Four Features to Look For in a Digital Camera


One of the most common questions I get comes from people that are in the market for a camera, and it speaks to a general idea of what features to look for in a digital camera.  It takes many forms, including the obvious (should I get a Canon or a Nikon?), the less obvious (should I get the G15 or the SX170?), or the clueless (how many megapixels?).  Truth be told, pretty much any camera out there today will deliver good results – depending on what types of photos you are trying to make.  So, what to make of all these marketing laundry lists of features and functions?  Which ones matter and which ones don’t?  I’ve come up with a list of four features to look for in a digital camera.  You don’t necessarily have to have all four, but they are definitely priorities to consider and take into account when buying any camera:

1. Focal Length Range

The first of the four features to look for in a digital camera is it’s range of focal length.  This can be tricky too, because when it comes to point and shoot cameras one of their best features is the ability to zoom in and out.  Now granted, this comes with certain caveats (avoid digital zoom) and image quality considerations, but technology has been good to the P&S crowd.  What’s acceptable?  It depends on what you want to shoot, but most will have a wide angle view around 22-28mm, and their zoom will go to somewhere in the neighborhood of 100-200mm.  The trickiest part is that camera makers change things up and call a P&S by a zoom factor (20x zoom, 40x zoom, etc.) rather than using the traditional measure of mm across the entire range.  When evaluating a camera, here’s the rule:

Multiply the widest aperture setting on the camera by the zoom factor – this will be your longest reach!

For instance, say you buy a P&S that has a wide aperture setting of 28mm and it lists a 5x zoom.  By simple math, you can say that the zoom range for the camera goes from 28mm on the wide end to 140mm on the long end. (28X5).

2. Viewfinder

The second of the four features to look for in a digital camera is the presence of a viewfinder! As camera vendors look to phase these out more and more, it’s ironic because this is one of the most useful features on a camera.  First off, you can see your composition (glare on an LCD is a royal pain to deal with).  Second, it forces you to bring the camera in tighter, producing a more stable position when holding a camera, which leads to better shots out of camera.  Finally, by forcing yourself to peer through a viewfinder, you will most often slow down in your shooting, and when you slow down, you also tend to compose a better quality image.  Look for cameras with a viewfinder!  If you really want to get technical, consider the pros and cons of cameras with an electrical versus an optical one, as this can have a substantial impact on shooting as well.  There’s a good article here that explains the differences:  Electrical versus Optical Viewfinders

3. Camera Size

The next feature to look for in a digital camera is camera size! Bigger is not always better, and in my experience, people are less likely to take a dedicated camera with them when it becomes too big to easily carry.  I believe this is why SLR’s have fallen out of favor – they are bulky and heavy when you compare them to the mirrorless and P&S cameras on the market today.  Any camera you have with you is better than the expensive SLR you left at home!

On the flip side, a camera that is too small for your hands can be equally cumbersome.  Try a few out in your local brick-and-mortar, and see which ones fit best your hands.  If you are Thunder Thumbs with the shutter and buttons on cameras, you are less likely to use it, so find one that fits your hands.

Shutter Speed

Finally, the last feature to look for in a digital camera is shutter speed!  Now, when looking at shutter speed, remember there are actually two ways of looking at this.  First, there is the time it takes from pressing the button to when the exposure is actually made is the first. This is more appropriately referred to as shutter lag though, and historically has been a consideration. This is what brought me into digital photography and the land of SLR’s those many years ago.  P&S cameras had some serious shutter lag back then – primarily being a pregnant pause between when you press the shutter, and when the sensor actually captures the image.  With time and technology, this pause has pretty much vanished though, with instant shutter responses becoming the norm.

