Digital Cameras

Digital Cameras

  • By: Buzz Bryson

Q: I’m interested in buying a new digital camera, primarily to take fishing, but am bewildered by the choices and options. Do I need a waterproof model? What about features? Help!

ANSWER: It’s sort of like starting fly-fishing isn’t it? The initial problem to overcome is to figure out where to start. The good news is that there are dozens, hundreds even, of models from which to choose (kinda like fly rods). The bad news is that there are dozens, hundreds even, of models from which to choose.

There are two main camera-body types: DSLRs (digital single-lens reflex) and point-and-shoot (P&S). The DSLRs generally utilize a viewfinder that allows you to see the image through the lens, so you’ll know exactly what you’re capturing on film—oops, digital media. Most SLRs have interchangeable lenses, bunches of accessories and provide maximum control and versatility.

P&S cameras generally have a fixed zoom lens, built-in flash, are compact and are generally less expensive than DSLRs. We’ll concentrate on these. If you’re looking for a DSLR, you probably have some photo experience to build on, and are better equipped to choose among the options.

The image is the bottom-line issue—is the camera capable of delivering the images you need? First, you’ll have to define what you intend to do with the photos. Are you simply interested in photos that look good on Internet posts (like the fun and funky image above) or e-mailed to fishing buddies, or are you chasing after the cover of Fly Rod & Reel?

Generally, any of today’s offerings can produce a nice print of reasonable size, provided the original is composed and (more important) exposed correctly. Here, digital differs not at all from film. If you start out with a mediocre image, all the processing in the world won’t make it a high-quality shot. And as with film, while a full-frame shot will likely produce a nice-size print, don’t expect that you can blow up a fly speck within a digital image and get an acceptable print. You’ll have to read up on the ins and outs of pixel counts to fully understand this. (We’ll post some examples of calculating resolution at Skills section.)

But don’t be fooled by thinking that having more pixels will give you a better image. Sensor sizes vary, and the pixels crammed into a tiny 10 megapixel-sensor on a P&S camera are not the same quality as the pixels on a larger 10 mp-sensor in a DSLR, for instance. Generally, the larger the photosites (essentially, the pixels), the better the image will be, particularly in low-light situations. Next, there is image capture. Most cameras capture images in JPEG format; JPEG is an acronym for Joint Photographic Experts Group, which developed the standardized protocol that is so universally used today. All JPEGs are not equal, as the camera manufacturer’s software, as well as user-chosen in-camera settings, provide some processing of the image
during capture.

You can adjust many cameras to provide in-camera sharpening of the image, increase contrast or color saturation, color temperature correction and others. Generally, the more accomplished the photographer, the less in-camera processing is used, reserving image manipulation to a later, in-home setting. In fact, many people look for cameras, even P&S models, that provide “raw” capture. Raw images, as the name implies, are simply those that have no, or at least almost no, in-camera processing. That way, the photographer retains the maximum flexibility for later image manipulation.

Last, more and more of these cameras offer some form of movie mode. If that’s important to you, consider those that offer high-definition quality.

The simple solution is to do your homework, and take advantage of several internet sites that impartially review cameras; www.dpreview is one of the better ones. Pay more attention to the reviewers than to the comments on the bulletin boards.

If this is your first camera, don’t over-think the purchase. Work on your basic photography skills first. You’ll soon begin developing a knowledge of what you can do with a particular camera, and what you can’t do.
Go to the Skills section and I’ll take you through a whole bunch more options, including waterproofness, lenses, that pixel stuff and more.

Send questions to Professor Buzz at [email protected]