Cameras & Camcorders

Look for Black Friday savings on digital cameras

On Black Friday, retailers offer outstanding savings on a wide range of consumer electronics, so if you've been waiting for the perfect time to buy a new digital camera or camcorder, the Thanksgiving shopping season is an ideal time to go shopping. While the prices of digital cameras and camcorders have come down significantly in recent years thanks to technological advancements, high-quality equipment is still fairly expensive. If you're serious about your digital imaging and want a high-performing camera, it's easy to find a great deal on Black Friday.

However, before you start shopping, you should know how to compare the many different options you'll have when the sales start. Begin by brushing up on your digital camera and camcorder tech specs.

A Guide to Buying a Digital Camera

When you're comparing digital cameras, you'll be bombarded by technical information. For your reference, here is an explanation of the most important camera tech specs:

  • Resolution. Digital cameras have charged coupled devices (CCDs) which replace the film used in analog cameras. Resolution refers to the number of pixels in a standard image. The more pixels that are available, the sharper your image will be. At the low end, 1.3 megapixel cameras will provide good-quality 3 x 5 prints, and will meet the needs of casual amateur photographers. If you're looking for something more professional, choose a camera in the 4 to 8 megapixel range.
  • Aperture. The aperture is a measurement of how much light the camera lens lets in when taking a picture. All digital cameras have an aperture range, but the broader this range is, the more control you will have over your imaging. Apertures are expressed in "f-stops", with smaller numbers indicating larger openings. The best cameras have a broad range of f-stops, from large to small.
  • Cameras & Camcorders
  • Zoom range. A camera's zoom range indicates its capabilities to move from a wide-angle to a telephoto lens. As with aperture, you will want the greatest possible zoom range, as this enhances the options you have available when taking a picture. Lower-end digital cameras will have a 3x zoom range, meaning its longest focal length is three times greater than its shorter focal length. High-end cameras have zoom ranges of up to 10x.
  • Software. Some cameras come with software that allows you to quickly and easily import images to your computer and digitally alter or refine them. If you plan to do some retouching after the fact, this is a feature you'll want to look for.
  • Compatible media. Finally, check to see what kind of SD card (memory card) you need, and how large it is. Camera memory is measured in bytes, just like computer memory, and bigger is better.

Finally, remember that many of today's digital cameras capture video as well. However, their video capabilities are relatively limited compared to camcorders. If you're serious about digital video, getting a camcorder is your best bet.

Comparing Camcorders

Many of the specifications that apply to digital cameras also apply to camcorders, including image resolution, zoom range and aperture settings. However, there are some additional features to look for in a camcorder, including:

  • Focus settings. While all digital cameras have auto-focus settings, there are some situations in which some added finesse is necessary. Make sure your camcorder has manual focus capabilities, and you can toggle between auto-focus and manual focus as necessary.
  • Image stabilization. Optical image stabilization is a great feature for amateur and professional videographers alike. Given that camcorders are lightweight and often used in on-location shooting, images can seem very choppy when captured handheld. Image stabilization features eliminate some of this choppiness, and provide smoother, more even video playback.
  • Specialized settings for unusual shooting conditions. Look for low-light or night shooting features, which allow you capture high-quality images in darker locations. Some camcorders also come with built-in spotlights, if you prefer to avoid the image quality loss that is inherent to operating on a low-light or nighttime shooting setting.

Finally, check the camcorder's battery life and see what kind of hardware comes with the camera. For maximum ease, choose a camcorder that you can connect directly to your computer, which will allow you to instantly load captured video for editing and online distribution.