Questions & Answers - 
Digital Cameras

About your camera

Megapixels and DPI
Digital cameras capture dots called pixels using an electronic sensor. More pixels = higher resolution = more detail and sharper edges (good things), but cost more and take up more storage space (bad things). Number of pixels wide x number of pixels tall = megapixels (MP or millions of pixels). For photo prints, at least 300 dpi is recommended.

  • For Internet sharing, even 800x640 is OK.
  • Standard 4x6 prints @ 300 dpi = 1200 x 1800 minimum. This is just over 2 MP. Note that 5x8 (minimum 1500x2400, about 4 MP) and 8x10 (minimum 2400x3000, 7.2 MP) are different ratios.
  • Eight MP and above is common on new cameras and leaves room for cropping or larger prints.
  • Check for the best 4:6 ratio if you want 4x6 prints or you can print using the digital ratio, which is slightly different than 4x6. If a camera is listed at 4MP (2304x1728), the best 4x6 print would be 2304x1536 (3.5MP).
  • Resolution can usually be changed in the camera's menu.

Video

  • Resolution / Pixels: Can be 320x240 (youtube size) , 640x480 (OK for TV), or 1040 (high def).
  • Often can't change zoom or other settings while shooting.
  • Only  really expensive still cameras as good as inexpensive digital video recorders.
  • Can be much better than still photos of an event and easy to share.

Storage
Storage dictates how many photos you can take before the camera is full. Plan for more than you can imagine using - like 1,000 photos at your highest resolution.

Batteries
Digital cameras can eat batteries. If your camera uses AA batteries, I recommend rechargeables - environmentally friendly, and less expensive. It's easy carry two (or more) sets. Regular alkaline batteries last longer, but cost much more in the long run. LION (Lithium/Ion) batteries are long lasting, but expensive and useful only in cameras. Batteries will drain while sitting unused in a camera. 

Zoom
Optical zoom is a true zoom, magnified by the lens system itself. Digital zoom is a simulated zoom that enlarges the image by reducing resolution. Optical zoom is far more important when it comes to choosing a camera. A 3X optical zoom is common and usually lists the film equivalent (e.g. 33mm-114mm). More powerful zooms are useful, but may require stabilization.

Flash
Most cameras have an automatic flash, which is OK for "normal" photographs. It is easy to outshoot the range of the the flash. A stronger flash reaches farther but takes more power, either requiring more batteries or depleting them more quickly. Using flash also slows down availability for the next shot. Flashes often cause "red eye." Many cameras have a red-eye setting or you can edit it out. Sometimes, it is better to turn the flash off and utilize the natural light. An even light is better than a washed out image with shadows behind it. Flashes should be turned off when shooting distant images, such as at stadiums. This allows the camera to adjust the settings properly.

Viewfinders / LCD
Using the LCD on the back of the camera to compose is convenient (WYSIWYG) but eats batteries. Decide how big an LCD you want. Composing the shot on the LCD is great, but make sure to properly brace the camera to prevent shakes.

Image Stabilization (IS)
Optical (or mechanical) image stabilization uses a mechanism within the camera to compensate for your movement when taking pictures especially with a long zoom. Digital image stabilization compensates for motion by increasing the ISO and shutter speed. As with zoom, optical is better.

Camera Reviews

Tips for using a camera

Shutter speed (how long the shutter is open), aperture (which controls depth of field and is measured in f-number) and ISO (sensitivity of the sensor to light) determine how a photo will look. While many cameras allow manual control of these, most point and shoot cameras rely on pre-programmed setting.

Some common programmed settings
Automatic
- The settings that work best for the average photograph. You are letting the camera think for you.
Portrait - Makes selected area (face) sharp and the rest of the image less focused.
Sports - Uses a shorter exposure to capture the action without blurring. Works best when there is sufficient light.
Landscape  - Adjusted to capture distant details. Not to be confused with Panorama or stitch assist.
Party / Children - Optimized for indoor lights and people.
Night  - Uses a longer exposure to get more light into the camera, but watch for flaring. Longer exposures are not a good idea if the subject is moving.
Fireworks - Uses a very long exposure. You will need to stabilize the camera.. 
Close-up or Macro  - For very tight close-ups (under 2 feet).
Snow, Beach, Backlight - Some cameras have programmed settings for special light conditions.
Burst mode - Multiple quick shots. Consider using with Sports mode, though it can be useful for portraits.
Priority - Choose your shutter speed, aperture or ISO and let the camera set the other two.

Advanced Settings
To access advanced settings, you might need to use the camera's menu. Examples include white balance (which can correct for fluorescent lights) or fully manual. Read a good book about digital camera settings and photography before you start.

Focus
Some digital cameras have an automatic focus set on what is in the middle of the image. Others will focus on faces, if they can be identified, or multiple important seeming points. You can use the two-stage shutter release to lock in a different focal point.

Tripods and Monopods
When using settings with longer exposures or distant zooms, it helps to steady the camera. Even pressing the shutter release can move the camera and cause blurring. Tripods are more stable and flexible, monopods are cheaper and easier to carry. Many newer cameras have software based stabilization, which is a partial substitute.

When using your digital (or any) camera

  • Use the Timer to get into the photo or eliminate the blur sometimes caused by pressing the shutter release.
  • Get close. Fill the frame with what you want more of. You can also crop the photo later.
  • Keep your camera at the subject's eye level. You want to avoid pictures taken from an adult human eye's view, which is to say, looking down. Get down on your hands and knees if you have to. When photographing a living creature, it's almost always best to focus on the eyes. Make the eyes sharp. It's where people look first.
  • Rule of thirds. Some cameras even show a grid as an option. Use framing to highlight important points.
  • Where to learn more: Lexar Tips + Lessons, Short Courses and Kodak.

After shooting, before printing - edit the photo

Printing options

  • Home printers (often more costly than professional processing, but faster)
  • Clicks and mortar stores (Wal-Mart and Walgreens) or on-line sites (Snapfish). Free (temporary) online storage and sharing. Not limited to 4x6 prints. Can include calendars, mugs, mousepads, shirts.

Sharing digital photos

  • Email as an attachment. Hotmail will shrink them for easy sending / viewing.
  • Load them on your blog or social networking site.
  • Photo sharing sites such as Flickr or Photobucket.

This page is located at www.mcmillanlibrary.org/programs/camera.html

Last updated January 18, 2012