May 17, 2006

Tips for buying a Digital Camera

Even if you’re just a casual shutterbug, there are options to consider

The Associated Press

QUESTION: What should I consider when buying my first digital camera?

ANSWER: If you’re a serious or professional photographer, your needs are obviously greater. But for a casual shooter, many digital cameras will give you what you need for a few hundred dollars. Some of the things to consider:

1. MEGAPIXEL CAPABILITY, or a photo’s resolution. The higher the better for printing photos — but in reality, nearly any digital camera can shoot at enough megapixels for decent prints.

Most new cameras can support at least three megapixels, good for 4 by 6 or even 5 by 7 prints, said Brett Larson, an expert at However, if you anticipate making larger prints, then consider megapixels. Go for at least four megapixels for 8 by 10 prints, more for larger.

More megapixels also give you more options for cropping. Remember that more megapixels require more storage space.

2. BATTERY NEEDS. It’s great if your camera uses standard types like AA — rechargeable to save money but ones that could be bought in an emergency. Many cameras use proprietary batteries, so expect to invest $25 or $50 for a spare.

3. ZOOM. Ignore “digital zoom,” which means a computer and not the lens is doing the magnification, and make sure the ad for your camera refers to “optical zoom.” Larson says most consumer-grade cameras will come with 2x or 3x zoom, plenty for basic needs. Going to 10x could cost you a few hundred dollars but is overkill unless you’re shooting lots of events from afar.

4. READINESS. Consider how long it takes for the camera to refresh itself for the next picture. Some cameras have a burst, or continuous shooting, mode that will store images in a buffer rather than wait until they are processed to a memory card. The built-in flash also will range in quality and speed — slower ones might mean greater delays.

5. FORMAT. Most cameras now store photos in JPEG format, but higher-end ones also support RAW — important if you want to do a lot of editing. Most consumers won’t need to bother.

6. BACKUP. When you buy, remember to make backup copies of photos — by burning them to a CD or storing them with a sharing service that lets you access the original, high-resolution image. Otherwise, all your precious memories will go when — not if — your hard drive crashes.