Which Digicam to Get?

Recently friends of mine have been asking ‘Which camera should I get?’, which has made me think more about what camera are out there and to wonder how I can help my viewers in general here. Generally, my friends have wanted something pocketable, so it doesn’t get left at home. Image quality is high on their list, but they are willing to compromise this if it means having something portable. These days, you can get very good images even with a very small digicam- so let’s take a look at what’s out there…
Now, I am no reviewer of cameras, but I can still keep track by reading the reviews on Dpreview (whose RSS feed you can see below) and, sometimes more importantly, the owner’s reviews. The good news is, these little cameras are getting better all the time and I can imagine some point in the future in which they will be as good as a much larger one. For now, just from what I have read, these very compact cameras stand out from the crowd and are what I recommended – the Canon SD700 IS (Digital IXUS 800IS), the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX01 and the Fujifilm FinePix F11 Zoom.
If you are choosing a camera, here are some things to watch out for, (not necessarily in order of relevance)-
Do I like the way it feels in my hand (otherwise known as ergonomics)? – As you will be the one using it and it should feel natural and comfortable.
Does is have either image stablisation and / or produce clear images at high ISOs? – As it gets darker you need usually need longer shutter-speeds, the camera needing more light to take the same picture. Image stablisation will hold the imager inside the camers stable, even if your hand moves around a little, as it generally does, ensuring a sharp image. Higher ISOs need less light to take a picture- you can see the ISO rating on film, such as ISO 100, 200, 400, 800. Generally on film, the higher ISOs had the disadvantage of more grainy images, lacking in colour and detail. On digital this problem is gradually being solved, even on the smaller cameras, to many people’s amazement.
At this point, I wouldn’t buy any compact digicam without one of these abilities, even though there are some very nice models with neither. This is because all the major brands have the technology, which will soon be in all their compact cameras- and taking sharp pictures without this is a lot harder, especially when you are traveling and can’t use a tripod. Of the cameras I recommended, the first two have the image stablisation and the Fujifilm FinePix F11 Zoom excels at higher ISOs- which means it can take a reasonably clear picture in near-darkness.
How is the image quality? Read reviews, comments and even look at sample images to see what the final result is like. For me this is paramount, for others maybe a little less so, but if you want to be happy with your photos it is a very important factor.
How many megapixels do I need? (The first question I often get asked!) This question has been very overrated, as it has less to do with the image quality than it may seem, except that as the number goes up, so do the  other factors as it is all part of the cameras evolution. I personally wouldn’t buy a camera with less than 6 megapixels- this isn’t just to make large prints, it also helps ensure that it is a pretty modern camera.
Some cameras with more megapixels actually take worse pictures, believe it or not- it is not just the amount of megapixels but a question of whether the camera can actually handle them well and produce a clear image at that size. Sometimes a 9-megapixel image is larger, but has less detail in it, or ‘resolution’, than a 6-megapixel one- which is why reviews are so useful. As the technology progresses, though, resolution is getting better and this is becoming more and more promising.
Should I get an older model- it looks a bit cheaper? Well, only if it is just a little bit old- otherwise you are in the realm of false economy. These digicams are improving at a frightening rate. Why get a very outdated one and end up with potentially worse pictures? Due to all the competition between brands, they are also getting much cheaper.
How much zoom do I need? Well, you may be surprised, but it is often the wide-end which makes the most difference. For instance, there is not so much difference between 100mm and 140mm- but a lot more between 35mm and 28mm. Ultimately, this is a personal preference. If you want a really long zoom, up to something like 400mm, then you’d probably be better off not getting a compact and getting something with a larger lens, which is another story all together. If you want to capture ‘the whole scene’ or take pictures of things very near to you, then wider is better. To see the effects of different lens lengths, why not see my photos on pBase and check the info beneath them?
For example,the Tama Zoo shots were generally taken at 300mm, which is 450mm in digital, so that you could just see the animals but not the zoo, whereas my landscapes are between about 20-35mm, to get everything in the frame.
How about Macro abilities? As you can see, I recently got into macro photography again, in a big way. Some compacts are excellent at macro, as they can take very detailed images from very close-by. What they may be less good at is creating the ‘smooth, blurred backgrounds’. I love. This very reason is one of the main attraction larger cameras have for me. Used carefully, though, you can get something similar from even the smallest of cameras, by moving very close to what you are taking a picture of.
Whatever camera you end up getting… it is you and your creativity that makes the pictures what they are. You need some technical knowledge and a good camera- without these you are really limiting what kind of photos you can take. The more you know and the better your camera or lens is, the better. But, even with the best of cameras, a creative, open-minded attitude is what makes for amazing pictures.
Happy shooting!
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