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Choice in digital cameras

Compared with traditional film cameras.


When considering a digital camera, find out whether optional accessories, like this wide-angle lens, are available.
When considering a digital camera, find out whether optional accessories, like this wide-angle lens, are available.

Prices for digital cameras have come down enormously over the past few years. Remarkably-high resolution, entry-level cameras are available at prices well within the budgets of most people. When considering the purchase price of a digital camera, you have the advantage of being able to factor in the savings of not having to buy film and not having to pay for its processing - something that traditional (film) camera purchasers cannot do - and that edge may allow you to pay more at the outset for additional features that you might not otherwise be able to afford in a traditional camera. The savings are no small potatoes, either.

HOW MANY PICTURES WILL YOU SHOOT IN A YEAR?

If you are only planning on photographing, say, family (birthdays, Christmas, holidays, travel, etc.) and community events (parades, school plays, sports events, etc.), you might be surprised to find that you could shoot a lot of film - around seventy exposures a month over the course of a year. That’s just under two rolls of 36-exposure film. Not a big deal, you think. But, consider the cost of two rolls of film per month (24 rolls in a year), and the cost to have that much film processed and printed. Let’s say it’s $5 to buy a roll of 36-exposure film and $15 to have it processed and printed. That’s $40 a month, or almost $500 a year. That doesn’t take into account the cost of your time in traveling to the photo lab to purchase, deliver and pick up your film.

If you are a real photo enthusiast, and you plan on shooting scenery, sunsets, happenings and who knows what else, your film consumption could double or even triple, and then some. An avid amateur could easily spend $1,000 and probably much more per year on film and processing. Some amateurs may process their own film and print their own images in a home darkroom - a time-consuming task, and time is money.


With a digital camera, there are no film and film processing costs. You will need to have a good color printer, and to pay the costs of print paper and ink to print out images that you want hard copies of. Or you can pay for a lab to print them for you. But, you certainly won’t be paying to have every image printed - just select ones. Significant long-term savings can be achieved through using a digital camera, and consideration of those savings may allow you to think of paying more at the outset for a better-quality digital camera.

WHAT IS YOUR TIME WORTH?

Another consideration in your decision to go with a digital or a traditional film camera is the amount of time you may spend managing and editing your digital images on the computer. You may want to brighten an image, adjust its contrast, balance its color, adjust the saturation, crop it, sharpen it and do many other things to get your pictures looking just the way you want. If you spend just five minutes per image and you have shot 24 pictures that need editing, that amounts to two hours of computer time. When you shoot film, a good deal of this work is already done for you at the photo lab. So, even though a digital camera may save you from paying a lot in film processing costs, it may cost you in time - the time you put in while improving the appearance of your digital images.

YOUR DIGITAL CAMERA

Choice in digital camera types today is fairly broad, from simple, point-and-shoot, low resolution cameras at the bottom end of the scale to super-digitals for professionals that do everything but cook dinner when the photography is done. Price is the main determinant in digital camera selection - the higher the cost, the more camera you can buy.

What type of digital camera is best for you? In many ways, buying a digital camera is like buying a traditional camera. Choice depends on anticipated usage. We suggest you visit our section entitled Buying a camera to help you get started. Or jump right in, and check out our advice for buying a digital camera.

Three main features to keep in mind when looking for a digital camera are resolution (how many megapixels - generally the more, the better, but not necessarily. You may not need a super high resolution camera); shutter lag time (as short as possible - preferably negligible); and optical zoom (not digital zoom).

How long would it take you to edit the top image so that it can be viewed as in the bottom version? Your time is a factor in your consideration to go digital.
How long would it take you to edit the top image so that it can be viewed as in the bottom version? Your time is a factor in your consideration to go digital.

A digital camera that accepts rechargeable batteries and has an optional charger can save money in the long run.
A digital camera that accepts rechargeable batteries and has an optional charger can save money in the long run.

