Photography & Cameras Buying Guide

The inventions of the digital camera and digital camcorder have completely changed the way we take pictures and record movies by providing us with instant accessibility to our photos and eliminating time spent waiting for films to be developed. Their easy to use interface, coupled with their vast array of fun and practical features, ensures that anybody can pick up a camera and start taking snaps of life's most cherished moments. Digital cameras have truly inspired a whole new generation of people to take up photography and film-making either as a hobby or at a more professional level.

What Are Your Choices?

Compact Digital Camera/Point and Shoot
These great little cameras are perfect for capturing photos at family events and days out or simply for social media uploads. Their compact and slim design ensures that they can be slipped comfortably into a pocket or handbag without causing discomfort or weighing you down. Many Compact Digital cameras are fully automatic, which means the camera sets your shutter speed and lens settings so you don't have to worry about adjusting a thing. This makes this variety of camera more than ideal for a rookie looking to get into the wonderful world of photography.

They are also a fantastic gift idea for children that are showing a keen interest in photography as they allow them to develop basic photography skills without you having to worry about them carrying around and potentially breaking an expensive camera. Typically, Compact Digital cameras have a resolution of around 10 megapixels and include a good selection of editing features, ensuring high quality, personalised pictures can be captured.

Compact Megazoom
The Compact Megazoom camera is designed to offer many of the same features and benefits as the Compact Digital camera. However, they also provide better zoom functionality, meaning that you can get closer to certain shots and capture more intricate details.

There are two types of zoom that cameras and camcorders use: optical zoom and digital zoom. Both offer different benefits. Digital zoom will typically allow you to zoom further in on a shot than optical zoom will. However, the more you zoom in, the bigger the degradation in image quality. With optical zoom, image quality is never sacrificed making it the better variety of zoom.

They are also more accommodating for people that like to adjust the settings of their camera manually as opposed to letting the camera adjust the settings for them. This results in you having more control over the camera and the pictures that are produced. The Compact Megazoom is great for people who are looking to take the next step up from amateur level to intermediate level photography.

Bridge/Megazoom
The Bridge/Megazoom camera essentially bridges the gap between the basic Compact Digital cameras and the more advanced Digital SLR cameras. They offer greater control over the camera's exposure settings, allowing you to adjust the shutter speed, the ISO and the aperture, meaning you can manipulate the camera to meet all your specific photography needs and capture more unique pictures. Generally, Bridge cameras contain larger CCD sensors than compact cameras, meaning they capture more light. This results in higher quality pictures, especially in low-light conditions. This in turn reduces the need to use a flash, which can often degrade the quality of a picture. If your camera contains a smaller sensor, then it will pick up more noise and add speckles to the photo, reducing its clarity. This is why it's important to look for cameras with a larger aperture which will let more light in.

The advanced zoom settings of Bridge cameras are one of their biggest selling points. If you want to get up close and personal to a shot and capture as much detail as possible, then a Bridge camera is likely to be the choice for you. The zoom range for Bridge cameras can be as high as thirty times, which is quite a dramatic increase in zoom capability compared to more basic cameras.

Bridge cameras are perfect for intermediate photographers who desire to have greater control over their camera's settings, but aren't quite ready to take the step up to a Digital SLR camera. Like SLRs, some Bridge cameras give you the option to change lenses, giving you a taste of what SLRs can offer and letting you get to grips with lens changeability without having to spend extra money.

Pocket Camcorder
If you're looking for a compact recording device that can be comfortably transported around without inconveniencing you, then you may want to consider a Pocket Camcorder. These great little gadgets are slim and stylish and their small number of buttons and basic interface means that anybody can pick one up and start using them. Most Pocket Camcorders have one-touch recording and simple playback features, making them the ideal recording device to use on nights out, holidays or simply for uploading to social media sites.

The majority of Pocket Camcorders come equipped with a built-in USB connection, enabling simple uploading of videos to your computer. In comparison to other types of recording equipment, Pocket Camcorders are extremely affordable meaning you don't have to break the bank to start recording all the best moments in your life.

Digital SLR Cameras
For a high quality, refined photographs Digital SLR cameras are the way to go. Their interchangeable lenses, manual operation and broad range of accessories make for a rewarding and more personal photography experience. SLR cameras were once only in the reach of professionals, but nowadays, with their increasing product range and decreasing prices, anybody can get their hands on one and start creating their own portfolio of professional photographs.

