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Thursday, April 1, 2004

Digital Camera Buyer's Guide


New digital gear encourages photographic freedom. Here's how to choose.

 

Digital camera buyer's guide

Digital Cameras are wonderful tools for visual expression. Their ability to review photos on the spot and erase unwanted images removes the pressure from the creative process, making it more successful and more fun, too. Worried whether you exposed correctly deep inside that canyon? Got enough depth of field for the flowers and the mountains? Just play back your image and see. If you goofed, that’s fine—just delete the image and shoot another one, for free. With cameras on the market whose performance rivals that of film, it’s no wonder that so many people are going digital.

Unlike the film cameras we're used to, though, the rapid changes in the digital camera field can present a challenge. Your familiarity with the technology and features offered by today's digital cameras will make your buying experience better and help ensure you get equipment with which you'll be happy.


  The advanced digital compact offers convenience and easy portability, while the digital SLR offers more versatility, control and image quality—and a larger and heavier camera.
 

[ Size ]
Since photography's beginning, we've always had to strike a balance when deciding how large and heavy or small and light our photo equipment should be. The larger our film format (and camera), the larger the prints we can make. The smaller the camera, the more places we can take it and the faster we can set it up. Digital cameras have size and performance trade-offs, too. The advanced digital compact offers convenience and easy portability, while the digital SLR offers more versatility, control and image quality—and a larger and heavier camera.

Digital Camera Buyer‚’s Guide
The physical size of each photo sensor plays an important role, too: The larger the sensor, the less "noise" there will be in the final image, especially at higher ISOs. D-SLRs have the advantage here, as they have larger imaging chips than the advanced compacts.

An advanced compact will fit easily into a fanny pack for a day hike, and a number of them offer very wide zoom ranges and macro capability. Then again, they lack the full range of ƒ-stop settings found on D-SLR lenses, and their control buttons can be smaller and a bit more challenging to manipulate, especially with gloves, than those on D-SLRs. On the other hand, D-SLRs demand more from those who carry them. The camera body's size and weight aren't the only issue; to get a wide range of focal lengths, photographers have to equip their cameras with bulky zooms or a number of single-focal-length lenses. Very long focal lengths on D-SLRs are much bulkier than the equivalent lens on an advanced digital compact.

Digital Camera Buyer‚’s Guide
Canon EOS Digital Rebel
Digital Camera Buyer‚’s Guide
Nikon Coolpix 8700
Digital Camera Buyer‚’s Guide


[ Resolution ]
Generally, the more pixels you have, the larger the print you can make. Most currently available cameras range from 4 to 8 megapixels, with the newest advanced compacts coming in at 8 megapixels, and most D-SLRs at 6 megapixels. If your goal is a 5x7 or an 8x10 print, any of the cameras in this article will get you there. If you aim for 16x20s, though, keep in mind that resolution, or the number of megapixels on the imager, isn't the only factor affecting how much you can enlarge photos from a given camera.

The physical size of each photo sensor plays an important role, too: The larger the sensor, the less "noise" there will be in the final image, especially at higher ISOs. D-SLRs have the advantage here, as they have larger imaging chips than the advanced compacts. The differences in image quality between large and small imagers are less distinct with small prints than large ones, so whether imaging chip size is important to you depends on the size of the enlargements you want to make, as well as the sensitivity (ISO equivalent) you need.

[ LCDs ]
Digital cameras' LCD monitors are a genuine asset. LCDs provide a helpful check on all the elements of your image, both technical and aesthetic. With their histograms and blinking highlight indicators, they're very effective for confirming exposure, and the common zoom-in feature allows you to check image sharpness.

Many of the monitors on advanced compact cameras flip, swivel or twist to offer you different angles of view. This can be a considerable advantage for composing macro shots near the ground or for keeping glare off the monitor screen.

All LCDs aren't created equal, and some are definitely better than others—especially in bright sunlight. Since the LCD is also used to display camera control menus, clarity is important. (LCDs are improving, but many still can be difficult to see outdoors. That's nothing new for a film-based landscape shooter—just screen out the extraneous light, the same way you do when you've stopped down your SLR's lens to check depth of field.)

