What is the difference between all these different types of cameras?

There are a lot of different camera types out there, and some camera companies don’t even use the same terms. This list should get you started though.Compact cameras (sometimes called point and shoot cameras) are generally the smallest and least expensive of the camera types. While there are exceptions, most compact cameras are designed to be pocket-sized and easy to use.

If you need more reach, or just prefer to hold a larger camera, you may want to consider a super zoom camera. It will no longer fit in your pocket, but it will bring you much closer to your subject. If you don’t need to carry as small a camera as possible, you might want to consider a single lens reflex (SLR) or a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (MIL). SLRs and MILs use much larger and more powerful processors, motors, and gears. This results in a camera that thinks, focuses, shoots, and records much faster than a compact or super zoom camera. They also have larger sensors that let in more light for better low-light performance and better dynamic range. The larger components in SLRs and MILs are also much more resistant to wear and tear from heavy use.

The largest difference between SLR and MIL cameras is the viewing system. SLRs are designed to be used while looking through a viewfinder, although some models will also allow you to use the LCD screen for picture taking. With the MIL cameras, you can only use the LCD screen. The removal of the mirror makes MIL cameras much smaller than an SLR that takes the same quality of picture, but always having the LCD screen on means the MIL cameras will also have a much shorter battery life.

What is a megapixel? How many do I need?

A megapixel is a million pixels, or little colored dots. A megapixel rating gives you an idea of how large a photo can be printed; a photo with more megapixels can be printed much larger than a photo with low megapixels, while still looking clean, sharp, and not grainy.

How many megapixels do you need? That depends on what you want to do with your photos. If you don’t intend to print anything larger than 8x10, then your eyes won’t even be able to see more than 8 megapixels. If you don’t print at all, your computer monitor will not display more than 3 megapixels. And if you plan on printing posters, than you want as many megapixels as you can get.

Remember that a megapixel is NOT a quality rating. There are many excellent cameras with very few megapixels, and many more poor cameras with a lot of megapixels. The quality of the lens, of the camera’s processor, and just plain old build quality are all very important to determining how good of a photo a camera can take.

How much zoom do I need?

A. If you’re using the camera for family or vacation photos, a camera with 3x or 5x will probably be enough to meet your needs. If you want to take photos of sporting events, 7x to15x zoom would work very well. For birds and other wildlife, you’ll want as much zoom as possible.

Cameras with larger zoom lenses will be considerably larger and more expensive. In addition, larger lenses are harder to hold steady at night or indoors, even with anti-shake. If you don’t plan on shooting faraway objects regularly, consider a camera with less zoom.

I’ve heard about waterproof, freeze proof, and shockproof cameras. Can I REALLY drop my camera and keep on using it?

Nikon, Sony, Olympus, and Canon all offer camera models that make this claim.

If you’re not sure that you will damage your camera, but you still want to make sure it works if you drop it, you might want to consider a Diamond protection plan. Diamond plans start at just $39.95 for cameras under $250, and will give you three years of no fault coverage. If you drop your camera, dunk it in water, spill food on it, or just use it so much that it’s worn out, we’ll repair or replace it for you. We can even give you Diamond coverage on cameras and electronics that you bought from someone else, so long as you purchase and register the coverage less than 30 days after you buy your device.

What is ISO?

Your ISO is how sensitive your camera is to light. Higher ISO settings will allow you do take photos in darker places, or to take photos with faster shutter speeds to freeze action. However, higher ISO settings will also cause your image to become noisy or grainy, so you generally want to use lower ISO settings when possible. 100 or 200 will usually be plenty of light to take a great picture in sunlight. If you’re indoors or in the shade, you will probably want 400 or 800 ISO. If you’re taking photos of fast moving things indoors, such as a dance reception or basketball game, you’ll want to use 1600 ISO or more.

What is White Balance?

Every type of light has a slightly different color tint. Many indoor bulbs are slightly yellow or orange, and most fluorescent bulbs are greenish. White balance, or more specifically automatic white balance, is the ability of the camera to correct for these color tints. A camera with excellent automatic white balance will take natural-looking photos in almost any light, while a camera with poor automatic white balance may only take natural-looking photos in sunlight.

If you are taking a photograph under different lighting conditions, such as a room with sunlight from a window and lamps, you may need to manually select which white balance setting you want the camera to use. This is particularly true if the automatic white balance on your camera is not very accurate.

There are all sorts of different sensors that manufacturers talk about. What’s, the difference?

First, let’s talk about sensor type. As a rule, manufacturers use one of two different types of sensors in digital cameras: a CCD, or a CMOS. Most compact digital cameras use a CCD sensor. CCD sensors are less expensive to produce; you can generally assume that if the manufacturer doesn’t describe or mention the sensor in the camera, that it is a CCD.

CMOS sensors cost more to produce, so they will usually only be used in more expensive cameras. The benefit of a CMOS sensor is that it produces a cleaner, more colorful image in low light than a similar CCD sensor would. If you plan on taking photos indoors a lot, you’ll definitely want to look into a CMOS sensor. Sensor size can also have an impact on image quality. A camera with a larger sensor will capture a better dynamic range (the number of colors between black and white), and will produce less grain or noise in low light. However, cameras with these large sensors will be more expensive, and often larger, than their cousins with smaller sensors.

What’s the difference between RAW, TIFF, and Jpeg pictures?

Jpeg (or .jpg) is the standard picture format. Almost any device can open a Jpeg, and any lab can print a Jpeg. However, Jpegs are what is called compressed. When you photograph in the Jpeg format, the camera will look for clumps of similarly colored pixels, and combine them into one big pixel. Depending on the amount of compression, the amount of editing done after the photo is taken, and the size of the print, you may or may not notice any effect from the compression.

A TIFF (or .tif) file is the largest type of file that a camera can make. TIFF files are similar to Jpegs, but they are not compressed. If you plan on printing your photos large, especially if you might spend a lot of time editing them, the TIFF format is likely to give you better results than Jpegs. There is a downside though: most self-service or large-quantity printers will not read TIFF files.

RAW files, which are all brand-specific extensions (.nef, .cr2, etc.) are uncompressed like TIFF files, but they have not been processed by the camera yet; like the name implies, it’s just ones and zeros – raw data – and not an actual image file. The bad news about RAW files is that since they aren’t a processed image file, you won’t be able to do anything with them until you process them yourself. You can’t print them, post them online, or email them until you edit them with some sort of software; and worse yet, this software is often expensive, and processing a large batch of RAW files can very easily take you all night.

The good news about RAW files is that because you’re doing the processing yourself, you have the most flexibility when editing it. A RAW file can be more heavily edited than any other format before it starts to visibly lose quality. Like any other format, whether or not you can see a quality difference between formats depends on the size of the print, and how you’ve chosen to edit or alter it before printing.

Will my camera record movies?

If your camera has a fixed, non-removable lens, then it will most likely record movies. Of course certain brands and models will make movies better than others, so you might want to consider movie quality when looking at a new camera.

If your camera has a removable lens, it may not record videos. Most cameras with interchangeable lenses are designed for still photos and the video function is added afterward; when this is the case, you may find that cameras focus more slowly, or otherwise lose some functionality while shooting videos. There are a number of removable lens cameras on the market that are designed from the ground-up for video, and the improvements are huge.