Buying a camera this Christmas?

December 05, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

As Christmas fast approaches, our minds turn toward the festivities that lie ahead. Office parties, family get togethers, house parties are part and parcel of what makes Christmas time a special and fun time of the year. It is also one of the best excuses to get out the camera and capture some great memories and that has prompted me to write a short blog regarding purchasing a camera, either as a gift or as a special treat for yourself.

Let me start by briefly touching on the camera phone, which has probably become the most common form of camera used today. Most camera phones come with at least 2 Mega pixels, on average 5 MP (mega pixels) and some of the higher end phones will include an 8MP camera or better. I dont want to get too bogged down with technical jargon here but a quick explanation of mega pixels would be as follows:

The image on the left shows pixels. Digital cameras capture images as pixel elements, known as pixels. Simply put, a megapixel is equal to one million pixels.

Digital images are made up of thousands of these tiny, tile-like picture elements. The more pixels, the higher the image resolution. But what is image resolution? Well image resolution relates primarily to print size and the amount of detail an image has when viewed on a computer monitor  at 100%. The more of these "square tiles", called pixels, are contained in an image, the better quality that image will be, both printed and viewed on screen.

 

The typical mobile phone on sale today contains a camera as a standard feature and the quality of the camera is often judged solely on its megapixel count. The general idea is the higher the number, the better the quality. However this is not always the case. Whereas some phone manufactures will include a high level of camera software in the making of the phone, most do not, relying heavily on promoting the mega pixel number (MP). Take a photo in the phone shop and it will look fine on the phone. It will be pin sharp and well exposed. However you are viewing an image on a screen no bigger than 3" x 2". That is fine if all you want to do with that image is stick your phone in someone's face and say "Hey look at this great pic I took on my phone!" or if you want to forward it on to another phone, or post it on a social media site. There is alot to be said for the camera phone. They are handy, convenient and allow you to share your picture immediately. However the quality when printing an image taken on a mobile phone will be poor in most cases. You might get away with a 6"x4" print but anything larger will be just a fuzzy series of dots on a page with the idea of an image in there somewhere. This is because alot of the software needed to convert digital images to high quality prints is simply not included in the manufacturing of all but the highest end moblie phones.

So, armed with that knowledge you now need to determine what is important to you when you take a photograph. Is it the convienence of just taking your phone out of your pocket? Is it the ability to share that image immediately? Do you want to be able to print your image? How large do you want to be able to print that image? Can your camera cope with the many different scenarios you will find yourself in when taking a photo? A darkened room. Bright sunlight, fast moving objects, no flash available, no flash allowed. The camera phone will easily tick the boxes for the first two considerations but it will struggle to meet your needs after that so its time to think about purchasing a camera 100% dedicated to fulfilling the role of taking photographs for you and then allowing you to share or print your photos at their best.

 

The good news is, in my opinion anyway, there are no "rubbish" cameras. With the technology available today, even "own brand" cameras, on sale in places like Lidl or Aldi are decent cameras. They come with at least 10MP and have a wide variety of features included as standard, allowing even the most beginner of photographers to take a decent photograph. So dont be put off by a brand name. As with all things in photography, choosing your camera is all about choices and compromises. What sort of photos do you want to take? holiday snapshots? family? travel? landscape? sports? underwater? The options are endless but by deciding what type of photos you will be taking in general and your priority regarding portability, versatility and quality, and by reading this blog, hopefully you will be able to make a better informed choice.

There are three types of digital cameras available in the mainstream; the compact camera, the bridge camera, and the SLR camera. Lets start with the compact camera.

Compact camera buying guide

The Compact camera is ideal for a pocket or a handbag. This may be the camera for you if you just want good quality snaps, children, family and holiday pictures. Increasingly easy to use they are ideal for everyday snaps. Auto Scene Mode, a standard setting on most compact cameras,selects the best options for you to produce a great picture. All the technical decision making is done for you by the camera. All you have to do is point and shoot.

Things to look out for: The larger the screen at the back of the camera, the easier it is for you to frame and view your pictures. Some more advanced cameras have touch screens.  Others have movable screens, allowing you to tilt or swivel the screen for a better angle.

Video is generally a standard feature on all compact cameras now. Some of the better cameras will come equipped with High Definition Video. Look out for models that say 720 high def for extra quality or even 1080 high def for unbeatable video quality.

Memory cards: There are several formats of memory cards available although most compact cameras work with SD format. A standard 4GB card should hold about 1000 photos if shooting in jpeg mode although be aware that capturing video eats up an awful lot more memory.

Batteries: Some cameras take AA or AAA batteries, but most cameras take re-chargable Li-ion batteries which last much longer and can be recharged, saving you money on replacement batteries. Again, the battery life will depend on how the camera is used. Video recording, zooming in and out, using flash, all make extra demands on your battery which means it will be needed to be replaced or recharged more often.

A basic compact camera should cost anything from €50 right up to the stunning Nikon 1 at around €635.

 

 THE BRIDGE CAMERA: As the name suggests, the bridge camera is a crossover between the compact camera at one end and the SLR camera at the other. Whilst not quite as small or compact as the compact camera it is less bulky than the SLR format although it does look more like a SLR and would have more features than the standard compact, notably increased zoom sizes. The lenses are fixed, although offer powerful zoom, up to 42x closer.

If you like taking landscape or group shots look out for the Super Wide Angle feature. Continuous Shooting allows you to keep your finger on the trigger to capture a quickfire range of shots and then choose your favourite image from that selection, particluarly useful with shooting fast moving objects or even with group shots where someone blinking can be an issue. A typical lens on a bridge camera ranges from wide angle through to close up zoom.

A bridge camera would set you back anything from €120 up to and beyond €300.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The SLR Camera.  The Single Lens Reflex (SLR) aka the DSLR (Digital Single lens Reflex) is the ideal camera for those who wish to have more creative control over how they capture their images. While these cameras can still be used in the automatic settings, allowing you to just point and shoot, the DSLR camera also has full manual setings, giving the photographer complete control of exposure, light, shutter speeds etc.

The DSLR camera is the preferred choice of the serious enthusiast and an absolute must have for the professional. An enrty level DSLR camera would cost around €500 for both the camera body and a standard tele zoom lens. However with mid to high end DSLRs the body and the lens are purchased separately. The range and variety of lenses on the market is vast with  different lenses more suited to one form of photography than another. For example there are the huge big lenses often seen on television being used by sports photographers. These would be 500mm lenses, capable of zooming into the action from great distances.These lenses are often used by wildlife photograhers on safari etc for obvious reasons. Then there are lenses which specialize in macro (close up) photography. Other lenses are suited to portrait work and others to landscape photography and so on. A good all round lens to have would have a zoom range of 18mm to 70mm. This would cover most typical scenarios and once you have this lens you can then add lenses to your collection as your interest in photograhy grows. A word of warning though, not every lens is compatible with every camera. For example a Canon lens wont work on a Nikon body. 

 

 Without question the two leading players in the DSLR market are Canon and Nikon. However Sony, Fuji, and Luminex to mention just a few, also produce excellent products. There is a seemingly bottomless pit of accessories available to purchase for all cameras, from lenses to flash heads, to filters, to converters. The list goes on and on. Camera bags, tripods, remote controls, editing software and on and on and on it goes. So the good news is, if you give your Loved One a camera for christmas and they get the photography bug, you will be sorted for gift ideas for many birthdays and christmasses to come.

 

Happy shopping! :-)

 

 


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