The goal of any salesman, or woman, is to sell products in order to get an extra, per sale commission for each item sold. So the more things you sell, the more you make. Now that we know why store workers can be sometimes rather pushy in trying to sell a product, we will delve into ways that people can often be coerced into buying a camera.
1. The megapixel myth. Often sharing real estate on the front of a camera right with the manufacturer’s name is the megapixel count. This is most often seen on compact point and shoots. The aim is this: trick beginners into thinking that lots of pixels are good. Wrong! In fact, more pixels are often worse for image quality. Why? Because when it comes to pixels, pixel density is what really counts. Take any sensor of a given size. If you want to cram more pixels onto that particular sensor without increasing its size, there is only one thing to do: decrease pixel size. Small pixels gather less light, which offers less signal to drown out any background noise. The result: crappy pictures.
Nowadays, it’s hard to find even a cheap camera under 10Mp. I’ve made great 8”x11” prints with 3Mp images. For most of us, giving some room to crop, 5-6Mp should be sufficient. Fortunately, the megapixel madness seems to be ending, as many manufacturers are now taking a different approach to pixel counts, either holding steady or even reducing them.
2. Tons of file size options. Today’s cameras come with all kinds of options for your picture files. Beyond file formats, there are the “quality” settings, which are basically the image sizes. Example: my Canon 30D has a total of six file size settings, if you don’t count the RAW+JPEG settings, which boost the total to 12. So, taking the conservative total of six, that’s still more than you need. Think about it: who needs half a dozen picture sizes? I always find myself using one or two: full size (8Mp) RAW or lowest quality (2Mp) JPEG. Why? If you care about your images, you want all the flexibility of RAW and none of thelimitations of JPEGs, which truly stink when it comes to retaining detail at high sensitivity. Then, if you want to resize your images, you can always do that later. If you want convenience and room on your memory card/hard drive, shoot low quality JPEG. A 2Mp image will fill most computer screens with room to spare and will be plenty to make your less photographically inclined friends/family happy when you decide to share the pictures.
3. Shooting modes by the truckload. Again, this is another compact point and shoot transgression. In an effort to make the cameras as user friendly as possibly, manufacturers load them with shooting modes that anyone who actually bothers to learn a little about photography will ever need. Portrait, landscape, macro, sports, night, dusk, kids, fireworks, group photo, smile detection, indoor, beach, snow, back lighting, and panorama, plus the traditional time value, aperture value, and full manual. Talk about information overload! Some cameras have a dozen or more shooting modes, all of which can just be intimidating because, after all, who wants to use the wrong setting? My advice: get a camera that allows for traditional aperture and time priority, plus full manual control, learn about achieving proper exposure, then take some pictures.
4. Magnification mania. Again, this is a point and shoot problem. Some cameras will boast zooming powers of over 50, or even 100x magnification! Sounds good until you consider the major catch: most of this is what is called “digital zoom,” which basically chops off the edges of the images, leaving a tiny, low resolution center that appears to be greatly magnified since the edges of the picture are gone. Besides the huge loss of resolution, there is also the problem of avoiding camera shake, which, like the subject, will also be greatly magnified at such extreme telephoto focal lengths.
5. Electronic image stabilization. In an effort to suppress camera shake (mentioned above), good cameras will utilize sensor or lens based stabilization. To cut costs, manufactures employ another type of stabilization, which is called electronic stabilization. In fact, electronic stabilization is not stabilization at all, it is in-camera sharpening. This is the same thing you can do yourself in even the most basic photo editing software. The problem with electronic stabilization is that it can only work effectively on the shots with the slightest blur to sharpen up the edges while sensor and lens based stabilization will prevent blur altogether, but only to a point that depends on how steady your hands are.
6. Stratospheric ISO settings. While the megapixel race was the chief marketing ploy of digital’s first decade, the focus seems to have shifted to insanely high ISO settings for low light/action shooting. Just a few years ago, point and shoots usually stopped at ISO 400. Simultaneously, most digital SLRs maxed out at ISO 3200. Then came Nikon’s D3 in 2007 with the then astounding ISO 25,600 setting. Needless to say, with everyone maxed out at ISO 3200, the cameras following the D3, both P&S and SLR, upped their ISO levels, with SLRs seeking to break the ISO 10,000 barrier and P&S models entering ISO 3200 territory, formerly the SLR realm. Any camera regardless of type is going to be noisy at its top ISO settings, so don’t be suckered in to buying a camera for it’s “class-leading” ISO settings, which will just give you a grainy, color splotched mess. To be safe, consider the ISO setting 2 f-stops down from maximum as the highest usable, but even this may be generous on some models.
7. Extended warranties. Last but not least, don’t get suckered into buying an extended warranty. Cameras come with manufacturer warranties, typically of year’s duration. With all their complexities, if a digital camera is going to break, there’s a very good chance that it will do so by the time the year is up. This is what is sometimes referred to as “infant mortality” because a camera, if it’s going to break, will often break within days of coming out of the box. And if your camera is still working good after a year, there’s a good chance that it will enjoy a long, productive life. Back to the warranties, unless the warranty offers accidental damage protection, skip it. Warranty providers will look for any sign of “abuse”to get out of fixing your camera because fixing a camera at their expense costs money and thus adversely impacts their profits. Preaching great customer service is one thing, practicing it is another.
Now that you have some tips for camera buying this Christmas season, go out into the hostile world of retail can use this wisdom to your advantage!
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