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Digital Cameras Revealed

January 7, 2011 IADT Nashville, Photography 0 Comments

A Guide to Digital Photography Terminology

Walk into an electronics store looking for a digital camera and you may end up walking right back out with a headache. Megapixels? Aperture? ISO? What does it all mean? And which factors matter most when buying a camera?

Pictures are made up of thousands of tiny dots called pixels. Because of this, the more megapixels a camera has, the higher resolution its pictures will be. Also, pictures with more megapixels can be magnified a great deal without suffering from a fuzzy "pixilated" look.

While the amount of a camera's megapixels used to be the most important consideration when choosing a camera, it is almost irrelevant today. Even a 3 megapixel cell phone camera can take pictures suitable for 8x10 printing. Almost all cameras sold nowadays have at least 8 megapixels – more than enough for making nice prints.

This is also referred to as an "f-stop" and deals with the how big the camera's lens can open. You'll find it listed in a fraction such as f/2 or f/8. The larger the aperture, the more light can be collected, and the shorter the time the shutter has to open. Having a high aperture like f/2 or f/1.4, therefore, will help you get better pictures in low light.

Image Stabilization
Cameras with image stabilization promise to cut down on blurring from camera movement. However, make sure you buy a camera with optical image stabilization rather than just digital stabilization.

Optical stabilization can counteract shaky hands through a mechanism in either the lens or the camera's image sensor to detect movement. Once movement is detected, the camera makes the adjustments to line up the light's path to the image sensor, resulting in a sharp photograph. Digital stabilization, on the other hand, does not use any mechanisms. Instead, it automatically increases light sensitivity. This can be effective; however, it can also increase "noise," or tiny specks, in the image.

Zoom deals with a camera's angle of view. Usually, this number is a multiple of the camera's base angle, usually 35mm. Telephoto focal lengths like 100mm or 200mm allow you to zoom in close on a faraway object, while a short focal length like 20mm allows you to capture a wide view. Like image stabilization, it is important to look for optical zoom instead digital zoom. All digital zoom does is crop the picture the camera – it does not actually bring a far-away object into any closer focus.

The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive a camera can be to light. High ISO photographs are more sensitive to light and can take pictures in low light without blurring. However, pictures taken with an ISO above 400 can turn out grainy. If you plan on taking many low-light shots, find out how your camera performs at a high ISO level before purchasing it.

Shutter Lag
Some older cameras can have a long lag between the time you press the shutter release button and the time the camera actually takes a picture. While shutter lag is not a statistic you will generally find on a camera's box, it is important to know. Shutter speed could be the difference between a great action shot and a streaking blur at the edge of a photo. Read reviews or try a camera out before buying it to determine shutter lag.

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