There are various factors that come to mind when buying a digital camera. When you’re investing thousands of rupees for a camera, you want to make sure you don’t buy a model that doesn’t really suit your purpose or is much too advanced for your requirements. We have listed a few pointers that may assist you in making the right buying decision.
CCD (charge-coupled device) and CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor)
CCD and CMOS are the two types of image sensors used in digital cameras. Cameras with CCD sensors are recommended over CMOS plainly because the image quality is tremendously better in the former. Though CMOS lenses are significantly cheaper to manufacture and easier to implement than CCDs, the difference in image quality is simply passable. CMOS sensors are extremely portable and require considerably lesser battery power—precisely why their most common application is in webcams and phone cams. All examples in this book are based on consumer cameras and are hence referring to CCD-sensor cameras unless otherwise mentioned.
The Price Factor
The price for a decent 3-megapixel digital camera can start at around Rs 6,500 and can go to well and above Rs 50,000 for a 7-plus megapixel model. Features vary from one model to another. While some low-end cameras offer complete manual control for amateur photographers who wish to experiment, some stick to the strict point-and-click norm. If you belong to the latter category, the lowest end model will be more than enough for your needs, but if you take photography seriously and would prefer to have options to tweak every setting that affects your image, you may want to shell out a bit more for that slightly better ‘prosumer’ camera.
The Megapixel Myth
First things first—higher megapixel count is in no way a measure of the quality of your pictures. Quality is determined by the image sensor; megapixel count simply denotes how big your image would be. For any home user who wants to post snapshots on the Internet or print them on a maximum of an A4 size photo paper does not need anything more than a 3-megapixel camera. CCD stands for Charge Coupled Device and CMOS is Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor. They are the two most-used sensors in digital cameras. Most consumer cameras use CCDs because they offer better image quality. Some professional cameras, though, are now employing CMOS sensors since the power consumption is less. Though the megapixel count does not directly relate to image quality, it is noticed that the higher megapixel cameras have more professional features, hence they are generally more expensive.
Amateur photographers and prosumers may want to invest in a 4-5 megapixel camera for some of its advanced options. We have listed a guideline as to what megapixel count would be suitable for a particular sized print. You can choose your type of camera based on the size of your prints.
Ready Reckoner: Mega-pixel count vis-à-vis Print size
|3MP||5 x 7 inches||to||8 x 10 inches|
|4MP||8 x 10 inches||to||8.5 x 11 inches|
|5MP||8.5 x 11 inches||to||9 x 12 inches|
|6MP||9 x 12 inches||to||11 x 14 inches|
|8MP||14 x 17 inches||to||16 x 20 inches|
Features You May Require
When you buy a digital camera, there are some additional features you may want to examine. As mentioned earlier, manual override function may be appreciated by advanced users as they can enjoy complete control of what they are shooting. Most ‘prosumer’ cameras today are feature-rich. Besides that just keep your eyes open for basic features such as the kind of flash options, red eye flash, self timer, Black and White/Sepia modes and the optical zoom level. Most digital cameras have some video shooting capability. Don’t forget to check whether the digital camera you are buying records video with or without sound.
Digital cameras usually come with little or no onboard memory. Even if the manufacturer does put some onboard memory, it won’t exceed 8-16 megabytes, which won’t last you too long. That’s why its important you consider a seller who bundles a memory card along with the camera.
Grey market cameras are cheaper by about 25 per cent as compared to those sold officially. But the catch is that cameras purchased from the grey market carry no warranty and the shop that sold you the camera is not liable for any defects it may have. It’s as good as gambling the money you are spending on your camera. Watch out. Also, make sure that along with drivers for your computer, there’s some bundled software included for sorting, cataloging and minor image manipulations. The good news is you won’t have to worry too much about this part because the above mentioned bundle has become an industry standard. However, it’s a good idea to keep your eyes open for additional accessories you may want to purchase for your camera.
Durability And Warranty
When it comes to electronics, bad things always happen when you least expect them to. It is a good idea to be prepared for the worst. This means even having to pay a little more when you purchase your camera. Almost all officially purchased cameras are accompanied by a one- year warranty that covers manufacturing defects. Moreover, most warranties are valid worldwide (although, it would be a good idea to check this for every individual purchase) and this adds to the safety and value. What we are trying to emphasise here, is that spending an extra Rs 2,000 to Rs 5,000 is better than purchasing from the grey market. At least there is someone who would take responsibility for things gone wrong!
Camera manufacturers are not averse to publicising the zoom with a particular camera as “30X”. But in most cases, it means 10X Optical multiplied by 3X digital effectively leaving you with 10X zoom that is practi- cally usable. Watch out for this when deciding on a camera to buy. Optical zoom is definitely preferred over digital zoom.
