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Digital cameras and camcorders operate on the same basic principle, as each other, and, indeed, as traditional, analogue cameras – light is focussed, by a series of lenses, into the form of an image (or in the case of a camcorder, a series of images), which is then recorded on some form of recording media. This greatly simplifies matters, however, and is very much where any similarities between analogue and digital technology cease. Instead of recording images on photochemical film, digital technology employs a “Charge Coupled Device” (CCD), a photosensitive semiconductor, to convert the image into an electronic, digital form (a string of “1”s and “0”s, if you like), which is recorded on digital storage media.
This effectively means no films to buy, no development times or costs, and superb, high-quality images, which are available immediately for viewing, downloading to a computer, printing, editing, posting to the Internet, and emailing to friends and relatives. Digital technology also means that cameras and camcorders can be more compact, lighter, and therefore more portable, than their analogue predecessors, so it’s little wonder that they are now considered, by many people – experts and comparative novices alike – to be essential, “must have” items.
The key features of a digital camera, or camcorder, depend largely on you, as a user, and exactly how you intend to use it. If, for example, your intention is to take holiday, or party, snapshots, or to record the occasional wedding, or graduation, ceremony, for posterity, then you probably won’t be looking for anything large, or heavy, or particularly sophisticated in terms of functionality – a simple, lightweight model will do the job quite nicely. If, on the other hand, you’re more serious about your photography, and intend to use a camera, or camcorder, fairly regularly, or for long periods, you will probably be looking for something large enough to be operated and viewed more comfortably.
“Resolution”, usually quoted as the number of millions of picture elements, or “pixels” – “megapixels” (Mp) – that a final image contains, is another important consideration, particularly if you’re aiming for larger, high-quality prints. If you’re intending to display your photographs on the Internet, or email them, or produce small (6 x 4 inch) prints, then you’ll probably find that a camera with a resolution of between 1 and 3 Mp is more than adequate, but it won’t cope with large (10 x 8 inch) prints without a drastic loss of quality, and something like 7, or 8 Mp is what you’ll need. The DV5200 Digital Camera from Mustek, for example, is a multifunction camcorder and digital still camera, offering a resolution of 5Mp, and the Mustek DV8200 model a similarly multifunctional device, with picture quality of up to 8Mp.
Resolution, and, for that matter, size, also applies to the LCD (“Liquid Crystal Display”) screen that is an integral part of most digital cameras and camcorders, nowadays. The LCD screen is a useful addition, because it not only allows you to see how a particular shot is framed, without using the viewfinder, but also allows you, instantly, to view the photograph or footage that you’ve just taken, and to navigate through the user menus of the device. As such, the screen should be large, and clear, enough to be comfortably viewed and operated. The Mustek DV8200 model, for example has a 1.5 inch TFT colour screen, while the Mustek DV535A model offers a 2.4 inch TFT LCD screen.
Batteries, and battery life, are fairly mundane topics, but are, nevertheless, important considerations in choosing what is, after all, a portable device. Li-Ion (“Lithium Ion”) rechargeable batteries are probably the best choice, although there are somewhat more expensive, initially, than the alternatives. Common disposable battery types, such as AA, or AAA, are an alternative, as are, in some cases, the older nickel-based battery technologies. If rechargeable batteries are supported, check that these, and a charger, or AC adaptor are included in the price. If not, you will need to make provision for a set, or perhaps two, and a charger, in your budget. Beware of proprietary batteries, which may be difficult to source in the future.