Digital SLR Specification Chart
D-SLR Canon EOS-1Ds Canon EOS-1D Mark II
Magnification Factor none 1.3
Resolution (Megapixels) 11.1 8.2
Viewfinder Coverage 100% 100%
LCD Size 2.0 in. 2.0 in.
Shutter Speeds 1/8000 to 30 sec. 1/8000 to 30 sec.
ISO Equivalents 100-1250 100-1600
Continuous Shooting Speeds 3 fps 8.5 fps
Dimensions 6.1x6.2x3.1-in. 6.1x6.2x3.1-in.
Weight 44.6 oz. 43 oz.
MSRP $8,999 $4,499
     
D-SLR Canon EOS 10D Canon EOS Digital Rebel
Magnification Factor 1.6 1.6
Resolution (Megapixels) 6.3 6.3
Viewfinder Coverage 95% 95%
LCD Size 1.8 in. 1.8 in.
Shutter Speeds 1/4000 to 30 sec. 1/4000 to 30 sec.
ISO Equivalents 100-3200 100-1600
Continuous Shooting Speeds 3 fps 2.5 fps
Dimensions 5.9x4.2x3.0-in. 5.6x3.9x2.9-in.
Weight 27.9 oz. 19.7 oz.
MSRP $1,999 $899
     
D-SLR Fujifilm FinePix S2 Pro Kodak DCS Pro 14n
Magnification Factor 1.5 none
Resolution (Megapixels) 6.1 13.89
Viewfinder Coverage 92% 92%
LCD Size 1.8 in. 2.0 in.
Shutter Speeds 1/4000 to 30 sec. 1/4000 to 2 sec.
ISO Equivalents 100-1600 80-800
Continuous Shooting Speeds 2 fps 1.7 fps
Dimensions 5.6x5.2x3.1-in. 5.2x6.2x3.5-in.
Weight 1.7 lbs. 2.0 lbs.
MSRP $2,295 $4,495
     
D-SLR Nikon D100 Nikon D1x
Magnification Factor 1.5 1.5
Resolution (Megapixels) 6.1 5.33
Viewfinder Coverage 95% 96%
LCD Size 1.8 in. 2.0 in.
Shutter Speeds 1/4000 to 30 sec. 1/16,000 to 30 sec.
ISO Equivalents 200-1600 125-800
Continuous Shooting Speeds 3 fps 3 fps
Dimensions 5.7x4.6x3.2-in. 6.2x6.1x3.4-in.
Weight 24.7 oz. 2.5 lbs.
MSRP $1,999 $5,130
     
D-SLR Nikon D2H Nikon D70
Magnification Factor 1.5 1.5
Resolution (Megapixels) 4.1 6.1
Viewfinder Coverage 100% 95%
LCD Size 2.5 in. 1.8 in.
Shutter Speeds 1/8000 to 30 sec. 1/8000 to 30 sec.
ISO Equivalents 200-1600 200-1600
Continuous Shooting Speeds 8 fps 3 fps
Dimensions 6.2x5.9x3.4-in. 5.5x4.4x3.1-in.
Weight 38.4 oz. 21 oz.
MSRP $3,999 $999
     
D-SLR Pentax *ist D Olympus E-1
Magnification Factor 1.5 2
Resolution (Megapixels) 6.1 5
Viewfinder Coverage 95% 100%
LCD Size 1.8 in. 1.8 in.
Shutter Speeds 1/4000 to 30 sec. 1/4000 to 60 sec.
ISO Equivalents 200-1600 100-3200
Continuous Shooting Speeds 2.6 fps 3 fps
Dimensions 5.1x3.7x2.4-in. 5.6x4.1x3.2-in.
Weight 19.4 oz. 23 oz.
MSRP $1,999 $1,799
     
D-SLR Sigma SD10  
Magnification Factor 1.7  
Resolution (Megapixels) 3.4  
Viewfinder Coverage 97% vertical, 98% horizontal  
LCD Size 1.8 in.  
Shutter Speeds 1/6000 to 30 sec.  
ISO Equivalents 100-1600  
Continuous Shooting Speeds 2.5 fps  
Dimensions 5.9x4.7x3.1-in.  
Weight 27.7 oz.  
MSRP $1,686  

Digital Camera Buyer‚’s Guide
Fujifilm FinePix S7000
Digital Camera Buyer‚’s Guide
Pentax *ist D
Digital Camera Buyer‚’s Guide
Olympus C-5060

[ Lenses ]
The built-in lens of an advanced compact digital camera offers convenience and versatility, as well as a good seal against dust that would otherwise collect on your camera's imager. Some lenses feature 3x or 4x zooms, such as a 28-116mm or 35-140mm (35mm equivalent), while others pack formidable zoom ranges of 7x or more; 28-200mm (35mm equivalent) is increasingly common.

