Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Friday

I actually hate this term as it applies to the Christmas Holiday shopping season. It is a time for joy and feeling good about the gifts we are going to give to the one’s we love. I am not sure but I believe it was a name tagged to the day by the retail working staff. My reasoning is that on this day they know they are going to have to face the charge of the herds that are about to come crashing through the doors seeking those Christmas gift specials this day after Thanksgiving. I am sure the retail owners don’t consider it a black day when the cash registers begin to jingle in these less than stellar economic times.

Needless to say that my newspaper from now until the very day of Christmas will be chock full of ads and glossy inserts attempting to lure customers to their stores. I admit to perusing through them to see what tickles my interest. One of the things I look at in most of the flyers is the technology areas for computers and digital cameras. I think I have spent my camera equipment budget for the next couple of years but I am thinking that there may be many out there that are contemplating the purchase of a digital camera for that special someone and have no clue to what to buy. So, I thought I should share a bit of my knowledge to assist anyone that might want to make a digital camera purchase.

The first thing to look at is who the digital camera is intended for. Is it an adult with little photographic knowledge or is it someone that has had cameras in the past and is familiar with using SLR (Single Lens Reflex) film cameras? We will discuss youngsters in a bit. First for the less experienced photographer you may want to select a point and shoot camera. I know it may sound like something that is equivalent to my first Christmas camera which was a Kodak Brownie but they have a lot more versatility than the Brownie had. First off these cameras can capture far many more shots than the 12 shots on a roll of film. We will discuss some of the considerations to make a purchasing decision.

Price – Digital Point and Shoot Cameras can range in price from sub a hundred dollars up to around 500 dollars. The price is a rough indicator of capability but possibly some of the extra features may never be used. So once you determined what your maximum budget is you can start a comparison of the other feature that the cameras in that price rage have.

Pixels – this is the number that is touted and bantered about the most. Cameras today are in the range of 8, 10 or 12 mega pixels but what does that really mean? First off a pixel is a picture element that carries color information and can be thought of being spaced on a grid on the digital camera’s sensor. The sensor is what takes the place of film in a digital camera. So generally speaking the more pixels you the more points of the image are captured giving a better image quality.

Zoom – you may see the term digital zoom but if you wish to be able to zoom in on objects I think it is best to consider a camera with optical zoom. So what is the difference between digital and optical zoom? Digital zoom is using a digital technique to expand the image over a number of pixels which results in a lower resolution photo which can appear somewhat out of focus depending on the subject and the zoom factor that was used. Optical zoom is using a lens to make the zoom which leaves the camera with the same pixel resolution no matter what the zoom factor is. You may see numbers like 8X, 10X or 12X but what does that mean? Consider it to be a magnification factor. So a subject at 24 feet can be brought to appear like it is 3 feet away when using 8X Zoom of 2 feet away while using 12X zoom. My suggestion is to look at cameras with optical zoom capability.

Modes – These are preset modes mainly for scene selection between landscape, portrait or macro (close-ups). Primarily it is dealing with the distance from the subject and where the center of focus is to be. You may want to view the camera’s manual to see what these distances are. For macro mode it will usually state the closest distance the face of the camera lens can be from the subject you are photographing.

Other features – Some of the other features you may see listed are Red Eye Reduction, Vibration Reduction (VR) and White Balance (WB) adjustment. Red eye reduction removes the red from the eyes of your subjects while doing flash photography. The effect is caused by the light from the flash being reflected back from the back of the eyes where the blood vessels are located. Vibration reduction is trying to eliminate the slight changes in camera movement while the shutter is being activated. It attempts to eliminate the blur that can be caused by that action. Normal White Balance is equivalent to pure white light under a bright sun. However, different light conditions particularly indoors can cause photos to have a color cast. For instance while photographing under incandescent light photos can appear to have an over all yellowish appearance while fluorescent lights may add a greenish look to your photos. The WB adjustment can compensate for these types of artificial light to make the photo look clear and crisp as if it were photographed in the outdoors bright sunlight.

Magnetic media or “digital film” – Most new cameras do not come with a memory card and it will be an extra item that needs to be purchased. Verify the size and type of memory card the camera is able to use. If a camera has a maximum memory size of 4 GB (gigabyte) then buying an 8 GB card will not work and if it did you would only be able to take photos that fit on a 4 GB card so there will be a lot of wasted space and dollars since the bigger the card the more it costs.

Batteries – Most of the higher end point and shoot digital cameras come with a rechargeable battery. Before purchase you must verify the type of battery that is to be used in the camera if it is not supplied with the camera. They can be anything from AAA to AA or some other battery style that is not as common. If the camera that you are purchasing uses these types of batteries you may want to buy them in quantity if you plan to do a lot of photo taking.

Brand – There are a lot of fine photography equipment manufacturers that make these types of cameras. However, there is a wide variety of these cameras which may work well but are off brand and sell for less. The question to ask is how long is this camera to be used? If but for a short period then Brand does not make that great of a difference as long as there is a decent warranty. However, if the camera is to be in service for a number of years then you may want to consider one of the main brand names for cameras since they more than likely have the longevity and will be able to provide service and support well into the future.

I think these considerations should be a good starting point. However, do not be afraid to ask questions and if the sales clerk cannot provide adequate answers I would suggest checking the support links on the manufacturer’s website.

We said we would get back to the youngsters and we are. The whole key is that within that group a couple of years could make a huge difference. I would not buy a serious camera for anyone under the age of 10. I know there are always exceptions so this is just a suggestion. Usually youngsters are marketed heavily with name recognition of characters that are on children’s TV shows. This also goes for cameras. However, although prices seem to be in the price range of ordinary cameras I find that these children digital cameras are really over valued for their meager capabilities. You can find plenty of “no name” camera brands with similar capability at the fraction of the price for these types of cameras. If a child is serious about photography then I would buy one of the low cost cameras that they will be able to grow with in the near term.

Finally, getting to that experienced photographer that you would like to buy a DSLR for. My recommendation is only purchase a camera that you know they were absolutely lusting over. If you do not feel positive about the type, brand etc do not make the purchase. Experienced photographers generally have an idea of what they want. So to eliminate that look of “oh no” when they open the present I would recommend to either give them a gift card to their favorite camera store or a check to cover the purchase price. If you have an idea of the camera they may want you could get a brochure at the camera shop and include it in with the card.

I hope the information has added some insight in making a wise and informed camera purchase and Happy Holidays.

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