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Buying a camera? Here's help

December 03, 2007 15:53 IST
With everything that we have taken for granted in life going digital, it's hardly surprising that the ubiquitous "Kodak Moments" captured by the film cameras of yesteryears are now being replaced rapidly by FaceBook-like pixel-precise photographs taken by digital cameras that are shod with truckloads of features.

If the film camera was a simple elementary affair using the tricks of light and passionate human ingenuity, mainstream consumer digital cameras have a plethora of new features and acronyms like megapixel count, digital zoom, CCD, DPI, USB, Firewire, memory cards etc that is mind-boggling to say the least!

But more importantly what relevance do the above features and acronyms have for the end consumer who wants to shift into the digital domain? A lot. Within a modest budget of sub Rs 10,000, one can get a decently performing digital camera if one knows what to look for. As a prospective new buyer, you need to check on these basic must haves in a digital camera.

Effective pixel count

The effective pixel count is the number of pixels that are actually used when a picture is taken. A few years ago, a digital camera with 6 megapixel (million pixels) would have been high-end professional stuff, but today it is in easy reach. Even mobile phones boast of a 3 megapixel camera these days. For a budget digital camera, anything between 6 and 10 megapixels is good. The more megapixels there are, the larger the prints you can make off the picture. In 99 per cent of usage, that is the sole benefit of a higher megapixel numbers, so don't get locked in on the megapixel count. At an A3 size image, you cannot tell identical images shot on 5 to 13 megapixel cameras apart.

Optical zoom

Optical zoom involves a zoom lens, just as it would on a traditional camera. A camera with an optical zoom of 3X can actually give you a picture that's three times closer than the basic, unzoomed image. Digital zoom on the other hand takes a real optical image and "zooms" it by blowing up each pixel. This decreases an image's clarity and sharpness. The thumb rule is that a bigger zoom range (say 5X) will allow you more latitude.

Movie mode

This is the ability to shoot short movies that are saved in the MPEG format on expandable memory cards. This is a useful feature to have if you want to shoot a short video of your child blowing out the birthday candles and put it on Don't expect TV quality footage though.

Battery capacity

The flash and the LCD display use a lot of battery power. For this reason most digital cameras need rechargeable batteries. Budget for an extra set of batteries as well. When buying extra rechargeable batteries look for a number suffixed with AMH. The bigger the number, the more powerful that battery is. Aiming for a 2200-2500 AMH battery is a good idea. If your camera uses a proprietary battery format, this option may not be available to you, but those batteries are usually a lot more powerful anyway. Also check the physical size of the charger. No point in a half-pint size camera if the battery charger occupies half your cabin baggage, right?

Ability to address

SD/MMC memory card capacities of more than 2GB are common these days. Usually, today's crop of digital cameras can support memory cards with capacities of more than 2GB, but don't forget to verify that. Since prices have fallen down to sub-Rs 3,000 for memory cards with 4GB capacity, cameras should have the ability to use these card's full capacity. Budget for at least 1GB extra memory.

Let's take a look at some of the cameras in the market. And remember to check whether the carry case is included in the price or you have to shell out extra cash.

Kodak Easyshare C613 Digital Camera
Price: Rs 7,000

This is a 6 megapixel camera with Kodak-branded 3X optical zoom lens and 2.4" LCD display. The maximum resolution that this camera can take photographs is at 2848 X 2134 pixel resolution.

Kodak Easyshare M753
Price: Rs 9,000

This is one of the new models and is equipped with a 3X optical zoom lens and 7 megapixel resolution, which allows consumers to print clear, crisp images up to 30" x 40" in size.

Sony Cybershot DSC S650
Price: Rs 9,000

This powerful 7.2 megapixel camera delivers stunning digital images. For improved picture quality, clarity and camera response time, Sony's unique processor decreases shutter lag and improves battery stamina.

Sony Cybershot S700
Price: Rs 9,800

This camera offers 7.2 megapixels, 3X optical zoom lens housed in an elegant metal body and a bright 2.4" LCD screen. It can capture audio/video clips at a high frame rate of up to 30 frames per second.

Canon Powershot A550 Digital Camera
Price: Rs 9,750

Shod with 7.1 megapixels, 4X optical zoom lens and a two-inch LCD screen, this camera features Canon's renowned DIGIC II image processor for crisp, vibrant images, responsive performance and low power consumption.

Aaron Mathias in Mumbai