Most advanced compacts accept accessory lenses that offer a further extension of their built-in lenses' wide-angle or telephoto range. Many advanced compacts' lenses have impressive macro capability, and the optical systems of some advanced compacts provide image stabilization for sharp images when shooting handheld at slower shutter speeds. The new flagship 8-megapixel cameras boast top-quality lenses with ED glass. Canon's new camera even has an L-series lens.

The interchangeable lenses of the D-SLRs offer tremendous versatility at the cost of weight, bulk and greater expense. Their zooms' mechanical controls generally offer more precise focal length selection than the push-button power zooms of most advanced compacts, and the available range of focal lengths in D-SLRs' systems is much wider than that available on any advanced compact. In some cases, faster lenses are available for D-SLRs than those built into advanced compacts; in combination with their higher ISOs, D-SLRs can outshoot most advanced compacts in challenging available light conditions.

Digital Camera Buyer‚’s Guide
LCDs provide a helpful check on all the elements of your image, both technical and aesthetic.


If you already own a film SLR, the AF lenses you're using now will fit on a D-SLR of the same brand. However, there's some good news and bad news. Because most D-SLRs use imaging chips that are smaller in size than the 35mm format, the apparent magnification of your lenses will be greater than you're used to—typically, from 1.3 to 1.6 times greater, depending on the camera brand and model. With a 1.5x magnification factor, for example, your 50mm lens will now act as though it's a 75mm. That's good news, indeed, for users of long lenses, as your telephotos will get a significant boost without the loss of light associated with teleconverters.

The bad news is that wide-angle users will see those focal lengths boosted, too, so your 24mm will now act more like a 35mm. If you do a lot of wide-angle work, you'll need to invest in even wider lenses than you own now. D-SLR manufacturers are working to stay ahead of this problem with special short-focal-length lenses designed for their digital chips' format, which are becoming increasingly available in the marketplace.

Like the advanced digital compacts, D-SLRs have benefited from the advances in optical technology that make it possible to provide excellent optical quality with lenses that would have been difficult or impossible to build in years past. These improvements include the more frequent use of ED- or LD-glass lens elements, aspherical lens elements and apochromatic (APO) lens designs. Each solves particular optical problems and promises better optical quality.

Advanced Compact Digital Camera Specification Chart
Camera Canon PowerShot Pro1 Canon PowerShot G5
Lens (35mm Equiv.) 28-200mm 35-140mm
Resolution (megapixels) 8 5
Viewfinder Electronic Optical
Exposure Modes Multi Multi
Shutter Speeds 1/4000 to 15 sec. 1/2000 to 15 sec.
Maximum ƒ-Stop ƒ/2.4-3.5 ƒ/2.0-3.0
Dimensions 4.6x2.8x3.6-in. 4.8x2.9x2.8-in.
Weight 19.2 oz 14.5 oz.
MSRP approx. $999 $699
     
Camera Fujifilm FinePix S7000 Konica Minolta DiMAGE A2
Lens (35mm Equiv.) 35-210mm 28-200mm
Resolution (megapixels) 6.3 8
Viewfinder Electronic Electronic
Exposure Modes Multi Multi
Shutter Speeds 1/10,000 to 15 sec. 1/4000 to 30 sec.
Maximum ƒ-Stop ƒ/2.8 ƒ/2.8-3.5
Dimensions 4.8x3.8x3.2-in. 4.6x3.4x4.5-in.
Weight 17.6 oz. 19.9 oz.
MSRP $799 TBA
     
