REALLY basic digital camera advice requested.

Well, my 6 year old film camera finally broke (and while I was on vacation, OF COURSE). I’ve been saying for years that I couldn’t justify buying a digital camera when I had a perfectly fine camera already, but now I don’t, so…I want a digital camera. The thing is, I know nothing about digital cameras. I searched some old threads, but the people asking the questions seemed to already have an idea about what they wanted, and I don’t. I don’t know shit about pixels or memory or…anything. I am very unhip.

I am also poor. Really, really poor. I can swing a couple hundred bucks from my savings from my old job in America, but I can’t go too crazy.

Advice? I’m not a professional photographer or anything, I just want something to take casual pictures.

Rock-bottom basics:

The camera style should be point-and-shoot, with an emphasis on ease of use.

Get as much optical zoom as you can, consistent with the size (and price range) you want. Don’t be sidetracked by digital zoom.

For normal use, 4 to 6 megapixels is a very good range. At maximum resolution, photos will make film-quality 5x7 prints. I expect an expert will come by to discuss the pixel capacity needed to make film-quality 8x10 prints.

A 1 GB card can hold more than 600 (sometimes 700) photos at 4 megapixels on maximum resolution. This size of memory card should cover all your needs.

Get one that uses SD cards, those can be read directly by many printers and computers and are relatively inexpensive.

Unless you intend to blow up your pictures up to poster-sized, just look for one that fits well in your hand and doesn’t have too many buttons. I’m assuming you’re not going to use filters etc., that’s a different category (most compact cameras can’t be fitted with a filter).

Make sure to verify the optical zoom. A camera with “100 digital zoom” isn’t doing anything your computer can’t do; the optical zoom is what used to be the zoom in film cameras.

Several years ago, I worked in a call center supporting the then-top-of-the-line digital cameras (hint: big name in European photoimaging, not so much here.) We were especially proud of our 1600-line camera, a $3,000 behemoth that, with some practice, could produce 4X5 photos of reasonable quality. We bragged that the resolution was a whopping 1,600 by 1,600 pixels

Six months ago I bought a Kodak point-and-shoot digital camera with a resolution of five megapixels by five megapixels. I think the math comes out to 5 times the resolution (or is it 50? I dunno) at a cost of $139.95 and it fits in my shirt pocket.

My advice: Don’t be put off by the seemingly “cheap” appearance of some very good digital cameras. Shop at camera or electronics stores, not Wal-Mart – the kids who work at the electronics stores at least know something about their product line.

Very unlikely. Five megapixels total, yes.

One thing though – when choosing a camera, don’t get hung up on the pixel count. That really is a very minor part of image quality. The lens is the important bit - if you’re not getting a decent image falling on the sensor, then no amount of pixels are going to produce a decent picture. Think of it this way - the sensor is just the “film”. Put expensive top-of-the line film into a cruddy point-and-shoot film camera with a shonky lens, and you’ll still get distinctly average photos. Put no-name film in a decent SLR and you’ll likely still get pretty good results.

It’s amazing how few people realise this, and assume that more megapixels automatically means better image quality.

I give my standard advice on cameras:

Your ability as a photographer has more of an impact on the quality of your photographs than the type of camera you get.

And the first response to your message has pretty much all the info you need.

Second the idea to go to a decent camera/electronics shop (Sunrazor: are there Wal-Marts in Bulgaria?).

And also the recommendations made: an SD memory chip, point-and-shoot type, optical zoom at 3x or 4x, a reputable brand (Canon, Nikon, Kodak, etc.). If it also uses common AA batteries, even better. Not knowing exactly HOW “poor” the OP is, I can’t say what would be a practical buy.

Kyla, please e-mail me. I might be able to help you!

dpreview is the site I usually point people to when they ask for digital camera advice. Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, you can get a lot of info (maybe too much) there, and easily make side-by-side comparisons to help you decide.

My advice: don’t worry about bells and whistles, and stick with a reliable manufacturer.

Indeed. And, to that end, you should generally look for a SMALLER optical zoom than a bigger one, because generally speaking, the wider the zoom range, the more distortions there are.

Also, get as small as you can. The best camera is the one you have with you when you’re ready to take a picture. Doesn’t do you any good to have a $5000 digital SLR, if you leave it at home because it’s a big heavy pain in the ass.

