Buying a digital camera for Christmas? Prepare to be confused. Retailers list an arsenal of mumbo-jumbo on a camera's specifications.
Fortunately, deciphering it is fairly easy. Here are common specifications you'll see on cameras and whether you need to worry about them.
Aperture refers to the diameter of the camera's lens opening. Aperture, or f-stop, is expressed as a fraction. For example, f/2.8 represents 1/2.8. Smaller numbers equal larger aperture sizes and faster shutter speeds. More light reaches the sensor.
Verdict: Maximum aperture size does matter. You'll get much better low-light shots with larger apertures. The camera will be more versatile.
FRAMES PER SECOND
Frames per second (fps) is the number of photos per second the camera can capture. A point-and-shoot normally takes one or two images per second. With SLRs, this increases substantially. You'll see SLRs capable of five or more frames per second.
Verdict: Pay attention to frames per second. A higher fps rate means less lag between shots; you won't miss the action. Just make sure the camera's fps rating applies to the highest resolution images.
Image stabilization reduces blurring from camera shake. With optical image stabilization, an element in the lens detects movement. A second element offsets this movement. Some cameras shift the sensor to counteract movement. But digital image stabilization may use a number of methods to stop blur. For example, light sensitivity may be boosted to shorten exposure times.
Verdict: Any photographer will love optical image stabilization. Digital stabilization can result in sub-par prints. Know what type of stabilization you're buying.
Zoom lets you adjust the angle of view. With point-and-shoots, ratings are expressed by a number followed by an X.
The ratings correlate to the focal length of 35mm film cameras. You multiply the zoom rating by a base number, usually about 35mm. So, a 3X zoom yields a range of roughly 35mm to 105mm.
A 35mm lens is moderately wide-angle. (Many photographers consider it normal.) A 105mm lens is a moderate telephoto. Wide angle lets you capture more of a scene. Normal is about the same angle of view as the human eye. Telephoto gets you closer to a subject.
Verdict: Optical zoom is very important. Disregard digital zoom. It uses trickery that can result in poor photographs.
The LCD on a camera is used to compose and review shots. Many people are accustomed to using the LCD over the viewfinder. LCDs are also used to adjust settings. Touch-screen LCDs are particularly helpful for this.
Verdict: Important to some. A large, bright LCD is paramount for those with poor eyesight. Others may prefer to turn the LCD off.
The image processing chip converts sensor data into images. The image processor affects photo quality and camera speed. Each manufacturer has its own digital image processor. And each claims to have the best.
Verdict: Don't worry about the image processor. Its abilities will become clear when you look at image quality.