Know your Camera
Little do most casual users know about the features they have at their disposal when they purchase a digital camera. In this section, we’ll provide you with information about various aspects of your digital camera that you need to know to take that perfect shot.
Zoom lens is a must on any digital camera as they help capture more on the subject that will be the main focus of your snapshot. As the name suggests, with a zoom lens you can take a closer shot of the subject with- out ever physically moving closer. Flash can be as useful a tool as it can be irritating. When used correctly, flash is the ideal aide for quality photographs. But remember, that’s all. it is… an aide. Don’t be shy to experiment with flash modes available in your camera. It can also be a good creative tool. Modes like Rear Sync, Bounce and Fill flash have more applications than just illuminating the subject! Most digital cameras these days sport a zoom function, which may be anything from 3X to even 24X, but usually that number is divided into optical zoom and digital zoom. In actual functionality, it’s only the optical zoom level that matters since that’s what relates to the physical capacity of the lens. Digital zoom only enlarges a selected part of the image giving you a simulation of a zoom, while in reality it’s only stretching the picture causing a loss in image quality. It’s best to turn off the digital zoom function in your camera if you’re stringent about the quality of your pho- tos. Optical zoom can be anything from 3X to even 12X.
Many casual photographers fail to see the relevance of the flash function besides ‘making faces visible in the dark’. If you happen to be one of them, then pay attention, there’s a lot you can do with your integrated flash. For starters, some digital cameras allow you to change the intensity level of the flash to plus (for higher flash output) or minus (lower flash output) depending on your requirement. For optimum effects in low light, its best to move the subject as close to a natural source of light like a window with sunlight falling. A photo shot in daylight (left) but with backlighting. The harshness of the sun has entirely blocked out the subject. But using flash in daylight has made the subject visible again through. Its also recommended to turn on all the lights in the room so that the background is not left completely dark.
Flash can also be used in daylight photography. For example, if the subject is standing right in front of the sun, you can use fill-flash to illuminate the subject so it doesn’t come blacked out. You can also use fill-flash to eliminate dark, shadowy areas that lack detail.
As the term ‘photography’ suggests, light is the soul of your photograph. But be it digital or film photography, with too much light the picture will appear washed out and with too little light the picture appears dark and muddy. Exposure is the measure of the amount of light used to create a photo, and that’s exactly what makes a good photograph. There are three measures of exposure—‘underexposure’ where the amount of light available or used for capturing the photo is insufficient resulting in darkened photos. The second type is ‘overexposure’ where there is excess light casting a white tint over the entire photograph making it appear too bright. The final is ‘correct exposure’ where shadow and highlight areas are correctly visible. Most digital cameras use auto exposure to set the appropriate level of light required for a shot. All you need to do is press the shutter button half way down and let the camera take a few seconds to adjust the aperture and shutter speed. However, it is not always recommended to shoot on the recommended exposure levels. Try to adjust the exposure levels manually to get your desired level of brightness on the end result.
White balance is used by digital cameras to keep the colours looking as natural as possible in the picture. To do so, the camera analyses the scene to determine which area is truly white and adjusts itself to the rest of the scene accordingly. If the level of one colour (eg. red) appears too high on the white part, the camera will automatically adjust itself to remove the same level of red from the rest of the picture to make it appear more natural. Though most cameras do a pretty good job of adjusting the white balance, it is always a good idea to manually adjust the white bal- ance in some lighting situations. For example, when a room is only lit with a yellow light bulb, the camera may have a tough time adjusting the white level automatically. You can easily set the white level to high through the camera’s menu system and thus get better results.
Any digital camera worth its mettle has various scene modes that act as presets for most common situations. The camera adjusts its aperture, shuttle speed and exposure to get a desired level. The most common scene modes are—
- Portrait mode is perfect for close ups and macro shots as it cre- ates a reduced depth-of-field effect in which the subject is in sharp focus while the background and the foreground is blurred
- Landscape mode works well when you want everything in the scene to be in sharp
- Sports mode sets the camera to a high shutter speed and con- tinuous auto-focus to clearly capture a fast moving
Other popular modes included on most cameras include the night shot mode that helps you shoot night photos—of surroundings. A badly timed shot is where the images appear blurred and people—without the need for any special accessories or skills! Manual mode is another interesting although risky mode if you are a beginner with no knowledge of photography. It is in your interests that you leave the camera set to Auto mode where every- thing is taken care of at least initially. You can get creative slowly as you start grasping the basics better.
LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY TIP
Landscapes are beautiful even in black and white. Obviously, if you want to capture the vivid colours of a landscape then black and white is not the medium to use, but if you are trying to portray a sense of desolation or isolation, then black and white can increase the impact. It’s all a question of your perception and sensibilities. What you want is what you should shoot.