Digital photography is growing in popularity, as more and more people become both computer and web savvy. Digital images can be easily uploaded from your camera to your computer, where they can then be manipulated with software, e-mailed to friends, and now printed onto high quality photo paper. Digital cameras use a special storage media which is very different to film, however can be used over and over again.
 
Digital photography also provides a certain level of instant gratification, as you are able to immediately view your images, either on the LCD panel found on most cameras, or on your computer or TV screen. Listed below are descriptions of the key features that differentiate digital cameras.
 
Price
Resolution
Delay Between Shots
Flash Type
Burst Mode
Optical/Digital Zoom
Download Method
Image Capacity
Camera Size
Manual Features
Special Features
Price
If you wish to replace your exisiting point and shoot camera, do not be fooled by digital cameras selling for less than $400. These will not deliver a true photographic experience, but are usually designed as web cameras or fun cameras for email only. To get a reasonable quality photo from a digital camera, you will need at least 2.0 megapixels, see below for description of this and other features.
 
Price Range: Consumer digital cameras range From $400 to $2,000. Most of the digital cameras fall within $500 to $1000 with a median price of $800.

A digital image is made up of hundreds of thousands of tiny dots, called pixels. The resolution of the camera is equal to the number of horizontal pixels multiplied by the number of vertical pixels. The more pixels in an image, the sharper the picture. Some cameras have resolution as high as 2560 x 1920 pixels, while others only have the capability of 320 x 240 pixels. Most cameras offer several different resolution modes, allowing you to adjust your high pixel camera to other, less demanding needs. You can also cut out (or "crop") portions of the frame from higher resolution photos with most photo-editing software (generally included with your camera). This will allow you to get smaller photo-quality prints out of a larger picture. Consider what you'll be using your camera for, and pick the best resolution for your needs.
 
Why is it important? The higher the resolution, the better the picture. Resolution is expressed in pixels, and refers to the "true" (i.e., non-interpolated) resolution of the camera.
 
Resolution Range:
 
  • 640 x 480 Pixels (0.35 MP) = Email quality only Resolution
  • 1280 x 960 Pixels (1.3 MP)= Minimum Resolution for 6"x4" prints
  • 1600 x 1200 Pixels (2.1 MP) = High Quality 6x4" photos
  • 2048 x 1536 (3.3 MP) = High Quality 8x10" photos.
  • 2560 x 1920 (5.1 MP) = High Quality up to 16x20" and cropped, photo-quality 8x10s from a fraction of the original image file.

The amount of time (measured in seconds) it takes the camera to process and store an image when shooting in normal mode at the camera's maximum resolution setting (also known as Recycle Time or Lag Time).
 
Why is it important? The delay between shots ranges from approximately 1 - 20 seconds. This is not such a problem on the latest generation of digital cameras, but can be very frustrating when you are trying to catch live action and having to wait what seems like hours between shots.
Maximum storage time should be no greater than 2 secs

The flash makes a burst of light for shooting inside or in low-light conditions. Most digital cameras come with the standard flash features available on an average point and shoot camera, such as Off/On/Auto and Red-Eye Reduction. Some come with special modes for different shooting conditions.
 
Serious enthusiasts should look for cameras with Flash sync and Hot shoe capabilities, to extend the range of working conditions possible with the camera.

This feature allows you to take multiple rapid-fire shots with one touch of the exposure button. This can be a very useful feature in digital cameras for capturing fast moving action, as any shots that don't come out can be deleted Burst Mode is also known as Continuous Shooting Mode or Rapid-Fire Shots.
 
Rapid-Fire Shots Range: 0 - 64 shots.

An optical zoom on a digital camera works in exactly the same way as a film camera, but the magnification level is expressed in multiples, such as "2X", "3X" or "10X". A "3X" optical zoom, for example, means that if the camera's equivalent focal length is 38mm, then it is the same as a 38-114mm lens on a film camera. A digital zoom does not telescope into a subject; rather, it "interpolates" the picture, magnifying the existing pixels. This can be useful in a high resolution picture, but may lead to a fuzzier, less defined image.

Range: 1 (No optical zoom) - 14X.

This refers to how the camera downloads its pictures to your computer or printer. Some digital cameras offer more than one means of downloading your images.
 
What kinds are available?

  • Via 3.5" Floppy - With this feature, the camera stores its images on the same floppy disks that you use in your PC or Macintosh. A very simple way of getting the images form your camera to your computer, but limited in the number and resolution of images that can be stored.
     