LOW RESOLUTION POINT AND SHOOT

The casual photographer who would purchase a traditional point-and-shoot film camera can also purchase an easy-to-use, one button, digital point-and-shoot that will produce some remarkably-good pictures. Many cell phone cameras fall into this category. These cameras do it all for you - autofocus, auto-exposure, auto-flash, auto-everything. There are plain and simple varieties and point-and-shoot digital cameras that have added features, like removable memory cards. These cameras are generally low resolution cameras - 2MP to 6MP (megapixels) - mainly intended to produce images for computer viewing - meaning in relatively small image sizes. If the images are printed, they will probably look good in a 4" X 6" size, and not much larger than 5" x 7", although, fairly acceptable 8" X 10" prints can usually be made from a 4MP camera, and most certainly can be made from a 6MP camera. Don’t look for too many photographer-controlled options on the lower-priced point-and-shoot models. They won’t have them. Super, high-priced digital models that allow photographers to control everything will generally allow the photographer to use a point-and-shoot mode, too.

HIGH RESOLUTION CAMERAS

Low resolution cameras are so limiting and high resolution cameras are becoming so affordable that fewer and fewer people will opt for the basic entry level models when they can buy a high-res camera for not much more money. These cameras are called “mega-pixel” cameras because their resolution is in the millions range. A mega-pixel (MP) is one million pixels. That’s a lot of resolution, providing good detail in images. Even though their resolution may be greater - seven mega-pixels and even as high as ten to twelve mega-pixels in some affordable models - many cameras remain relatively-simple point-and-shooters for the photographer who wants the camera to take care of all the guess work and calculations. Picture quality of entry-level 6 to 7MP cameras is quite acceptable for most point-and-shoot and many skilled amateur photographers.


ADVANCED HIGH RESOLUTION DIGITAL CAMERAS

The digital camera market has become quite sophisticated and manufacturers have kept up with it. The serious photographer has a choice between really good quality digital cameras that are relatively-affordable and SLR-quality digital cameras that command high prices and can produce superb images similar to those achievable with film. The price differential is significant. A good digital camera with excellent, user-controlled features, a good lens (or interchangeable lenses) and moderately-high resolution output can be purchased in the $350 to $1,000 range, while the very top digital cameras for pro use will run four or five times as much, and more when essential accessories are included.

The Nikon D70 is a versatile camera suited to the advanced amateur. It has a max. resolution of 6.1MP, shoots at 3 fps (frames per sec.), and accepts a range of lenses.
The Nikon D70 is a versatile camera suited to the advanced amateur. It has a max. resolution of 6.1MP, shoots at 3 fps (frames per sec.), and accepts a range of lenses.

A top-of-the-line digital camera, the Nikon D2X is a photographer's dream, with features that rival those of the most-advanced film SLR cameras.
A top-of-the-line digital camera, the Nikon D2X is a photographer's dream, with features that rival those of the most-advanced film SLR cameras.

TOP-END “PHOTOJOURNALIST” DIGITAL CAMERAS

The very best professional digital cameras offer features that are similar to the best traditional cameras. Few digital photographers can afford the price tag for these outstanding cameras that rival just about anything that traditional cameras can produce. Photographers who work for the media have embraced them because their images, once taken, are in digital format, immediately ready to be transmitted electronically for publication. No film to process. Just shoot, select, transmit, and it’s ready to be edited and printed, whether the publication is in Singapore or Brazil and the photograph was taken in Canada or South Africa.

The Nikon D2X shown on the left has a maximum resolution of 12.4MP, interchangeable lenses and no perceptible shutter lag. Canon's EOS 60D has a maximum resolution of 18MP. And that's not the upper end yet. Because so many professional media photographers have taken to these super digital cameras (perhaps because they have to have them to be competitive or are among the few who can afford them - although prices have been coming down), they have been termed “photojournalist” digital cameras.

Your purchase of one of these dSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras is as good as you can get, digitally. The camera has so many well-thought-out features that, on full-automatic operation, it will almost take the picture for you. But, owning such a camera doesn’t automatically make you a good photographer. You still need to understand basic composition, good posing, and so on. Having the world’s best hammer doesn’t make you a top carpenter.


Further information...

Using 35mm SLR lenses on dSLR camera bodies
Related topics...

Buying a camera

Buying the right digital camera for you