You’ll probably also want one with variable ISO sensitivity. Older and cheaper ones default to an equivalent of 100 ISO film, but better ones go all the way to 800 or sometimes 1600 equivalent. This is very important in lower light situations and without flash.

The only thing I would add to the above would be to compare the ISO that the cameras claim to use. (They may have all about the same range and it may not matter, of course.) In film photography, for the sort of indoor photos I most frequently took, I got in the habit of using ISO*800 Kodak film. For bright, outdoor shoots, I might go with a “slower” speed down in the 200 or 100 range. My $138 Nikon is a really convenient camera, but with an effective ISO rating of 50, it is very difficult to get indoor shots that are farther away than a typical living room without using a tripod. (I have not yet figured out why ISO is a “new” speed measuring system when all the ISO values appear to be identical to the “old” ASA values.) At any rate, I would never have used an ASA 50 film for anything other than sandy beaches and snowfields in bright sun and I am finding that the digital camera works really hard to overcome that speed–as in the flash unit messes around trying to pump out a lot of light on the “party” and similar settings and it takes forever for the camera to discover how much light it needs and then to recover from the battery discharge after the photo has been taken. “Instant” does not apply to any shot in a large dark area.

If you can find a cheap digital camera with an ISO rating above 100, it might be a good idea to choose it (all else regarding lens quality, etc. being equal).

Pretty much all cameras today, even the cheap ones, will have ISO up to 400. Many go to 800 or 1000, with some up to 3200 now. The problem is that images taken at high ISO on many cameras simply suck. They are very noisy, almost unusable.

But, for $200 you can get many excellent cameras that are easy to use and take fine images. Advice given above is great, except I wouldn’t be hung up on SD. Although my cameras use SD cards, Sony memory sticks and xD cards are common enough (although a bit more expensive) that I wouldn’t worry about it. In 5 years we’ll have moved on to a new format anyways.

If your camera uses AAs, you’ll need to purchase NiMH rechargeable batteries and a charger as well.

Kyla, I was in a similar situation to yours a few months ago.

I was also on a tight budget. I went to a CostCo (does Bulgaria even have those?) and got the second cheapest camera available, a Kodak EasyShare C743. I spent $150 USD, if I remember correctly. I’m really pleased with it. I’ve taken it on several trips, and it’s perfect for casual point-and-shoot purposes.

Sample Kodak C743 review here.

Here are the general specs if you want a baseline to work from:

  • 3x optical zoom (37mm-111mm equivalent). Nothing spectacular, but it works when necessary.

  • Runs on (2) AA batteries. I second Telemark’s comment: get rechargables if you’re shooting a lot. A pair of disposable AAs will last me about 100 shots, which isn’t much since it’s much easier to take lots of pictures with digital versus film.

  • Can shoot up to 7.1 megapixels (MP), although you can set it to shoot at 6.1 MP (3:2 ratio aka panoramic orientation), 4.0 MP, 1.9 MP, or 0.8 MP (for website purposes).

  • 7.1 MP is overkill for me, since I don’t print anything above a 4x6-inch print. I normally shoot at 4.0 MP.

  • Uses SD memory cards. I got a 1 GB card. That’s the equivalent of 700+ pictures at 7.1 MP, 1300 pictures at 4.0 MP, or (whoa!) 2,300 pics at website quality 1.9 MP. (The camera has a LCD onscreen display that indicates how many shots are left.)

  • Bare-bones but neat feature: the camera can record video at 640x320 resolution (or 320x240). The good: your video time is only limited by how much memory you have on your card (other models can only record 30 or 60 seconds at a time). The bad: you can’t move your zoom lens after you press the record button. Videos are saved as Quicktime Movie files.

  • Comes with a special USB cable to connect your camera to your computer. Otherwise, you can buy a dedicated SD card (or multi-format card) reader and use that instead. Your computer (assuming it’s running Windows XP SP2) will automatically detect the camera and the memory card inside. Pictures are stored as JPEGs.

I considered this a good buy. However, some caveats that I’ve learned to live with:

  • It will eat through batteries. I was replacing AAs every day or so when I went on vacation.

