Cameras and camcorders, lenses, tripods and other photographic accessories
Once upon a time, taking photos was a matter of threading film through sprockets and removing it without exposing to light. The film was expensive and you didn't know whether you had a good image until it was developed. All that has changed. Now digital cameras give you fabulous images that you can see straight away: and no fiddling with expensive film.
These cameras have become progressively better at producing detailed, realistic images and phenomenally cheaper. Although there are still film-based cameras around, many manufacturers only now develop and sell digital cameras.
There are essentially two kinds of camera. One type is known as a compact camera, the other is called an SLR.
SLR stands for Single Lens Reflex. In an SLR there is only one lens. Light comes through the lens and is diverted by a mirror to the eyepiece until the instant a picture is taken. When you press the shutter, the mirror moves and the light passes to the film or digital sensor. You therefore see through the eyepiece exactly the same picture as the one that gets taken.
An SLR camera is bulkier to carry and heavier than a compact, so is less likely to be on hand if an opportunity shot arises out of the blue. The advantage with an SLR camera is that the lens is bigger, is likely to be better, and is changeable. This means that, not only can you zoom (increase magnification), but also you can change the lens for one that magnifies even more. Magnifications of up to 10 times are not uncommon. You can also change the lens for one that does the opposite, and takes a wider picture than you could normally fit in, without having to go too far back from the subject.
Compact digital cameras have come a long way in recent years. Easy to carry and more likely to be there when you need it, a good quality compact camera is fine for most family and holiday photos.
Some compact cameras have two lenses, one that you look through (the viewfinder) and one that takes the picture. This can be tricky because you do not see exactly the same thing through the viewfinder as the camera does through the lens. The closer you are, the more likely it will be that your picture is slightly off. There is also a risk that you have your finger in front of the lens and you won't know that until you look at the picture. Most digital cameras have a screen on the back, either as well as the viewfinder or instead of the viewfinder. The screen will show you exactly what the camera sees, so these risks are removed.
Most newer compact digital cameras have a respectable zoom range and high resolution. A resolution of 4 megapixels or more will give you a good image on the computer as well as a good print up to about 12 inches by 10 inches. Nowadays, cameras that take pictures much bigger than 4 megapixels are common.
Although you may not think that you will want pictures bigger than 10" x 8", remember that poster prints up to 30 inches long are becoming popular. Remember, too, that you may want to select a part of a photo and enlarge just that part. A higher resolution original will let you be more selective and still give you a good print.
Cheaper digital compact cameras, just like film compact cameras, can have poor lenses and some of them do not handle colours very well. Independent comparisons in the photographic media are usually able to demonstrate the shortcomings of cameras that appear to offer high resolutions (a lot of megapixels) for a 'bargain' price. Some may also have a poor screen on the back, that makes it difficult to see the image you are taking, especially in bright light.
In a digital compact camera, the things to look out for are:
a respected brand name. Canon is usually reckoned to be among the best.
a high resolution (number of megapixels). 4 megapixel (Meg) is fine, but 8 Meg or 10 Meg is better if you want big prints.
a big screen (aim for 2.5 or 3 inches).
a wide optical zoom range. 3 times zoom is fairly standard.