SLR cameras produce exceptional quality photos because their sensors typically contain more pixels and are bigger. This means they pick up intricacies and hidden details that other cameras might not be able to identify. SLR cameras are also adaptable for a range of different scenes. You can change the lens in the camera to suit the environment you're photographing in. For example, there are lenses designed for wide-angle photographs and others designed for long distance shots. This interchangeability of lenses ensures that you'll always get a clear, satisfying picture regardless of what environment you're in.

EVIL Cameras
Electronic Viewfinder, Interchangeable Lens (EVIL) cameras are gaining an ever-increasing fan base and are set to become the leading camera type on the market. Their popularity has grown because they successfully bridge the gap between between more basic point and shoot cameras and advanced digital SLR cameras, giving consumers a small, but high quality camera.

EVIL cameras offer the image quality of a dSLR, but are more compact and lightweight, making them easier to carry around and much more comfortable to handle. The smaller design also means that EVIL cameras are cheaper to produce than dSLRs, which generally results in a smaller price tag. There are fewer moving parts in EVIL cameras too, making them sturdier and less likely to break.

EVIL camera sensors are very similar to those found on a dSLR camera; they're larger, meaning less noise is picked up and a better quality picture is achieved.

Unlike point and shoot cameras, EVIL cameras accept a full range of lenses, giving you greater image flexibility. EVIL cameras are configurable too, meaning you have more freedom in terms of altering the camera's settings to suit the subject matter of the scene or image you're attempting to capture.



Things to Consider Before Buying

Battery Life
Many cameras and camcorders come supplied with rechargeable lithium battery packs, which are great because you don't have to keep buying batteries when your camera runs out of power. However, if you know that you're going to be without access to your charger for extended periods of time then it may be worthwhile investing in a model that runs on regular AA batteries. This way, if your camera is low on power you can simply visit a shop and buy some new batteries rather than having to hunt down a compatible charger.

Megapixels
The general rule is, the higher the number of megapixels the better the image resolution. So, when comparing cameras, models with a higher number of megapixels may produce better pictures. Generally, modern digital cameras will have around 10 megapixels. However, more megapixels doesn't always mean a clearer picture. You must also take into account zoom, lens interchangeability and size of sensor to gain a firmer understanding of how good a camera is.

Zoom Range
If you're planning on capturing photographs from afar, for example, when engaging in wildlife photography, then go for a camera with the highest zoom range possible. This way, you'll be able to hone in on your shot and capture more intricate details that cameras with a lesser zoom are likely to miss. Typically, optical zoom can range between 6x and 50x for most digital cameras and digital zoom can increase to as much as 100x.

Screen Size
When comparing cameras, choosing models with bigger screens will result in easier viewing when taking photographs and improved assistance with photo composition. They also give you a better feel for the photograph you're about to take.

Touch-Screen
It's worth bearing in mind whether the camera you're considering purchasing has a touch-screen interface or not. Touch-screens create a more interactive and tactile experience, giving you more control over editing and composition. However, some people prefer an actual keypad as they enjoy the feeling of raised keys under their fingers.

Is It Weather-Proofed?
If you're planning on doing a lot of outdoor photography, then opt for a weatherproofed or rugged designed camera. This way, you avoid the risk of your camera being destroyed by the rain and other harsh weather conditions. It's worth noting here that sandwich bags make a perfect weather-proof store for your camera ensuring they stay completely dry when stored in your bag or pocket.

Features/Benefits: Cameras

Red-Eye Reduction - In the past, you had to simply put up with your favourite photos being spoiled by the constant presence of red-eye. Thankfully, the majority of modern digital cameras automatically adjust to prevent red-eye from appearing and some cameras even give you the option to erase the red-eye when editing photos, should it manage to sneak its way into the picture.

Scene Modes - This is a brilliant feature which allows you to automatically adjust the camera's settings to adapt to a variety of conditions. This means you can take photographs without restriction and without having to spend time manually adjusting your camera's settings. Some common scene modes include: snow, night, portrait, landscape and sports.

White Balance - This feature automatically eliminates unwanted and over-bearing light from a photograph. This is particularly useful when photographing outdoors and in conditions such as snow as your camera will adjust to bright sunlight and snow, preventing undesirable glare from spoiling your photo.

Burst Mode - If your camera has this feature, it will give you the option to capture several shots in rapid sequence. This is a great little attribute to play around with as it gives you a better chance of capturing the perfect shot, especially if you're taking live action shots. E.g. at a football match

Macro Mode - Generally, getting too close to a shot with your camera will result in a blurry photo. However, if you have macro mode enabled you can focus in on up-close objects and still get a high-quality picture. In photography terms, 'Macro' translates as larger than life, meaning you can make shots look bigger than they actually are.

