Digital Camera Basics


Before you spend hundreds of dollars upgrading from your traditional 35 mm point-and-shoot camera, it's helpful to learn some digital camera basics.

There are hundreds of digital cameras on the market today, most of which look exactly alike and offer some of the same features. How can you insure that you are getting your money's worth on a digital device you've never experimented with? The key is to consider the basics.

Digital Camera Basics

Once you have established your budget and determined what you will be using your digital camera for, it's important to focus on the following key considerations:


Digital images are comprised of minuscule dots called pixels. Megapixel simply means "million picture elements," or the number of dots that make up a photo. Therefore, a one-megapixel image consists of one million pixels. Most camera stores display digital cameras according to their megapixel rating. A megapixel rating describes the resolution a specific camera is able to capture. For example, a six-megapixel camera will allow you to shoot an image containing six million pixels.

Most digital cameras range from two to 12 megapixels. When determining how many megapixels you will need, consider what you plan to do with your images once you capture them. If you frequently enlarge your images, you'll want to get a digital camera with a high megapixel count so as to not compromise the resolution of your pictures.


Most digital cameras come equipped with both an optical zoom and a digital zoom. The former works similarly to the zoom lens on a traditional film camera by changing the focal length to magnify an object. Meanwhile, the latter describes the process of digitally enlarging a portion of an image. It is performed by the camera and doesn't require you to physically adjust the camera's lens.

With optical zoom, the image quality is not affected regardless of how far you zoom in. However, digital zoom can sometimes result in a significant loss of quality. Therefore, if a camera you are interested in purchasing does not feature digital zoom, don't cross it off your list. You can achieve the same magnifying results by using almost any image-editing program.


Some cameras work with standard AA size batteries, while others are powered by lithium-ion ones.

  • AA Batteries: If your camera requires AA batteries to work it is a good idea to purchase rechargeable ones as a typical digital camera can burn through batteries fairly quickly depending on use.
  • Lithium-Ion Batteries: If you purchase a camera that uses a lithium-ion battery with its own charger, it's a good idea to buy a back up. Since disposable lithium batteries are costly, you can save money buy purchasing a second rechargeable lithium-ion battery.

Shutter Lag

The term for the amount of time it takes between pressing the shutter and when the image is actually recorded is called "shutter lag." The delay can be agonizing, especially if it causes you to miss a prime photo opportunity. Shutter lag times differ between cameras. Prior to purchasing a digital camera, it's a good idea to check on delay times as listed in the owner's manual.


Basic point-and-shoot digital cameras feature a standard set of controls to adjust and set resolution, zoom, flash and exposure. The control switch or panel should be within easy reach. As you get increasingly comfortable with your camera and your shooting skills improve, you may opt to experiment with the manual settings. Until then, consider keeping the controls in the auto mode, which allows the camera to set the controls according to your shooting conditions.

The Importance of Knowing Your Camera

Learning digital camera basics will help you make the most of your photo investment. By comprehending basic digital photography terminology, you will be better able to capture frame worthy photos that you can show off to your family and friends. Finally, as time progresses and your confidence level builds you may consider upgrading to a more elaborate digital camera with additional features that you won't be afraid to use.

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Digital Camera Basics