Making the move to digital

Get the lowdown on what to look for in a digital camera

I was cleaning out my closet the other day when I came across a dusty old camera. It was clunky and heavy, and still had a roll of film in it. I thought to myself, “How could I ever have used such a thing?” You see, I bought a digital camera a few months ago, and I haven’t really touched my point-and-shoot camera since.

The thing I like most about my new digital camera is that it lets me see each photo immediately after I take it. That way I can delete the ones I don’t like instantly. It’s also convenient to be able to load the photos on to my computer and e-mail them to friends and family right away. I can also use my image-editing software to resize or alter photos if I like.

Because digital cameras cost more than regular point-and-shoot, I put in two solid months of research and pricing before I made the jump. First, I performed a needs-assessment analysis, where I figured out what I wanted to use the camera for. That helped me determine what features I needed in a camera, and what price I’d have to pay. Here are five things I kept in mind when I was trying to find the camera that was right for me:

Image quality
Digital photos are made up of thousands of tiny dots called pixels. The more pixels an image contains, the better the quality. Camera makers use the term “megapixel” to express the quality of image each camera will take. Lower-end cameras often offer 1.3 megapixels, while professional-quality cameras can reach upwards of 6 megapixels. A photo taken with a 1.3 megapixel camera will look distorted if you try to enlarge it too much, while an image taken with a 6.0 megapixel camera will look crisp even when it’s blown up to a size like 11″ x 14″. I settled on a 2.1 megapixel camera which takes excellent quality photos that I can enlarge to 5″ x 7″ and make prints without seeing any distortion.

Digital cameras store photos on memory cards, which act like computer disks. Cards range in size from 8 megabyte (MB) of memory to 128 MB or higher. Different cards are compatible with different cameras. Canon and Nikon, for example, use CompactFlash cards, while Olympus cameras use SmartMedia cards. High picture quality demands a high volume memory card. An 8 MB card can hold around 15 photos taken at top quality. Most cameras come with at least one 8 MB card.

Ease of download
Each camera should come with all the software and cables you need to transfer your photos onto a computer. My camera came with a Universal Serial Bus (USB) cord which allows me to transfer my photos with the push of a button. Once they’re on my computer, the camera’s software lets me resize and crop the photos, as well as delete or save them wherever I choose.

Camera size
One of the main selling points of digital cameras is their small size. Many consumer cameras are pocket-size and easy to take anywhere. Other cheaper models are the size of regular point-and-shoot cameras.

Manual features
More advanced cameras offer a number of manual features that let you control elements like aperture, shutter speed and focus. In general, fully automatic cameras are far cheaper than their manual counterparts.

Most people can’t tell the difference between digital photos and point-and-shoot prints. However, professional photographers agree that digital technology has a long way to go before it can truly match the image quality achieved using traditional developing methods. This means digital camera makers will continue producing models that offer more megapixels, stronger colours and better memory cards.

Unfortunately, these advancements in technology can make your home electronics seem obsolete or overpriced a few months after you buy them. Plus, newer, more expensive models keep coming out which can send you back to the drawing board and delay the purchase even longer.