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Frequently Asked Questions About Digital Cameras

The following are frequently asked questions about digital cameras.

Small cameras

Smaller cameras are handy, but do they offer the same quality as larger ones?

There are cameras with more than 3.0 and 4.0 megapixels that are small enough to fit in your pocket, so there isn't a trade–off between resolution and size.

Larger doesn't necessarily mean better, though professional–grade digital cameras that accept attachable lenses and flashes won't be small enough to fit in your pocket. Attachable lenses and flashes are one of the few things you will have to give up for in–pocket portability. Another is a large LCD viewfinder screen. Larger cameras tend to have larger LCD screens. The advantage to a larger screen is that it can makes previewing and reviewing images (and showing them to friends right from your camera) a little easier.

Some, but not all, portable cameras might have lower optical zoom and fewer features that allow you to adjust the shutter and lens to affect light and image–exposure.

Must-have features

I plan to use my digital camera to take pictures of family and places we visit. I am no artist, nor do I want to be. Which of the fancy features do I really need?

The short answer is that you only really need red–eye reduction, automatic flash, and about 2.0 megapixels. None of these are fancy features.

Red–eye reduction and automatic flash are standard on all new cameras, even those with fewer than 2.0 megapixels. 2.0 megapixels is a good resolution rating to opt for because, while it is a relatively modest rating, it will enable you to print images as large as 5"x7" at full resolution.

You also may want to choose a camera with at least 2x optical zoom, since taking group and outdoor photos is more accurate and fun with at least some optical zoom. (Note: many, if not most, affordable models will have at least a 2x optical zoom.)

You should also buy a camera that has removable memory (CompactFlash, SmartMedia, SD card, MMC card, or a Memory Stick). Removable memory can be upgraded. Upgrading to 64MB (or more) will enable you to capture more images on trips without running out of memory. You can think of memory cards as film. Once you run out of a memory card, you run out of film. You'll then either need to download your images to a computer, or have an additional and/or larger memory card.

Excellent, but non-essential features

You've detailed the features I need, but what features do I not need if I just want a point–and–shoot, no–frills camera?

Here's a quick review of the features you don't need: aperture priority and shutter priority, a hot shoe for flash attachments, and a threaded lens that accepts wide–angle and telephoto lenses.

If you don't want to record up to thirty seconds of narration per photo — and you don't care to capture brief movie clips up to thirty seconds — you also don't need to ensure that your camera has voice annotation or the ability to capture QuickTime or AVI videos.

Now, you might still get many of these features (except for the threaded lens and hot shoe) in an affordable camera, but you won't need to go hunting for them — and you'll know not trade up to a more expensive model in order to get them.

Zoom

What is the difference between optical and digital zoom? Which is better and why?

Optical zoom closes in on a subject and magnifies its details. Digital zoom enlarges the pixels of an image without improving detail. A digitally zoomed picture is larger, but not clearer. For this reason, optical zoom is often called "true zoom" and is better than digital zoom.

Megapixels

What's a megapixel, and how many do I need?

A megapixel is equal one million pixels, or distinct color dots. A 2.2 megapixel camera, for instance, captures digital images with 2.2 million pixels of color. The larger the final, printed digital image, the more likely these distinct color dots will begin to show. What this means is that you should choose the megapixel rating of your digital camera based on the size of the prints you'd like to create.

The more pixels you have, the larger your pictures can be printed, says Dave Johnson, author of How to Do Everything with Your Digital Camera.

Here's a quick sketch of the optimal print sizes that can be generated from digital cameras with the following megapixel ranges:

Megapixel rating
Produces print sizes of:
1 to 1.9 3" x 5"
2 to 2.9 5" x 7"
3 to 3.9 8" x 10"
4 to 6 11" x 14"
6 and up 13" x 19"

Emailing digital images

How can I email pictures?

Put your pictures in a JPEG format to make sure your recipients will be able to view them. If your pictures aren't in this format, you can use the imaging software that came with your digital camera to easily convert them into JPEG.

JPEG (or Joint Photographic Experts Group, the organization that developed the standard) is the most popular format for compressed digital images. JPEG compression makes the file size smaller and faster to upload and download.

To attach the images in your email, select "attach file" from your email file menu (often under the "Insert" or "Edit" drop down) and then navigate to the JPEG file or files you would like to attach.

Opening emailed digital images

How can I open pictures that are emailed to me?

Your computer might not have decoding software to decompress digital files. Fortunately, you can download such software for free from the Internet. PC users should download "WinZip" (click here to download) and Mac users should opt for the "StuffIt Expander" (click here to download). The installed decoding software will guide you through the process of opening compressed digital files once you double click on the attachment in your email.

Developing digital images

How do I develop my digital images into pictures I can actually flip through?

You can print digital images yourself, as long as you have high–quality photo paper and a color inkjet printer. For best color printing results, you should consider buying a photo printer. You can either print from your computer by downloading the images (via USB cable) to your computer, or, if your photo printer accepts memory cards, by inserting the removable memory directly into your photo printer. Read tips on printing your own digital images.

If you'd rather have someone else print your images for you, you can take your removable memory to a processing store that prints and processes digital images.

If you have a CD–RW drive (also called a CD burner) you can save the images to a CD–R and take it to a processing store. Or, you can download your images to online processing centers, such as photonet.com, shutterfly.com, and ofoto.com.

Memory card storage

How many digital images can I store on a 16MB memory card?

The number of images you'll be able to store varies according to the resolution and compression setting of your camera. The higher the resolution (that is, the more megapixels) the fewer pictures a memory card can store. When it comes to compression, however, you'll be able to save more images if you take pictures using a compression format such as JPEG.

See a table that shows how many digital images you can store on various removable memory cards.


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