Face Detection - If photographing people, it's vital to ensure they all look as clear as possible. The face detection feature locks onto the faces in a picture and adjusts the focus of the camera to capture a sharp and clear shot of the person. This is particularly useful in photos that contain busy backgrounds. Some cameras now include face recognition, meaning you can automatically tag people in photos as well as capturing a great shot.

Direct Printing - Many cameras now allow you to print off your photographs without the use of a computer. All you need to do is simply connect your camera to a printer via a USB cable and use the LCD screen of your camera to select which photographs to print off. Some printers even include memory card slots, enabling you to transfer the memory card from your camera straight into the printer. To use the direct printing feature your camera must be compatible with PictBridge.

Autofocus Points - When looking through the viewfinder on an SLR or D-SLR camera, the small squares that you see are referred to as autofocus points. Their purpose is to help you locate where the camera is focusing when taking a picture. When you press the camera shutter half way down, you should notice some of the squares light up, and these illuminated squares highlight where the sharpest parts of your photograph will be. Some cameras allow you to manually select your autofocus points, giving you the option to change the focus of your photographs. You can also set your camera to always use the centre focus points for your own convenience.

Features/Benefits: Cam Corders

Viewfinder - The majority of digital camcorders will include a viewfinder. Their main purpose is to show you exactly what you're recording, usually on an LCD screen. It's a particularly useful feature to have if you're moving around whilst recording as it eliminates the need to walk with your head down and your eye glued to the camera.

Microphone - When you're recording, it usually helps to have a device for picking up sound unless you're making a silent movie. This is why many camcorders come with a built-in microphone. These are absolutely fine for recording in quieter environments such as in the home, but in louder environments, it might be worth considering buying an external microphone as they are much better at cancelling out excessive noise that could disrupt your recording.

Special Effects - There are some amazing special effects available for most digital camcorders, all of which help to capture certain moods and add a sense of personality to your recordings. For example, you could potentially add strobe lighting or mirror ball effects to a recording of a night out or wedding party and you could add black and white or sepia effects to a short film.

Image Stabilisation - This is a really useful feature, particularly if you are prone to shaking whilst using your digital camcorder. Image stabilisation aims to keep the screen steady and create a less messy recording. This will add a sense of professionalism to your home recordings.

Glossary

Aperture - Affects both the focus and the display of the image by adjusting the opening of the lens and therefore the amount of light that gets through to the sensor.

AVCHD - HD video format. Works in both 720 and 1080 HD settings; perfect for TV viewing.

Card Compatibility - Refers to which memory cards can be used to store images from your camera. E.g. SD, SDHC, Compact Flash.

CCD Sensor - Charge-Coupled Device. A sensor which converts light into voltage one pixel at a time.

DIGIC Processing - The DIGIC processor is a mini computer developed by Canon to process data from a camera's sensor. Its aim is to deliver a more responsive camera with superb image quality, faster continuous shooting and extended battery life.

Digital Zoom - Allows you to enlarge a shot from the centre. Image quality can be affected the more you zoom in, so use it sparingly. Zoom is measured in increasing multiplication. E.g. 6x, 8x, 20x

Optical Zoom - Unlike with digital zoom, image quality is not sacrificed the more you zoom in, so go ahead and zoom in as much as you like.

Frames Per Second - The maximum number of images a camera can shoot continuously in one second.

ISO - Sensitivity of the camera sensor to light. The higher the rating, the better quality picture you can achieve in darker environments without using a flash. However, you should use this feature sparingly as the higher the setting, the more noise you'll see in your photograph.

JPEG - A format that allows you to compress images into files which can be stored on memory cards without overly affecting picture quality.

Lithium Battery - A rechargeable battery that generally lasts longer than other forms of battery. They don't suffer from 'Battery Memory Effect.' This is a term used to refer to rechargeable batteries reducing in capacity over time if they are not fully discharged between cycles.

Noise - Randomly spaced speckles on photographs, which reduce overall image quality. You can minimise noise by keeping your ISO below 100 and going for a camera with a larger sensor.

Panorama - Allows you to fit wide scenes into a single frame. Great for outdoor photography and capturing breath-taking views.

PictBridge - The name of an industry standard, which allows direct printing from a camera via a printer, taking away the need for a computer.

RAW Recording Mode - Doesn't convert your photographs into files such as JPEG. Ideal for photographers that like to manipulate their photographs after they've been taken.

SLR - Single Lens Reflex. Refers to high-quality cameras with interchangeable lenses.