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  • Digital Camera Features: Buyer's Guide
Technology Articles > Photo, Video & Audio > Digital Cameras > Digital Camera Features: Buyer's Guide

Buying a digital camera without knowing the features to look for can be an exercise in major frustration. With a long list of tech specs, terminology and buzzwords at play, reviewing digital cameras can be like trying to learn a new language. Luckily, it’s not as complicated as it seems. You can get a good deal on a digital camera by paying attention to the following features:

Exposure Modes

Many digital cameras boast a wide range of exposure modes and settings. These features let you tweak thigns like shutter speed and aperture based on how much light there is. But really, you should only be looking for one exposure mode: auto. If you don’t know your way around a digital camera very well, the auto exposure mode will get you the best picture 9 times out of 0.

Zoom and Zoom Lenses

Digital zoom and optical zoom are two very different things. Digital zoom is almost useless, since it inevitably leads to lower quality pictures. In most cases, you are better off taking a wider shot and cropping after the fact. Optical zoom is the real deal, however. You can get a closer shot without sacrificing quality. However, optical zoom beyond 2x or so usually requires a separate lens.

Face Detection

This is a relatively new technology, and not all cameras have it perfected yet. Newer cameras with face detection, however, can automatically focus on the subject’s face for sharper, better focused pictures. You can usually turn this feature on or off.

Shooting Modes

Self timer, single image and burst are the only three shooting modes you’ll likely need. Single image is good for point and shoot snapshots. Rapid burst is good for sports and action shots. Self-timer is perfect for family or self portriats.

Video Recording

While almost all digital cameras record, video don’t assume that they all do. In fact, some of the low- to mid- SLR cameras, which can be several hundred more dollars than other cameras, don’t have video playback or recording. If this feature is important to you, double-check to make sure it’s there.

3D Photo and 3D Video

Yes, there are indeed cameras that shoot 3D photos and 3D videos. However, you won’t be able to see the 3D effect unless you wear special glasses. This novel feature is impressive at first, but in the real world, you won’t likely be taking or looking at lots of 3D shots. Go for this feature if you’re interested, but don’t rely on this as a main selling point.

Memory Cards

Virtually all digital cameras use flash memory cards for storing photos. This makes it easy to swap out cards if you run out of memory on the go and for transferring cards over to your computer. Consumer level cards have SD card slots, while pro grade cameras use CompactFlash. Know the difference before buying additional memory cards.


HDMI outputs let you connect your camera directly to your TV for instant photo slideshows. You may also be able to insert your memory card into a slot on the TV or on your Blu-ray player. If you want to use the HDMI output, you may need to buy an additional cable and adapter.

That’s about all you need to know, and perhaps more than you need to know, in order to buy a decent digital camera. If you are only a casual point and shoot photographer, practically any namebrand camera that you buy for $150 and up will provide the performance, quality and reliability that you need. If you’re dabbling in pro-am SLR digital photography, buy a book before buying a camera.