A digital camera is a hardware device that captures photographs and stores the images as data on a memory card. Instead of recording the images on film, they are recorded digitally. Once a picture has been taken, it can be downloaded to a computer system, manipulated with a graphics program, and printed.
Unlike film photographs, which have an almost infinite resolution, digital photos are limited by the amount of memory in the camera, the optical resolution of the digitizing mechanism, and the resolution of the final output device.
Digital cameras record color images as intensities of red, green, and blue. These are stored as variable charges on a CCD or CMOS image sensor chip. These charges are then converted to digital and then stored in flash memory chips on a memory card such as an SD card.
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Digital camera advantages
Compared with their analog counterparts, digital cameras provide an inexpensive and quick way to create photographs without the need for film processing. While film rolls typically hold 24 pictures, a memory card has the capacity to store thousands of pictures on a single card depending on the size. This allows a photographer the liberty to take many shots without worrying about a limit.
Most digital cameras include an LCD screen that shows the photographers a live preview of the image, making it easier to capture the intended picture. It’s also easy to erase unwanted photographs directly on the camera since they are captured digitally.
Digital camera vs. smartphone
With smartphones evolving to include near professional-grade camera capabilities, the popularity of digital cameras is decreasing. Smartphones offer more convenience, portability, easier photo sharing abilities, and a cheaper price (as the price also includes all other phone features, not just camera features).
However, while smartphone camera quality increases every year, a high-quality camera offers features that smartphones have trouble competing with. A professional photographer may prefer a digital camera because it has the following capabilities:
- Interchangeable lenses: While smartphones have fixed lenses, digital cameras allow for lenses to be switched out, meaning photographs can be taken from far away or close up.
- Action or low-light shots: Digital cameras allow for manual control of settings, such as shutter speed and aperture. This allows the photographer more control over the quality of the image, especially if the light is low or the subject is moving.
- Long-lasting battery: Most smartphones die within a day if not charged. A digital camera can typically take up to 500 photographs on a single charge.
Digital camera features
Searching for the right digital camera can be overwhelming with so many features to keep in mind. Many cameras come with the following features:
Aperture is a function that controls the amount of light admitted through an opening. In digital photography, aperture is the unit of measurement that defines the size of the opening in the lens that can be adjusted to control the amount of light reaching the film or digital sensor. The size of the aperture is measured in F-stop.
Auto focus (AF)
Auto focus automatically focuses on the subject in the center of the LCD or viewfinder. Digital cameras come standard with auto focus, and more expensive models of digital cameras will have the option to select the auto focus area rather than auto focusing on the center of the LCD or viewfinder.
Digital zoom is when the camera enlarges the image area at the center of the frame and trims away the outside edges of the picture. It works the same as cropping and enlarging a photo in a graphics program. This type of zoom will result in a loss of quality and image resolution because the photograph is simply being enlarged without any extra detail or pixel resolution being added.
A megapixel is one million pixels. The term is used in reference to the resolution of the digital camera. When researching cameras, the number of megapixels is equivalent to the number of pixels available to capture an image. For example, a 2-megapixel camera can produce an image with 2 million pixels. The number of pixels your camera is capable of using is independent of the optical zoom. A 3-megapixel digital camera will still capture only a 3-million pixel image, regardless of whether you’re using 2x or 3x optical zoom.
The more megapixels your camera is able to capture, the larger prints at better print quality you can produce. For example, a 2-megapixel camera can print up a 4×6 or 5×7 photo. If you’re interested in larger prints, such as an 8×10, a 3 megapixel camera is better.
In a digital camera, memory refers to the number of images and/or video files you can store on your camera before you have to transfer the image files to your computer. Digital cameras have internal storage, and many come with removable storage options so you can store more images than the internal storage will allow.
Optical zoom is a zoom feature. It allows you to zoom in (or out) on the subject in the LCD or viewfinder. This enables a closer view of the subject before taking the photograph. Optical zoom changes the magnification of images with the actual optical glass before the images reach the imaging sensor. Optical zoom allows for better photo quality than digital zoom.
Most digital cameras will come with a plethora of image features that allow for a photographer to change color balance and exposure, remove red-eye, and add borders. While these features can be useful, these things can also be done with some basic graphics and photo-editing software after the photos have been transferred to your computer.
Removable storage media
Removable storage allows you to store more images than the internal memory of the digital camera will allow. Different cameras will offer different removable storage media options. Many older digital cameras allowed photographers to insert a floppy disk to hold additional files. Now, cameras offer a variety of removable storage media such as Smart Media cards, CompactFlash, PC cards, and memory sticks. In most cases, removable storage media is easy to use, and it can be erased and used again.
Popular digital cameras
Factors to consider when investing in a digital camera include price point, your skill level with digital cameras, preferred photography style, and preferred camera size.
- Fujifilm X-T4: Great image quality for someone who is looking for a hybrid camera
- Canon EOS R6: A more affordable option with ample features
- Nikon Z6 II: A bit more expensive, but offers many features for professionals
- Nikon D3500: A great camera for beginners.
- Panasonic Lumix G100: Made for creating high-quality videos and stills. Great for vloggers.