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Digital Camera Buyer's Guide at Cabela's

Digital Camera Buyer's Guide

Author: Mike Schoby

Pick the right camera and you can bring your memories to life. Our digital camera buyer’s guide walks you through the forest of mega pixels and memory cards.

For many outdoor enthusiasts the most lasting aspect of the great outdoors is the memories brought home. Long after the campfire smell fades, the elk jerky is consumed or the fish is smoked, the memories linger on. One of the best ways to preserve those memories, as well as share them with others, is through photos.

Luckily, taking beautiful images has never been easier than it is today with the advent of digital cameras. High-quality digital cameras are more affordable than ever, more user friendly, and produce excellent photos. Since there is no film to buy or process, digital images are essentially free after the initial camera investment is made.

However, if you are looking to get into the digital revolution, there are a few things you need to know to get the perfect camera to meet your needs.

Resolution/Pixels
Resolution (the sharpness of the image) is measures in pixels, which are tiny dots that make up the image. A million pixels equal a mega pixel. How many mega pixels needed is dependant upon how you are going to view/share the images.

If you plan on viewing your photos on a computer or emailing them to friends, 2 mega pixels or less will be fine. However, if you plan on printing images, more pixels will be required. For prints up to 4"x6" consider 2-3 mega pixels a good rule of thumb for sharp, print-quality images. If you want to enlarge a particular print larger than 4"x6", a 5 to 6 mega pixel camera will be needed to achieve the same results as print film.

Compact cameras are tiny pocket models that can be taken anywhere you go in your shirt pocket.

Size
Digital cameras come in three basic sizes. Compact, standard and professional (or full-sized).

  • Compact cameras are tiny pocket models that can be taken anywhere you go in a shirt or jacket pocket. Often costing more than a larger camera for the same resolution and features, if you are looking for the perfect camera to always have in your hunting pack or fishing vest, compact cameras are a great option.
  • Standard-size digital cameras are roughly the same size as most point and shoot film cameras. These cameras range in resolution, price and features, but one thing they all have in common is they are small enough to fit in a small fanny pack or large jacket pocket.
  • Professional-size cameras are very similar to traditional professional-grade SLR (Single Lens Reflexive) cameras. They are generally very rugged in design, take excellent pictures, offer every feature conceivable, but are the largest and heaviest digital cameras on the market. While professional grade digital cameras are top of the line in the digital world, unless you are a professional photographer or a very serious amateur, professional-size cameras may not be your best choice, as they are too heavy and large to slip into a pocket and often have more features, such as interchangeable lenses, than most amateur photographers will use.

Price
It is no wonder prospective digital cameras purchasers often get confused; there are hundreds of models to choose from at prices ranging from $50 to $4,000. Like all things in life the saying, "you get what you pay for" is especially applicable to digital cameras, but this doesn’t mean you need to buy the most expensive camera to be satisfied. In fact, if you are new to photography, too many features may be as problematic as too few. The key to picking the right digital camera is getting enough features to fulfill your needs without paying for more than you will ever use.

The difference in price is accounted for by several main factors - the first is pixel count. Generally speaking, more pixels equal more money. A quality lens also equates to a higher price. However, these are two factors that you want to spend as much as you can afford as more pixels will produce sharper images (assuming you are going to print them) and better glass creates better pictures under a wider range of lighting. Features such as pre-programmed shooting modes, white balances, removable memory cards, interchangeable lenses, physical camera size and accessories such as external flash capability also ratchet up the price, but may or may not be necessary depending upon your level of photographic experience and/or picture taking needs.

There are two types of zoom optical and digital.

Optical Zoom Vs. Digital Zoom
Zoom (varying amount of magnification) is an often-misunderstood term as it applies to digital cameras. Essentially there are two types of zoom - optical and digital. Optical zoom is the zooming capability provided by the lens, which is virtually the same as any standard print camera with a zoom feature. Optical zoom is a good feature and is the preferred method of magnifying an image.

Digital zoom is unique to digital cameras and generally speaking is not a good method of magnifying an image. Digital zoom is very similar to zooming an image on a computer using a photo-editing program. As a general rule, digital zooming loses image quality and magnifies aberrations in the image. Unless it is the only type of zoom available on the camera, it is best not used - even then, when possible, it is a much better practice to physically move closer to the subject than use digital zoom.

Most digital cameras today come with one of several styles of memory cards/sticks

Other Decision Makers

Memory Cards
While some cameras have a built-in memory capacity, most digital cameras today come with one of several styles of removable memory cards/sticks. These memory cards can be bought separately in varying amounts of memory. Easy to use, easy to transfer to a computer as well as light and easy to carry afield, removable memory is a great feature.

Another benefit of removable memory cards is that it keeps all of your digital "eggs" out of the same basket. There is nothing more frustrating than shooting an entire trip on one memory card, then misplacing it, having it destroyed, or simply malfunction, leaving you with no images. By shooting on several different memory cards, if something happens to one of them, not all the

LCD Viewfinders
Some digital cameras have a LCD screen for viewing shots in the field. While the LCD screen can be used to compose shots, most photographers utilize it to edit images in the field to ensure they got the desired photo and eliminate storing bad images.

Battery Life/Power
Digital cameras use a lot of power, so a unit with rechargeable batteries, preferable li-ion, is a good choice. While most units come with an 110v home charging unit, a nice accessory is a 12v car adapter, so the camera can be charged on the road.

Digital Video Format/Movie Mode
Some digital cameras have the capability to shoot short, low-resolution video clips. While fun to play with, if video production is you main goal, you will be better served with a dedicated video camera.

Many digital cameras have the ability to print right at home without the use of a computer.

Plug and Print
Many digital cameras now have the ability to print right at home without the use of a computer. Specialty printers (which the camera’s plug right into) turn out high-quality glossy 4"x6" prints of your trip in no time. Perfect for home and even field use, the portable printer has made sharing photos with hunting partners or family easier than ever before.

Auto Setting Modes
Depending upon your level of photographic expertise, auto-setting modes may be a very handy tool. Auto settings essentially are pre-programmed settings for the most common types of picture taking, providing the right shutter speeds and camera apertures to get the desired effects. Some common auto settings are: silhouette, night, high speed, blurred motion and panoramic.

Manual Versus Automatic
Most digital cameras are "automatic" cameras, meaning they focus as well as adjust the aperture and shutter automatically to match the light conditions and distance to the object. However, if you have some photographic experience, manual capabilities are a nice feature. They allow the user to override the camera’s settings to perfectly match the situation. For 90% of the situations, the camera’s automatic programs will work perfectly, but in low light, heavy shadows or abnormal conditions, manual settings will often produce better pictures.

To recap; when selecting your perfect digital camera start by determining how much resolution you need, followed by how big of a camera you are comfortable carrying paired with how much you want to spend. After these main points are determined, it is then a simple matter of selecting the numerous other smaller features that you may or may not require. After all this is figured out, head afield and bring back some crystal clear digital memories.

Click on this link to view our selection of cameras and accessories.