. Most of the film camera manufacturers have entry, mid, and advanced level models. For example, Canon has the A, S, and G series PS cameras. The A series cameras have basic features for the snap shooter, while the G series has many more pro-level features, like manual controls, optical viewfinder, a full feature hotshoe , and RAW capture.

Today’s PS cameras have large color LCD displays that act as the viewfinder. Most entry and mid-range PS cameras do not have an optical viewfinder, which is useful because LCDs are hard to see in the bright sun. If there is a viewfinder, usually it is an electronic type, similar to the view through a video camera. Of course, pro-level PS camera will have a true optical viewfinder, just like 35mm PS cameras.

Bridge: This is a hybrid of the DSLR design, but with point-and-shoot’s simplicity, so to speak. Bridge cameras are bigger and have a non-interchangeable lens, usually a large optical zoom lens in the 8-12x range (Olympus has a new model that has an 18x zoom range). Although the lens on a bridge camera is not removable, there usually are accessory lenses that can be added to allow for wide angle, telephoto, or macro shooting.

Most of the bridge cameras are not true SLRs, but can have that feature. The majority have electronic viewfinders, like a video camera, along with the usual LCD display. True SLR bridge cameras do not have this problem. Having a true SLR viewfinder also makes it easier to use filters.

DSLR: The Digital Single Lens Reflex camera is for the ultimate control freak. It is also for the person who wants to learn the art of photography. That’s not to say that you can’t use one of the other classes of cameras to create striking images, but the DSLR will give you much more control and is far more expandable. The two things that set the DSLR aside is the ability to change lenses, and the ability to have full control of focusing and exposure.

DSLRs, when first introduced, where tens of thousands of dollars. Today, DSLRs start under $500 without a lens. Just as in PS cameras, DSLRs have entry, mid, and pro level models. Entry-level models, like the Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi or the Nikon D40x, have most of the features that beginning and intermediate photographers need. The step up to a mid-level camera gets you bigger LCDs, faster focusing and frame rates, and slightly bigger Megapixels. The step up to the pro/advanced level camera, usually a big step in price too, will get you a camera with more pro level features.

Pros need a camera that shoots fast and is built tough. These cameras shoot several frames a second for several seconds, allowing the pro to ‘get the shot’. Pros also use their cameras every day, sometime in hostile conditions. These cameras are built with better seals from dust and moisture, and have stronger shutters and motors.


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