  • Via Parallel or Serial Cable - This type of cable connection is outdated and has be replaced by USB connection.Be wary of the quality of any camera offering this type of connection
     
  • Via USB Cable - A USB (short for Universal Serial Bus) cable transports images from your digital camera via a connection that is much faster than a serial or parallel cable. It is important to note, however, that this type of connection can only be used with newer Pentium computers, and it won't work on PCs with slower or older processors. Note that many cameras with a USB cable will also offer a serial and/or parallel connection option.
     
  • Via CDR - Only Sony produce a camera that uses specially made recordable CDs to save images. It gives you the opportunity to save about 150 megabytes of pictures onto a disc that will slip into you computer's CD-Rom drive, where you can copy the pictures straight to your hard drive. Cameras with this feature will tend to be bulkier, and at the upper end of the price range.
     
  • Via Removable Memory - Most digital cameras store images on removable memory devices that can be swapped in and out of the camera like rolls of film. Most digital cameras provide at least one other methos for getting the images out of the camera.

This refers to the number of photos a camera can store before the images need to be saved from the camera. This depends largely on the amount of memory which comes shipped with the camera, and the resolution setting. Most cameras allow the memory to be upgraded, and this should seriously be considered at the time of purchase. Don't let the salesperson fool you by telling you that it can store 200 photos at this is probably at the lowest resolution and the images are good for nothing!
 
What should you consider? Higher resolution requires more memory. It's important to note the high resolution (or maximum resolution) setting before evaluating this figure. Remember that you can add memory to many digital cameras by purchasing high volume storage cards. Save at least 25 images at top resolution
 
Image Capacity Range: 1 - virtually unlimited

Digital cameras come in a variety of shapes and sizes that will come down to personal preference. Because roll film no longer has to be included within the body of the camera, the opportunities to minaturise are greatly increased. Fujifilm recently anounced the Slimshot which is the size of a credit card and only 6mm thick. Be wary of image quality from very small cameras, as often some compromise has been made in the quality of the lens to achieve the compact form.

Most digital cameras have fully automatic operation. Some however, come with manual features. These are the creative controls on the camera which allow you to adjust the focus, exposure settings, and white balance to allow for more precise picture-taking. Keep in mind that the degree of manual functionality can vary from one camera to another. For example, some cameras with "Manual Focus" have a traditional manual focus ring; whereas others offer multiple pre-set options from which to choose.
 
What are the options?
The following manual options found on digital cameras give the same control as film cameras; Manual Aperture, Manual Exposure Compensation, Manual Focus, Manual Shutter.
 
Manual White Balance - allows you to set the "white point" for the picture. With digital cameras, the sensor needs to find a white point somewhere in the frame to set and correct the other colours. All cameras will set an automatic white point, but an incorrect reference may distort the other colours, giving you a flat or oversaturated picture. Setting your own white point with manual white balance will allow you to get the colours you want, whether they're "real" or not.

These are the "bells and whistles" of a digital camera that distinguish it from other models.
 
  • Add-On Lens - a lens that attaches to the lens built into the digital camera. While an add-on lens is not as versatile as an actual interchangeable lens, it does provide you with an alternative means of composing a shot, by providing a telephoto or wide-angle option or add-on filters, to name a few. An increasing number of digital cameras are starting to offer this feature.
     
  • Audio Recording - allows you to record a short sound bite with each image or movie, allowing you to makes notes for future reference or have a movie with sound. This feature is increasingly used for commercial purposes as a means of voice annotating an image.
     
  • DPOF - or Digital Print Order Format, is a feature that allows you to send images directly to the printer while controlling the quantity and order of the images being printed. Good idea in theory, but very few print services actually accept the DPOF standard.
     
  • Interchangeable Lens - allows you to physically change the type of lens you use. Interchangeable lens capability is rarely found on digital cameras--and when it is, you can expect a hefty price tag along with it.
     
  • Macro - a lens feature which allows you to take "close-up" shots, usually within one foot or less; it's good for taking pictures of small objects, such as a stamp or an insect.

  • Mini Movie - allows you to create a short movie, for those times when still images simply won't do the trick.
     
  • Remote Control - with this feature, you can take a picture without holding the camera - an alternative to using a self-timer.
     
  • Rotatable Lens - allows you to adjust the angle of the lens (not the focusing ability of the camera). Some rotate 180 degrees while others can rotate a full 360 degrees, allowing you to compose a self-portrait while viewing yourself on the LCD panel.
     
  • Plays MP3s - This is a feature that allows you to play MP3 music files on your digital camera. Although it adds functionality to the camera, most models won't allow you to listen to MP3 files while you are taking pictures, or vice-versa. Also note that both your music and your pictures will share space on the camera's memory card, which may limit your ability to hold a great deal of either at the same time.