A guide to picking the best digital camera

By Roselle Aguilar, MoneySense magazine

Posted at Dec 24 2009 06:15 PM | Updated as of Dec 25 2009 02:16 AM

So you’ve heard about the latest models of digital cameras in the market and you know it’s high time to buy one. But with almost all of them sporting the sleekest style, enormous megapixels, super zooms and wide LCD screens, how would you know what is best for you or the one you’re buying it for?

Well, let’s make this easier for you. Before you get swayed into swiping your card, consider these top five factors: megapixels, price, optical zoom, compatibility of accessories, and of course, the feel.

1. Megapixels (MP)

A souped up point and shoot (compact digicam) boasts of seven to eight megapixels. This feature allows you to print billboard-size photographs or blow up a certain portion of the image without the blur. But if you only plan to print pictures to a maximum of 11” x 14”, five MP is already more than enough. How is this? A megapixel is millions of dots that stores color information per square inch. This is your image’s resolution. So if you have an 8MP digital camera, it simply implies that even if you stretch the image to larger than life proportions, there are enough pixels (dots) to fill the space. If you use a low resolution picture for a billboard, the tendency of the pixels is to stretch itself to fill out the space. Remember though: the larger the megapixel, the larger the file size. So make sure you have a big enough memory card. You wouldn’t want to end up selecting and deleting images that you haven’t even printed or transferred to your PC yet.

2. Price

This one is really quite an issue for the tight-budget consumer. But take it easy. For certain, it will make you smile if you find out that not all cheaper models are of less quality in terms of performance. Most of the time, the manufacturers race up to level their performance with top tiers and take a hundred or more pesos off. And because there’s always a new model or feature coming up, it will only take a month or so to get your heart’s most desired digital camera at 10% to 15% off!

3. Optical Zoom

Are all zooms equal? Not! This is because optical, not digital, zoom is the real deal. The difference: digital zoom is only good for reference and not for printing as it only enlarges the pixels, making your image bigger yet prone to becoming blurred resulting to poor quality; however, optical zoom is the lens’ capability to magnify by the number of x. So if your subject is 50 feet away, and your lens has a 5x optical zoom, it can make your subject seem 10 feet away. Or comparatively speaking, a 270mm lens is equal to 27x zoom. As this feature depends on the lens, the larger the optical zoom, the heavier the camera gets. This is where you’ll have to use tripods to avoid camera shake.

4. Compatibility of Accessories

If you have existing gadgets, you might want to check what you have now and see if they have anything that you could use with the new camera you’re planning to buy. It can save you a thousand bucks or more if your new camera uses the same storage device or batteries with your gadgets. You could either use them for your new digital camera or use them as a spare. Just a tip though. If you use AA batteries, make sure they’re rechargeable batteries as they are more cost efficient. For digital SLR camera buyers, if you could attach your old lenses to your new DSLR, you can absolutely save thousands of pesos.
Consider as well the means to transfer your data. As the image files get bigger due to the increase in megapixels, it is wise to invest in a USB 2.0 interface for faster uploading.

5. The Feel

Finally, upon checking out most of the features online, it is necessary that you visit the camera shops to get a feel of your top choices. See how your fingers fall on the controls. Are they too small that your fingers press two switches at a time? How about the menu, are they too difficult to browse through? Is the LCD bright enough or big enough? Is the camera just light or heavy enough? Trying out the camera helps you eliminate the “feel” factor. Plus it helps you gauge the camera personally.

From the 2007 edition of MoneySense, the country’s first and only personal finance magazine. You can read more financial tips and stories at www.moneysense.com.ph.