The other (and more accurate) kind of shutter speed is the more common one these days that most people know about – and this speaks to how fast (or slow) a shutter can go.  Shutter speeds in P&S cameras usually is in the neighborhood of 1/2000ths of a second, which is pretty good.  If you can find out in the 1/4000ths range, even better.  That fast action of a child running around the soccer field or a puppy dancing around a tennis ball, or even a flower swaying in a breeze can be easier to reign in with a faster shutter speed. On the slower side, most P&S cameras can slow the shutter down to 30 seconds – a good thing if you have a tripod for longer exposures, but if you can find one with something called bulb mode, even better (this is where you can set how long the shutter stays open).


Several cameras that fit many of these criteria include the following that I recommend for the reasons in parens:

  • Canon Powershot G15 (my favorite under $500)


  • Nikon Coolpix L820 (best superlong zoom)


  • Canon Powershot SX170 (best macro/close up)


  • Canon Powershot Elph 115 (best pocket camera)


  • Sony Cybershot DSC-TF1 (best in rugged conditions)

Cybershot DSC-TF1

There you have it – 4 features to look for in a digital camera:

  1. Focal Length Range
  2. Presence of a Viewfinder
  3. Camera Size
  4. Shutter Speed

That’s my list and I’m sticking to it, but what about you?  What do you look for in your camera gear?  Any features and functions that are high on your list?  Let me know what cameras you like and why in the comments!  In the meantime – happy shooting!

What smart phone do you own/want?

Courtesy of the previous post, I’ve added a poll to the blog (which I rarely do anymore)…so you can sound off anonymously:

When do you prefer to capture your images?

View Results

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Share with your family, friends, colleagues, whomever – I’m really interested to see where people are in this whole smart phone deal…have a great weekend!

Making the Switch…

We’ve all heard the stories of people switching vendors.  Scott Bourne was noted for his switch from Canon to Nikon.  Friends and family often talking about switching from Ford to Chevy, or from Coke to Pepsi, and even *gasp* switching from PC to Mac.  As I find myself moving more and more toward Apple products I contemplated making another switch – from Verizon to AT&T.  You see, my contract with Verizon was due to expire soon, and I would then have the choice (and choice is a good thing) to move however I want.  For me it was a tough decision for a number of reasons:


  • Many of my friends in both IT and the creative fields own iPhones…and not being able to do some things with my phone that they could do was aggravating.
  • I also did not enjoy having to walk around with two devices – my 1990’s flip phone and my iTouch.  I wanted to unify everything under one umbrella


  • However, getting the iPhone meant going to AT&T.  I’ve had Verizon service for many years now, and while talking to any support staff anywhere is not my cup of tea, Verizon has rarely given me any reason to call.  From what I understand of previous experience with AT&T, there are often reasons to call…
  • I know this was covered just yesterday on the blog, but the lack of Flash support on Apple products is troublesome.  While I understand that things change – I need a new phone now.  Given Apple’s “heel digging” on this subject, and the impending release of Flash support in conjunction with Google (Adobe and Google working!) made the Android OS a palatable option.  Plus, HTML5 is readily going to be accessible under both if it ever becomes finalized (you know it’s just a specification right now…right?)

I was also a little less than enamored with the public image Apple has had recently what with the whole fiasco of the thundering police in the case of the iPhone 4 beta product that they wanted back (see video here about it).  That compiled with the fact that Apple has admitted that they changed their SDK to specifically exclude developers from using Adobe products when working on iPhone development.  This is like telling a photographer to only use a Canon or one particular set of cameras to take pictures.  That was the icing on the cake for me.  The end result?  I got a Droid!

I’ve already set up a website where I am sharing my experiences with the Droid so far – mostly it’s been pics (kind of an abbreviated 365 project).  Feel free to stop by the site where I am trying to post a photo a day from the Droid.  It’s at  I’ll also probably start throwing in a few commentary type posts periodically about new apps and features as I discover them…

So, I’ve made the switch.  From flip phone to smart phone!  And the solution for me was:


Motorola Droid

What kind of phone are you using?  Is it a smart phone?  Is it a Droid or an iPhone?  What things do you like/dislike about it?  Sound off in the comments – I’d love to hear what others are thinking about the smart phone fad!  Have a great weekend and keep on shooting!