Camera Nikon Coolpix 5400 Nikon Coolpix 8700
Lens (35mm Equiv.) 28-116mm 35-280mm
Resolution (Megapixels) 5.1 8
Viewfinder Optical Electronic
Exposure Modes Multi Multi
Shutter Speeds 1/4000 to 8 sec. 1/4000 to 8 sec., plus B
Maximum ƒ-Stop ƒ/2.8 ƒ/2.8-4.2
Dimensions 4.3x2.9x2.7-in. 4.4x4.1x3.1-in.
Weight 11.3 oz. 17 oz.
MSRP $699.95 $999.95
     
Camera Olympus C-5060 Olympus C-8080
Lens (35mm Equiv.) 27-110mm 28-140mm
Resolution (Megapixels) 5.1 8
Viewfinder Optical Electronic
Exposure Modes Multi Multi
Shutter Speeds 1/4000 to 16 sec. 1/4000 to 4 sec.
Maximum ƒ-Stop ƒ/2.8-4.8 ƒ/2.4-3.5
Dimensions 4.6x3.4x2.6-in. 4.9x3.3x3.9-in.
Weight 15.2 oz. 23.3 oz.
MSRP $699 $999
     
Camera Panasonic DMC-FZ10 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F828
Lens (35mm Equiv.) 35-420mm 28-200mm
Resolution (Megapixels) 4 8
Viewfinder Electronic Electronic
Exposure Modes Multi Multi
Shutter Speeds 1/2000 to 8 sec. 1/3200 to 30 sec.
Maximum ƒ-Stop ƒ/2.8 ƒ/2.0-2.8
Dimensions 5.5x3.4x4.2-in. 5.3x3.6x6.2-in.
Weight 1.21 lbs. 2.12 lbs.
MSRP $599.95 $999.95
[ Shooting Modes ]
All of the cameras here offer programmed auto exposure, many with variations on the theme. They also provide aperture- and shutter-priority automation, as well as full manual control. Many cameras feature Scene modes, which direct the camera to determine ambient and even flash exposure settings with a selected photographic situation in mind.

[ Shutter Lag ]
If you're used to shooting a film SLR, then the shutter response of a D-SLR will feel natural to you. At present, however, advanced compact digital cameras still display a slight lag time between the initial press on the shutter release and the instant when the shutter actually fires. A half-squeeze on the shutter will pre-focus the lens and ready the camera's electronics, cutting lag time significantly. Manufacturers of compact digital cameras have made minimizing lag time a priority, and shutter response time continues to improve with every new model.

[ Memory Cards ]
Most current digital cameras make use of CompactFlash, Secure-Digital (SD), Memory Stick and xD memory cards. Some card types are faster than others at transferring data, but the size of your camera's internal buffer will have an equal or greater effect on your ability to capture a quick succession of shots. Unless you shoot action sequences, like whitewater rafting, the difference in speed between card types isn't important for most
of your shooting.

The JPEG files shot at the highest-quality settings of most of these cameras will take up 2 MB of memory or more; RAW files can be much larger. You could multiply 2 or 3 MB by the number of images you'd expect to shoot on film for a rough idea of how much memory to get, but that likely won't be enough. Most people switching to digital from film are stunned by how many more pictures they shoot with digital. One of your first purchases after the camera should be extra memory—get more than you think you'll need.

Some cameras offer a burst mode, taking several shots continuously while the shutter is depressed. This can be a good way of dealing with shutter lag.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digital Camera Buyer‚’s Guide
Canon PowerShot Pro1
Digital Camera Buyer‚’s Guide
Nikon D70
Digital Camera Buyer‚’s Guide
Sigma SD10

Resources 
Canon
(800) OK-CANON
www.usa.canon.com

Fujifilm
(800) 800-FUJI
www.fujifilm.com

Kodak
(800) 235-6325
www.kodak.com

Konica Minolta
(201) 825-4000
www.konicaminolta.us

Nikon
(800) NIKON-UX
www.nikonusa.com
Olympus
(888) 553-4448
www.olympusamerica.com

Panasonic
(800) 211-PANA
www.panasonic.com

Pentax
(800) 729-1419
www.pentaxusa.com

Sigma
(631) 585-1144
www.sigmaphoto.com

Sony
(800) 222-SONY
www.sony.com




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