  • It’s slow. There’s a delay of a few seconds when you turn it on or off. There’s a delay of .5-1 second when you press the button. And perhaps worst of all, it takes about (7) seconds until you can take the next picture. This may feel like an eternity if you’re used to speed shooting. Other cameras may have an Action or Sport feature where pressing the button once will force the camera to take three quick shots at a faster rate. The weird part is that changing the megapixel size doesn’t significantly affect the wait time. It takes 6-7 seconds whether you’re shooting at 7.1 MP or .8 MP. (Note: it doesn’t matter whether I have the flash turned on or off.)

  • It doesn’t perform well in low-light conditions, with or without flash. tomndebb and bump make good points about ISO. I can adjust the ISO setting in my Kodak from ‘Auto’ to ISO 80 to ISO 800. However, if you shoot non-flash pictures in a conference room with an ISO greater than 200, don’t expect miracles. You will get noise (random colored dots or specks scattered on your picture).

  • To be honest, night shots suck, unless the subjects are directly under a spotlight. (Then it’s not really a night shot anymore, is it?)

To recap what Colophon and others have said, look for established brands, don’t get hung up on megapixel numbers, and note the lens quality. I’ve seen shots from 4 or 5 MP cameras from Sony (Zeiss lenses), Canon, and Nikon (Schneider lenses? I don’t remember) which rival those from other 6-7 MP brands.

Good luck!

you’re math is a little off. A gb will get you about 300 pictures at 7 mb.

The camera you want depends on what you’re going to do with it. If all you do is take pictures of people in a room then zoom is not as important. If you’re taking pictures at the Indy 500 then you want as much zoom for the money and as high an ISO range has possible for a faster shutter speed.

Optical resolution - at 3 mb you can blow an image up to 8 X 10 with good results. Beyond that size you will need higher resolutions. Keep in mind larger picture files require more ram on your home computer if you’re manipulating the pictures.

red eye - this is caused by reflection of the flash back into the lense so the farther to the left or right of the lense the better the location for a flash. Most camera’s also have a red-eye reduction feature which is nothing more than a double flash (the first flash causes the pupils to restrict).

One feature that might be fun to play with is panoramic. It helps you to stitch 2 pictures together.

What you will pay extra for is the size of the back display and the thinness of the camera. To get your money’s worth ignore both and look for the best battery life. You will appreciate that more than saving a 1/4 inch of space.

And one more personal preference in my case: I wanted a camera with an eyepiece. Some cameras have only an LCD viewer–which is cool. But for a klutzy person (like me) with not particularly steady hands–especially holding them out from me–I feel that holding it to my eye gives me a little more stability. It might not have any bearing on my pictures, but it makes me feel better. As always, YMMV.

I am in love with my Stylus 710 by Olympus ($179 at Amazon, here)

It’s 7.1 megapixel, tiny enough to fit in my jeans pocket, has a lot of features and takes great pictures as well as decent video. It’s also weather resistant.

My Nikon is set at ISO 50 and will employ “auto gain” only up to ISO 200–and I cannot control the setting and it appears (although I cannot confirm) that employing the flash turns off the auto gain.

I am not claiming that it is difficult to get cameras (even inexpensive ones) that will provide higher ISO settings; I am only pointing out that it makes sense to look at what any individual camera provides when choosing the camera.

The lowest priced new Nikon on the market now (L10, $99) has ISO from 64-800. Granted, that isn’t under the users control, it looks like it’s only settable by the camera. The basic Canon (A460, $127) has settable ISO from 80-400. The low priced Nikons are really bare bones.

For just a few bucks more you can get a fully featured camera that will grow with you as you learn more about photography.

Hey, thank you all for your advice. I really appreciate it.

When you guys say look at the lens quality, what exactly do you mean? Is there a list of ‘quality’ (and/or crappy) lenses somewhere, for non-experts? People tend to get hung up on the mega pixels because it is a measurable, advertised quantity that can can be used to choose a camera from the multitudes available.

I’ve always had Sony digital cameras, but I recently returned my DSC-P200 (which was highly recommended by dpreview) because of a nagging dust in the lens problem that was common to this camera. So I am currently looking for a new camera. I have always been very satisfied by the quality of pictures taken with my Sonys and they have had Zeiss lenses.