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Tips on How to Buy Your First Digital Camera

By Charles Hopkins Published 06/24/2006 | Shopping
If you have been thinking about buying your first digital camera, you should do a bit of research first. With the rapid progress in technology, there is a dazzling array of options to choose from in the area of digital cameras. A bit of research on your part will ensure that you buy the right camera for your needs.

There are three basic grades of digital cameras, consumer, midrange and professional. Your first step is to determine what type of camera and accessories are important to you as a photographer.

Are you looking for a fun little camera to take pictures of family celebrations? Are you more interested in developing your photography skills and becoming an expert at photo shooting and editing? No matter what your photography goal, you want good, clear pictures from a camera that is easy to use.

The four basic styles of digital cameras are:
1) Ultra-compact- these cameras are about the size of a credit card, and fits easily into the front pocket of your jeans.
2) Sub-compact- these cameras will fit easily into your shirt pocket.
3) Point and Shoot - these are normal size cameras with more features, and generally require a camera bag.
4) Single Lens Reflex (SLR)- high quality cameras that have the look and feel of a 35 mm, with a detachable lens.

Another consideration is the type of pictures you will be taking. Are you going to share your pictures over the internet, or are you more inclined to save them in a photo album? The camera resolution determines the quality of picture produced. A resolution of less than one mega pixel is suitable for web graphics. Resolution of one to two will give you good web graphics and good 4x6 prints. If you will be printing 5x7 photos, look for a resolution of two to three mega pixels. Resolution over six mega pixels will give you excellent quality prints up to 16 x 20.

Bigger is better when it comes to resolution. You can always set your camera to a lower resolution, but you cannot increase the maximum. You should buy the highest resolution that fits your budget.

Another important decision is battery type. Alkaline AA batteries don't hold a charge as long as lithium batteries will, particularly if you are using a flash. However, the ability to purchase AA batteries almost anywhere can be important, especially if you travel.

Lithium batteries last a long time, but they are expensive to replace. Nickel Cadmium batteries are rechargeable. They must be fully discharged prior to recharging, or you will get very poor performance from them. Another type of rechargeable battery is the Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH). These batteries come in all standard sizes, and last about 400 charges. These are probably your best buy. Lion (Lithium Ion) batteries last about twice as long as the others last, and are generally purchased as an 'extra'. They are a newer type of battery and not as widely available as the others are.

Some other features to explore before deciding on your new camera include size and weight. A heavier camera is easier to hold steady, a lighter camera is easier to store and carry. Some cameras offer a multiple exposure option that will let you take a preset number of exposures when you depress the button. A self-timer will allow you to automatically shoot the picture after a preset time. A remote control option will allow you to take your pictures from a distance. Other options include a time and date stamp that display the information when you are viewing your photos through the camera or software, and sound recording, which lets you add captions to your photos.

Most cameras come bundled with software that allows you to edit your pictures. The type of software varies with each camera. This should be a consideration when making your purchase.

There is no such thing as the ultimate camera. You have to consider your photography goals, your budget and your experience level to determine what camera options will be best for you.