Choosing A Digital Camera: The De-baffling Basics

Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Laptop, printer, notebook, pens …camera. Yes, the camera is now officially a required part of the freelance writer’s toolkit. Using a digital the camera is easy, but purchasing one can be an intimidating experience. Here are some basic terms and tips you need to know when choosing that first camera.

Megapixel or MP

Pixels are tiny dots that make up a digital image; one million pixels equal one megapixel. The more pixels used for the image the sharper it is and the more flexibility you have for cropping, enlarging, etc… For most of us anything around 4.0 to 6.0 is fine. This range allows for good prints up to 8x10 and the ability to do a bit of cropping and enlarging without getting too grainy. This is not the only factor determining the picture quality however.


This is the level of compression applied to the image. Most cameras will have an adjustment setting for the resolution of Good, Better or Best. Choosing a lower resolution will allow you to store more pictures on your memory card but those pictures will be a lower quality.


There are two types of zoom, optical and digital. What you are looking for is optical zoom which is the focal length of the lens. Digital zoom merely crops the image as you would with your photo editing software resulting in lost pixels and a lower quality image. Be careful here, many times the manufacturer will list a combined zoom instead of breaking it down to optical and digital.

Image Sensor

To make this easy let’s just say this is the size of your canvas or negative. It is a holding area for the information needed to create the image. The larger the sensor the larger each pixel area is, therefore, a 4.0 MP camera with a large sensor will probably take sharper pictures than a 6.0 MP with a tiny sensor.


This number indicates the level of sensitivity of the image sensor to record light and action. Most point and shoot cameras automatically adjust the ISO; the basic rule is that higher settings are used to capture low light or fast action but often result in more noise or grainy texture in the darker area of the photo.

Image Stabilization

Some cameras offer compensation for shake, that annoying blur that happens when you don’t hold your camera completely still. If you desire this feature look for optical or mechanical stabilization. Digital stabilization simply increases the ISO and shutter speed and will often reduces definition.

Remember to check for how your pictures will download; by USB connection is generally easier. Make sure the camera has a good quality glass lens. Purchase a memory card, tripod and case and you’re ready for any assignment!

By Robyn Chausse


Miss Footloose | Life in the Expat Lane said...

Thank you for this. I am technically challenged when choosing a camera, although I love taking photos. They have helped my writing inmeasurably, by offering visual reminders and details I can use to improve my stories. And of course, they are always fun to use on my blog.

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