Digital Camera Buying Guide – What is a Digital Camera?

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Introduction… What defines a digital camera?

Compact Digital Buying Guide Page 1 - Introduction 1With the growing technology of the digital camera industry, it’s difficult to keep up with the latest camera models. With eye-dazzling designs, clever marketing, and millions (okay maybe not millions) of features, who can decide on a digital camera without wanting the next one that comes out just a month later?

Everyone wants a digital camera for all the right reasons.  No more purchasing film, processing and prints and no more waiting to see your results; instant previewing of images, easy sharing ability with friends and family, sleek designs – and instant cool. For all you film camera buffs out there, here’s a quick run down on the differences between film and digital cameras.

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Film versus Memory Card

Instead of film to record images, digital cameras have a small sensor chip called a CCD or CMOS that captures the image in digital format. These sensor chips have a surface that records tiny squares called pixels. Each pixel records one segment of an image. The more pixels a sensor has, the more details can be recorded.

This all gets saved on a memory card so you can transfer the image from the memory card to your hard drive.  The memory card can have capacities just like a hard drive and the larger your files are, the more space it takes up on the card. Essentially digital cameras have eliminated the necessity of negatives and have replaced it with the memory card.

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Front and top views of various styles of Compact Digital cameras

Digital cameras come in three categories to suit different kinds of users.  There are point and shoot compact cameras, advanced compact, and DSLR (digital single lens reflex) cameras. This buying guide is intended for compact camera consumers. We also have a separate guide that covers professional DSLR cameras.

Point and Shoots

For easy handling and automatic features, point and shoot is the way to go. As the name implies, these cameras are designed to do just that: Frame your picture and click the shutter.  The automated feature allows you to shoot various scenes and subjects. No extensive photographic experience is required.

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Examples of Point and Shoot Cameras

These cameras are perfect for beginners and hobbyists who don’t require manual features but want handy tools that help reduce red eye and hand shake while they improve results with automatic scene selections. Want to take a portrait of your mom?  Choose the portrait mode and away you go.  Usually lightweight, easily portable, slim and very sleek, these cameras can fit into pockets and are great for taking snapshots at any time.
Easy and Fun Cameras »

Compact Digital Cameras

A step up from the point and shoots, advanced compacts are also fully equipped with automatic features. Many of these cameras have manual control over exposure, aperture, speed, and white balance (all of which are explained later on). Furthermore, additional image quality features are typically introduced in this level. Image stabilization technology can be incorporated into lenses to combat blurry photos in situations of low light or shaky hands. Red Eye Reduction is also built in to some of the flashes to reduce unsightly red eyes in portraits.
Practical with Features Cameras »
Sleek and Stylish Cameras »

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Examples of Compact Digital Cameras

Advanced Compact Digital Cameras

These DSLR types are not quite in the professional range but physically resemble a DSLR body. The ISO on these cameras tends to be higher, and typically they boast a high megapixel for larger photographic capabilities. Many of the features, such as aperture, shutter speed, white balance and exposure can be adjusted manually. Advanced compact cameras also have the option of attaching imaging accessories like close up lenses, filters, and flashes. They are usually bigger due to larger zoom capacities but can still easily be carried in a purse or stylish camera bag.
Long Zoom Cameras »
Advanced Compacts »

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Examples of Advanced Compact Digital Cameras

Quick note on DSLRs

This buying guide doesn’t cover DSLRs but here is the difference.  DSLRs are made for professional or prosumer users who require manual adjustment capabilities with higher quality CCD sensors and lenses. The bodies are often sold separately from the lens, allowing the photographer to choose from a variety of telephoto, wide angle, zoom, and specialty lenses suited to different photo opportunities.  Customizable in every fashion possible, advanced users can also add flashes, filters and numerous accessories to suit their photography style.

Want to learn more about DSLRs? Check out our DSLR Buying Guide here.

Next – Digital Camera Features

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About Author

Woodrow Walden is a Toronto-based photographer and the Social Media Community Specialist for Vistek.