I see it all the time… people buying a camera because it has a massive zoom or because it’s hot pink. I also see the pictures they take all the time on Facebook… Either too dark, too washed out, too blurry, or too grainy. No one likes pictures like that… So if you’re thinking about getting a new camera that actually takes good photos, look for these features and don’t get distracted buy the shiny colors or huge zooms.
1. Big Aperture. So you’re at a party… you wanna take a picture of you and your friend, but it’s pretty dark, so you put the flash on. You hold it up and take a picture of the two of you. The only problem is, when you look at it, all you see is two white blobs against a black background. The problem isn’t the flash, it’s the tiny aperture that forced you to use the flash. The aperture of the camera is the size of the opening that lets light through to the image sensor. If you have a small aperture, it lets less light through. If you have a big aperture, it lets more light through. Pretty simple. The apertures are measured in f-stops. The smaller the f-stop, the bigger the opening. For example a camera with an aperture of f/2.4-5.9 would be better than a camera with f/3.1-5.9. You can usually find the aperture number on the edge of the lens of the camera. The range 2.4-5.9 is the range of the size of the aperture throughout the zoom range. At the widest setting, the aperture is 2.4. At the most zoomed in the aperture is 5.9. That’s why cameras with big zooms usually don’t have big apertures. 9 times out of 10 (for me at least…) the bigger aperture will come in more handy than a huge zoom. A big aperture REALLY helps when you’re taking pictures in the dark or at night. If it’s big enough, you’ll hardly ever have to use the flash… (which is a good thing!) So as a general rule, look for a camera with an aperture of 2.4 or less on the wide end. There are even point and shoots with apertures as low as 2.0 and 1.8 but they are a little pricier. Don’t even consider a camera with an aperture above 3.0 cuz you’ll be using your flash all the time and your pictures will still come out blurry.
2. Wide Angle. So you’re at that same party… you’re trying to take a picture of everyone at the table. You press the zoom out button… but it stops. You can’t get everyone in the picture no matter how you try to hold it or how hard you press that little button. How far you can zoom in and out is called the focal length. Focal length is measured in mm. For example, a camera might have a focal length of 28-120mm. The first number is how wide it can go. The second number is how far it can zoom in. Now, a lot of people automatically look at the second number and try to find a camera that zooms in a ton. Don’t do that. I can tell you right now that, unless you’re going on a safari in Africa and have to snipe a picture of a cheetah from half a mile, you’re really not gonna need it. You should be looking at the first number. From personal experience, I can say that you’ll probably see 36, 32, 28, or 24mm for the first number. Don’t even consider anything more than 30. You would be amazed by how much of a difference there is between 28 and 24mm. Those four mm make a HUGE difference. However, there really isn’t that much difference between say 200mm and 300mm. So for example, if you had to choose between a camera with a 28-300mm or 24-100mm zoom, GO FOR THE SECOND ONE!!! You’ll find it a lot more useful. Trust me. It might be a little harder to find the focal length on the camera. Sometimes it’s on the lens barrel with the aperture, but a lot of times it isn’t, so your best bet is to look online or on the specification list on the price tag. You also want to look at the 35mm equivalent focal length. So for example, here’s a quote from an add for the popular Canon G12: “6.1-30.5mm f/2.8-4.5 (35mm equiv: 28-140mm)” Don’t look at the 6.1-30.5 mm because most every camera has a different sensor size so 6.1mm on one camera might not be the same as 6.1mm on another camera. The 35mm equivalent focal length doesn’t change from camera to camera so you can compare cameras with different sensor sizes. 24mm is the widest I’ve seen on a point and shoot. I’ve seen some good cameras with 28mm on the wide end, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and say don’t even bother if the zoom doesn’t start at 24mm.
3. Low Noise High ISO. ISO is how sensitive the image sensor is. It’s a setting on the camera that usually ranges from 100 or 200 to 1600 or 3200. The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive the image sensor is. In other words, when it’s bright out, their will be a low ISO. When it’s dark, their will be a high ISO. Most of the time this is automatic, but sometimes you can set it yourself. Regardless of whether or not it’s automatic, once it starts to get too high, the pictures will start getting grainy. You don’t want grainy. Noise is the technical term for graininess.This is probably the hardest to judge because there’s no way to list this on the side of the package. You can’t really tell how good a camera will handle noise until you actually take some pictures with it. The best way to find out if the camera that you’re interested in handles noise well is to look up sample pictures on the internet and compare them. One really good site to do that is imagingresource.com. You can choose practically any camera ever made and look at sample pictures from each ISO setting to determine how it handles noise.
Things You Shouldn’t Worry About:
1. Megapixels. They really don’t make ANY difference. All they are good for is cropping, taking up space on your computer, and making huge 3ftx4ft posters.
2. Color. As a rule of thumb, most of the time the brightly colored cameras suck. Plain and simple.
3. Image Stabilization. I’ve had cameras with and without image stabilizers and i honestly don’t think it really helps that much. I mean, maybe a LITTLE… But if you get a camera with a nice big aperture then you won’t need it anyways.
4. 1020p HD Movies. 720p is more than enough in most cases.
5. Size. The biggest point and shoots with the big fancy zooms usually don’t take good pictures and are hardly ever the best use of your money. The smallest pocket cameras also won’t get you the best camera for your money. Most of the time the best cameras (wide lens, big aperture) are kinda like… mid-sized ones… lol
6. Long Zooms. They really don’t make that much difference. They just make the camera big and heavy and force the camera to have a small aperture.
7. Screen Size and Resolution. It’s nice to have a nice screen, but don’t make your decision based on that.
So In Conclusion…
Look for a camera with an aperture of at least f/2.4 on the wide end. The focal length should be no more than 24mm or maybe 28mm on the wide end. It should also have low noise. If you look for all three of those things, you can’t go wrong.
Some Good Cameras…
I wouldn’t write this whole guide without giving you some good cameras to look up! Some of the best ones I’ve found as of 6/23/11 are: Sony WX1, Sony WX10, Panasonic LX5, Samsung TL500, Nikon P300, Canon S95, Olympus XZ-1. Good luck looking for your next camera and above all, have fun!! :)