Choosing A Digital Camera (3 of 3)

What To Look For In A Digital Camera (part 3)

Everybody talks about megapixels! But what is a megapixel?

Megapixels refers to the number of dots that make up the photograph. In digital photography, the picture is made up of dots, each of a different color. These dots are called pixels. Like bytes in computer memory, the nerds have chosen to use kilo- and mega- to describe large numbers of them. And thanks to the mysteries of computer technology, a kilopixel is not 1,000 pixels, but actually 1,024. And a megapixel is not 1,000 kilopixels, but 1,024 kilopixels, or 1,024 x 1,024 pixels.

The number of megapixels is calculated by multiplying the width of the image by the height. So, if a picture is 1,200 pixels wide and 900 pixels high, that image consists of 1,080,000 pixels. Divide by 1,024, and you get 1,054 kilo pixels. Divide by 1,024 again, and you have just over 1 megapixel.

So, what does it mean when you have a 3 megapixel camera, versus a 5 megapixel camera? The 5 megapixel camera has broken the picture into more individual dots. Each of those dots represents the color at a particular location of the picture. If there are more dots making up a picture, each dot represents a smaller area, which give you more detail in your picture. This comes in handy for two thing:

  • Printing larger copies
  • Zooming in on details in the picture

And finally, does it matter who makes the camera? Aren’t all camera makers the same?

Not really.

First of all, not all of the companies making digital cameras are really camera companies. Some, like Hewlett Packard, Sony, Epson, Dell, Casio, and Gateway are electronics companies that got into the camera business as an extension of their computer business. These companies have taken different approaches to making cameras, some of them are solid, others are more radical.

Secondly, some companies have decided to target specific types of camera users. Kodak, for example, has long been a strong company for manufacturing cameras that were easy to use. This has carried over into their digital camera business, with cameras, printers and docking stations that all work together, and software in the cameras that works the same from their cheapest camera right up to the top of their line. Some of the traditional camera manufacturers, such as Canon, Olympus and Nikon, have tried to duplicate the experience of their film cameras in digital form. As a result, their cameras typically have excellent lenses and lots of features with an emphasis on manual control of the camera settings. This comes at a price – it will take longer to learn how to use these cameras effectively, but it will be time well spent.

As mentioned previously, Sony is a wild card company. When they set out to make digital cameras, they set out to make a top quality product, and partnered with a well established maker of lenses. As a result, they make cameras that combine state of the art electronics with top quality lenses.

I’ll talk more about different digital camera manufacturers over the next few months. If you have specific questions about any manufacturers, or how to choose one, please speak up in the comments section and I’ll provide an answer.