Finding Your Perfect Digital Camera

By Barr Soltis

I recently decided to buy a new camera. I searched the internet high and low and poured over numerous advertisements and camera reviews. The more I read the more questions I had. Information provided by the manufactures was overwhelming and their respective lines of cameras and options made me feel as if I was looking to buy my very first rifle, scope and computer combined. As with selecting an all-around rifle and scope combination or computer, there are as many, if not more camera options to consider. Trying to anticipate my every need for every imaginable situation and selecting just one camera was both a daunting task and was probably a waste of time and energy.

I finally decided to purchase a compact digital camera. Depending on the options selected, the price of these cameras can range from a few bucks to hundreds of dollars. They come with a wide variety of lens focal lengths, lens speeds, shutter speeds, with or without built in flashes, sizes, weights, movie options, battery life, features and more. Let us not forget the all important image sensor and megapixel equation. At first, I thought that all I wanted was a sensible all-around compact camera, not too big and not too small, a camera that I could easily carry in a coat pocket and be able to get the job done well. However, first I had to define what the job was and how I would measure a job well done.

As stated above, I wanted a camera that was the �best of the best,� based on my requirements. The problem was that I still had not clearly defined, even to myself, what exactly my requirements were. Even with this insight, I entered the world of photographic confusion.

My efforts to separate the wheat from the chaff dilemma reminded me of a day in 1996 when I returned to the U.S. after six years abroad. One day I found myself at the refrigerated orange juice section of my local supermarket. I stood there for quite some time trying to figure out what kind I wanted to buy. There was OJ with pulp, OJ without pulp, OJ with calcium and I even thought that I saw OJ with added vitamin C. To make matters worst, there were as many brands of OJ as Carter (had) liver pills. There were too many options, so I just grabbed one and hoped for the best.

Today�s compact digital camera market is a competitive place. The manufacturers know what sells digital cameras; it is the number of megapixels and this is what the uninformed consumer uses as an index of quality. Manufacturers want you to believe that the quality of digital photographs is determined by this single factor. Fact be known, it is not. Your new digital camera must also be equipped with a top quality lens, quality image sensor and a quality internal image processor that, working in concert, will ultimately produce quality photos. Unfortunately, the technical specifications of these aspects are usually beyond the comprehension of the novice or amateur. The number of megapixels, on the other hand, is easy to remember.

The more I researched the more I found a correlation to the article �A Plea for Sensible Rifle Scopes� that was written by Guns and Shooting Online contributing writer Rick Ryals. Mr. Rylas pleas for reasonable riflescopes, but his voice will most likely be unheard by the riflescope manufacturers. It begs the question: why should they listen? Well, they should listen because he is right.

There are voices in the photographic community who say stop increasing the megapixle count and focus more on the image sensor and internal image processor. Unfortunately, the camera manufacturers do not listen because the competition is fierce and they think that they need to continuously improve their product line in the most easily understood ways (more "features" and megapixels) or they will be left behind in sales.

Consumers have bought into the belief that �new and improved� really means better and what we already own is therefore obsolete. To the uneducated consumer, more is better. The reality is that riflescope and camera manufacturers (many built both) will continue to develop �new and improved� offerings. If they are to survive, they must feed on our egos and convince us that our current equipment is inadequate, even if the new and improved version is only slightly better.

In order to at least get a decent quality lens in your new digital camera, good advice would be to purchase a camera made by a recognized camera manufacturer, a company that made its reputation manufacturing top quality film cameras and lenses. Common examples would be Leica, Nikon and Canon. The better digital cameras from these manufacturers offer manual exposure and focus control in addition to automation of both. You may not use the manual settings, but the models from the established camera manufacturers that offer them are usually the best picture takers, designed to attract more knowledgable photographers.

In closing, I will say this: If you want investment advice about your IRA, do not ask a friend who cannot pay his phone bill. If you want to buy a hunting rifle and scope combination, do not ask someone who only target shoots. Finally, if you have figured out what you want in a camera, don�t ask anyone who still uses a Kodak Brownie camera for advice. As far as orange juice goes, just grab one!

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Copyright 2008 by Barr Soltis. All rights reserved.