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Buy a digital camera

IDGNS | Feb. 23, 2011
There are so many options in the world of digital cameras, it's easy to get confused.

Unique Shooting Modes

With the megapixel wars officially over, camera manufacturers are focusing on other ways to make their offerings stand out from the pack. Some in-camera features are worth the price of admission alone, and they vary by vendor. For example, Casio has a high-speed shooting mode in many of its cameras that takes up to 60 shots per second. Nikon has a camera with a projector in it. Sony has a Sweep Panorama mode that lets you press the shutter button once and then pan across a scene to create an instant panoramic image. Canon and Olympus both have scene modes that make large objects look like miniature models, and several companies have cameras that shoot 3D images. You'll also find quite a few cameras available now with built-in GPS and mapping features. When it comes to cameras, don't be afraid to dive into the details; you might discover a cool feature hiding in the spec sheet that makes a camera a top contender for meeting your needs.
White Balance

Almost all digital cameras allow you to choose a white-balance setting via presets. This setting tells the camera which elements in a shot should look white, and then by inference which elements should look black and what everything in between should look like. If you're finicky about color accuracy, look for a custom white-balance mode in which you press the shutter button while aiming at a white object.

LCD and Viewfinder

All digital cameras have an LCD screen; these vary in size from 1.8 to 3.5 inches. The smaller size limits your ability to review just-taken images on the camera. A good LCD is essential for knowing whether you got the shot you wanted, and can usually give you an indication of whether it was properly exposed. Some new cameras have touch-screen LCDs that allow you to tap on subjects in the frame to focus on, as well as to navigate menus. If you're thinking about getting a camera with a touch-screen LCD, make sure the screen is responsive--and account for the screen-smudge factor.

LCD quality varies widely: Many wash out in sunlight or become grainy in low light, or the image may change if you tilt the camera slightly. If you can, try a camera outside before you buy it. Some cameras also have an eye-level viewfinder, which is a convenient backup for framing your shots (and if you turn off the LCD when not using it, you'll save battery power). Perhaps the best way to ensure an accurate exposure is to view the photograph's histogram on the LCD (if the camera offers this feature). A histogram is a graph that will show you highlights that are overexposed to the point of being pure white, and shadows that are underexposed and show as pure black.

Using Wi-Fi to transmit images to a PC, a printer, or a photo-sharing site may sound enticingly free of entanglements, but we recommend that you try this feature beforehand. In our reviewers' experience, sending Wi-Fi transmissions did not work seamlessly in some cases, and as a result this feature was not worth the extra money it added to the camera's cost. You don't have to buy a Wi-Fi-enabled camera to send photos directly from your camera, however. Eye-Fi cards enable any compatible camera to send photos wirelessly to your computer, to photo-sharing sites, and even directly to a mobile phone. And TransferJet wireless technology lets you transmit photos and video between compatible devices simply by holding them close to one another.


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