What Makes a Photograph Excellent – Part 4

by Brittany Horton on October 14, 2010

In my last posts I discussed three of the elements of how to make a good photograph, excellent. I started off with three of the four important fundamentals of photography, the composition, the gaze, and lighting. Today I am going to go over the fourth, the equipment.

Your equipment is a very important factor in your photographs. Depending on what you are taking photos of, your equipment needs may vary. The equipment I am going to focus on in this post is your camera, and I am only going to talk about digital cameras. You can find some helpful tips on lighting equipment in my last post over lighting.

The camera you use can be the difference between a regular photograph and an excellent photograph. This post is not going to go over every detail, or even compare different camera brands, but it will help you decide what camera you should use or that you should buy.

What to look for in a camera?

What to look for in a camera

  • Image Quality
  • Size
  • Price
  • Lens Range
  • Battery Type
  • Memory
  • Features

Image quality.

On every ad and in every tech store, we see numbers, but what do they mean? The number before the “MP” is for mega pixel, this is the quality of the image that is taken. This number will allow you to print only small photos, or print large, wall size photos. Do I need a 12 MP camera, or is a 6 MP that is less expensive just as good? You don’t need to spend the extra money on a camera with a higher mega pixel if you don’t need the extra quality. The average 4×6 print only needs a 3MP camera, now I highlight on the word “needs”. To print a good quality 4×6 anything lower than 3MP you will get fuzzy results, and if you want to print anything larger than a 4×6 you will also get fuzzy results from the low quality resolution. This is why cameras have been made with more MP, to allow for larger prints. An 8 MP camera will allow you to print up to 8×10 while still getting a good resolution image. Larger resolution also allows you to be able to crop in on a picture that is further away. When you crop an image, you are essentially taking out some of the resolution, the pixels, so if you start with a higher resolution, say 10 MP, you can crop a few inches off of your photo while still allowing to print a nice 5×7 or 8×10 depending on how much you crop. Best Buy has a page with a great visual example of image resolution.

Size.

Every camera has different dimensions, some thin, some thick, and some able to fit into your pocket. Point and shoot cameras tend to be very small, while single lens reflux (SLR) cameras are much larger. In a later post, we will go into the more specific difference of the point and shoot camera to the single lens reflux camera. Size is a personal preference, when talking about a point and shoot camera, so there is no technical bonus you get from going with a smaller camera rather than a larger camera. However, the image quality is different in the different size cameras. If you are looking for a really small camera to fit in your pocket, then look for the ultra-thin cameras, but if size is not important to you, then focus on the other qualities to look for in a camera to help you find the right one.

Price.

The two items above, the image quality and the size, are two of the largest factors in this next important quality, the price. The price is usually determined on the features that the camera has, particularly the size and, of course, the image resolution. If you are going to be taking photographs for the purpose of small prints, then spending less money on a smaller MP camera, like a 5 or 6, is fine. Though, if you want to be printing larger prints, you will want to invest in a more expensive camera that has at least 8-12 MP. If you are looking for a thinner camera, these are also usually more expensive since they require higher technology to create the smaller size. You can get a decent 6 MP camera for under $100 and a good 12 MP camera from $150-$200.

Lens Range.

What is lens range? This is the distance that your camera can capture and zoom in…well. When looking at the lens range, I prefer to only look at the optical length; the digital zoom will decrease the resolution, so I never use that feature. A common optical length is 4x zoom, which will allow you to zoom in up to 4 times from the distance you are. This will allow you to get closer to your subject without having to actually be closer to your subject. Larger cameras will have a larger optical zoom, as the lens supports zooming in further. There are a lot of factors to determine when deciding if you want to go with a 3x or 4x zoom or a 20x zoom.

What does 4x zoom equal? Every camera is built differently, so these numbers are not the same on every model or brand, but according to a Canon camera specification, a 4x zoom is a 35mm equivalent to 35-140mm. As you can imagine, these results may become very confusing and difficult, so the important thing to consider here, again, is what is your purpose for this camera? If you want to take pictures of your kids in front of your house or nice vacation pictures, then a 3x or 4x zoom will work perfectly for you. If you ware wanting to take close-up pictures of your child at the sports game, or close-up photos of mountain ranges and landscapes while you are traveling, then a larger zoom capability would help.

Battery Type.

Not many people notice this feature as an important factor in choosing a camera, but I have found it to be very important to me. When a camera is only charged by AA or AAA batteries, and you continuously have to replace the batteries, this can become very annoying and expensive. I prefer to choose a camera that has a lithium ion re-chargeable battery. They may be more expensive, but they last longer, they don’t have to be replaced–maybe after a few years the charge will start to not last as long just like in a laptop or a cell phone and needs to be replaced, and these can be purchased usually between $30-$50. They are also easily and quickly re-charged by plugging them into a charger or placing them into a docking station. Some cameras come with a lithium ion battery as well as can be charged with AA batteries. This is not a bad idea if you’re in a jam and your re-chargeable battery goes dead; you can quickly find AA batteries to replace it momentarily.

Memory.

Does it matter if the camera has a SD memory disk space or a Compact Flash disk? Yes and no. Yes this matters because it will determine if you should buy SD or Compact Flash memory cards. No, it is not going to make a large difference in your everyday picture taking. I am only referencing SD and Compact Flash as those are the most popular memory cards, there are other memory cards, such as a micro disk or Sony’s duos.  The main difference between these cards is the size of the card itself, the size of storage, and the availability. SD cards are becoming more and more popular, but the other cards are still used, if you have a preference, make sure to select that when picking a camera to buy. Most cards have very large storing capabilities, you can find anything form a 1GB to a 16GB SD or Compact flash card. Best Buy has a nice Memory Finder feature for this also on their website. You can select your camera and brand, and it will tell you what type of memory that is needed and give you the options they have available for sale.

Features.

What features does the camera have, and what features do you really want? Do you want the different shooting modes, like automatic or manual, night-time, snow, portrait, or fireworks? Do you want a Wi-Fi connection feature, so you can upload straight to Facebook or send to the printer with the click of a button? Do you want to be able to edit in camera, like turning a picture black and white, crop out a distraction, or remove red-eye? All of these features are different with every brand and model, so pay close attention to the extra features that are advertised and make sure to read the specifications before buying to make sure the feature that you really want is included.

This is a lot of information to take in about cameras, so if you have any questions about a camera you are looking for please add a comment below and we will make sure to answer any questions we can.

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