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Understanding digital camera features

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In most ways, buying a digital camera is really not much different from buying a traditional camera. Sure, there are a few additional considerations (like PC compatibility, digital versus optical zoom, etc). But for the most part, you’re still looking for a camera that feels good in your hands, has all the features that are important to you, and, of course, takes great pictures.

Here’s a list of some of the most important features to consider when making the final pick on your digital camera.

1. Resolution

The first feature to consider when determining a digital camera’s image quality is its resolution. A camera’s resolution is determined by pixels – the more pixels, the higher the resolution. And the higher the resolution of a digital photo, the larger it can be displayed or printed without losing image quality. For example, the sensors on a 3.3 megapixel camera record approximately 3 million dots of information, which is enough detail to produce photo-quality images at sizes up to around 10 by 14 inches – more than most amateur photographers need. Today’s consumer-level digital cameras typically range in resolution from 0.3 megapixels to 3.3 megapixels. (HP’s current selection ranges from 1.3 to 4.13 megapixels.) Frankly, you shouldn’t settle for less than 2 megapixels – not if you’re planning on making prints. You’ll be disappointed in the long run. If you try to print lower-resolution images at larger sizes, the results tend to look grainy, blurry, or blocky.

2. Look and Feel

Some digital cameras make it easy to take pictures. Others feel like you’re taking photos with a bowling ball. The only way to be sure is to test drive the camera before you buy it. Look for one with buttons that are within reach and easy to use and a viewfinder that’s comfortable to look through. Go ahead, don’t be afraid to handle the merchandise. Peer through the lens of the camera you’re thinking of buying. Is the image clear and crisp?

3. Built-in Memory

Most consumer cameras use external memory – a memory card (CompactFlash, SmartMedia, and Memory Stick are all common types) – that you can remove when it’s full. With removable storage, you can simply insert a fresh memory device card and keep on shooting – a definite advantage. Avoid cameras that only have “built-in memory”; when that memory becomes full, you’ll have to unload the photos into your computer before you can begin shooting again.

You can increase the number of photos you can take by buying additional external memory. Most digital cameras ship with enough memory to take from 12 to 36 shots at full resolution – about the same as one roll of film for a traditional camera.

4. Battery Life

Digital cameras eat batteries extremely fast, which, in turn, can be very expensive. Look for a camera that accepts rechargeable batteries, and consider investing in two sets of rechargeable batteries, so that you can always carry spares. Another way to save battery power is to get a camera that has an AC adaptor, so you can power the camera from a wall socket. This is especially useful when you’re downloading photos or viewing them on your camera’s screen, both of which require huge amounts of power.

5. What Kind of Computer You Own

Retail stores see a lot of returns from customers who buy cameras that don’t work with their computer systems. So make sure that the camera you buy is compatible with your computer system, and particularly check your connection ports (i.e., serial, USB, IR).

6. LCD Lowdown

Most digital cameras come with at least an optical viewfinder – the kind you look through on traditional film cameras – but many digital cameras also come with an LCD screen built into the back, which you can use as a viewfinder as well. The LCD screen let’s you see what your picture will look like before you take it. An indispensable help, it also allows you to look at the photos you’ve already taken. But it does have one major drawback: battery consumption. They eat batteries very quickly. So if you use it often, have extra batteries on hand.

7. Special Features

The above features are just the basics. But these are by no means the only features to concern yourself with. There are special features that meet many specific needs.

If you want to take close-ups of distant objects, for example, then you’ll need a camera with high optical zoom power. If you’re looking to take action shots of sports or wildlife, then a camera with a continuous shooting mode would be helpful. Night photography, anyone? It’s easy if your camera has a nighttime shooting mode. And who doesn’t want features like red-eye reduction?

Have more questions about memory cards and other basics?
Read HP’s top 10 frequently asked questions. And find out more about maximizing your digital camera, including info on zoom lenses, battery life, power adaptors, and more.

Visit the HP Digital Photography Centre