Digital camera specifications can be some of the most confusing terms to understand in the market today. When I first began my photography hobby, it indeed took a lot of time and patience to really get what some of these “settings” meant”. Taking photos is an everyday joy for me. I absolutely love spending time behind the lens, but I truly did not know where to start when choosing my first “professional” camera. There was so much to learn and so many specifications that I did not understand. What is a megapixel? Why does ISO matter? What is the difference between manual focus and auto focus? Can’t I just point and shoot? I quickly found out that there is so much more to a camera than just picking up it up and yelling, “smile”. I hope to help you understand the many digital camera specifications you should know before purchasing your next digital camera. It really feels amazing when you find the perfect camera for your photography, so let’s get right into digital camera specs and looking further into what their relevance is.
What are the important digital camera specifications?
Camera models: Choose a design that suits you
This is totally personal preference because choosing a camera model or what type of digital camera is like choosing a car. You have to make sure you are comfortable, safe, and in control. Make sure to take a test drive before the big purchase and make sure that it suits you. My camera reflects who I am as a person — it does all the tricks I need it to and it never lets me down.
What should you look for when choosing your camera model? Well, first things first, small cameras usually do not have manual options, meaning that they are usually auto controls. If you want the camera to do all the work, then absolutely gear towards a smaller camera (also, smaller cameras usually fit right into your pocket, which is super convenient, too).
If you a cellphone or point-and-shoot type of person, that’s great, too. Just know that these cameras are usually super small, meaning that the cameras do not have all the components it needs to shoot high quality images. I love shooting on my iPhone, but it does not even compare to my DSLR or mirrorless cameras. Keep that in mind if you are looking to take your photography to the next level.
Let’s get technical. What are all those silly letters that camera companies use to name their cameras? Don’t be intimidated by this, it is simply a way for companies to name their camera lines. For example, Nikon names their cameras with the letter “D”, but Canon will use terms such as “EOS” to describe their DSLR models.
Another factor to keep in mind is the model year. When was the camera launched? This is extremely important when searching for the right camera because technology is rapidly improving. I love my Canon Rebel T6i body frame, but I know one day it might change (it probably already has). What is crucial when choosing a camera is not so much the body, but the lens.
Megapixel count — Does it matter?
What in the world is a megapixel? This word is probably the most commonly term thrown around in today’s age. I wasn’t too sure why megapixels mattered when researching digital camera specs, but they absolutely do. Do you want to print your photos or are you sharing images online? Either way, having greater pixels will give you the flexibility to print, crop, and work with high quality images. So technically yes, the more the better. However, it isn’t necessarily make or break.
Cameras these days usually have about 10 megapixels (which is usually a lot for the average shooter!). Having 5 megapixels is usually ideal and allows for an 8-by-10-inch print to be printed perfectly, whereas 10 megapixels allows for larger images to print well, etc. So, the higher the megapixel the greater quality print/image usage.
If you are sharing your images online or to your Instagram page, then I recommend lowering the resolution on your camera to save storage space. Lower your megapixels to 5 or 8 and trust me, it will clear up a lot of space in your storage (make sure your camera allows you to change the preferences, some do not). However, if you’re going for quality over quantity, always keep it at the maximum.
Price points and your camera budget
Okay, so you are ready to buy your camera and are beginning to research which camera is in your budget. Why is one more expensive than the other? This is a good question. Firstly, what are you going to be using your camera for? Are you a professional photographer? Are you just starting out and want an entry-level camera? This makes a huge difference in price points. “Beginner professional” cameras can range anywhere between $2,000-$2,500, but highly professional cameras can reach price points of $7,000 and $8,000! Semi-professional cameras can be priced between $1,500 and $2,000, amateur between $1,000-$1,500, and then entry to mid-range can be under $750.
I am a lifestyle photographer and mainly take photos just for my friends and family, so I went with an entry-level camera. It’s still a wonderful buy and I would not change my camera for the world!
Sensor size indeed does matter
What is a camera sensor? Basically, it determines how much light the camera uses to create an image. Pretty much, image sensors are millions of light spots (aka “photosites”) which captures what is seen through the lens.
The difference between a small sensor and a large sensor is obvious. A big sensor will gain more information that a small sensor. It’s that simple. If you have a compact camera, it will most likely have a small sensor which could result in a lot of noise and poor-quality images.
There are micro-4/3rds sensors, APS-C sensors, and full frame sensors. Let me explain:
- Micro-4/3rds Sensors: These sensors were created as a middle man between digital SLR’s and point-and-shoots. It basically allows for interchangeable lenses in a more compact model. This gives you much higher quality images, but with a portable camera that isn’t too large or heavy.
- APS-C Sensors: These are found mostly in digital SLR cameras. (APS-C sensors can also be found in compact cameras, but usually in larger DSLRs). They are much larger than sensors you would find on a cellphone or point-and-shoot camera. (But do know that these sensors have a disadvantage, which is the crop factor.)
- Full Frame Sensors: These big guys are pretty much the same as a 35mm film. Full frame sensors are found on high-end DSLR cameras. These differentiate from the APS-C sensors because there is no crop factor.
Crop factor — What is it?
I just mentioned crop factor when discussing camera sensors above, but what is a crop factor? I use a formula to determine this which is:
Crop Factor x Sensor Size = 35mm frame of film
I know that looks confusing but stay with me! Basically, crop factor is the number you multiply the sensor size by to get to a 35mm film. Crop factors determines the focal length (zooming) when you are looking through a lens.
ISO (aka International Organization of Standardization)
ISO is crucial to understand. It is the light sensitivity of the film or imaging sensor. I mess around with the ISO on my camera all the time. When I do, it changes the rendering to be more or less sensitive to light. Besides just changing the exposure, ISO can absolutely affect the image quality. Higher ISO = noisy or ‘grainy’ images, which just isn’t worth it the lower you go.
How to choose your ISO? If you want a still image, shoot for a higher ISO. If you are utilizing a tripod, then you can get by with lowering your ISO. If you are photographing with artificial light, go with a lower ISO. Overall, high ISO allows you to shoot with faster shutter speeds, but can result in grainy/noisy images.
Lenses — How do I choose which lens to buy?
I know I have told you that everything about digital camera specs are important, but choosing and understanding interchangeable lenses is seriously important! The lens is what is capturing your image, it is the eyes to your subject, it is everything. If your lens can’t see well, then you might as well put down the camera because your shot is not going to come out well.
How do you determine a good lens? Firstly, search for the maximum aperture of the lens or how wide the lens will open. This is determined by f-stops. An f-stop of 3.5 is written f/3.5. A wide lens equals more light and more light means great images.
Another factor to consider when choosing the right lens is sharpness. There is no way to determine this on paper or on the cameras specifications, but I recommend purchasing a camera and testing it out (make sure there is a good return policy just in case it isn’t for you). Get out there and have fun testing out the sharpness of the camera!
Video and image quality is important
I love shooting videos, and they can come at some very spontaneous times! It’s so fun for me to capture moments via video. So for me, it was very important to find a camera that shoots high-quality video. Most cameras today can capture video in 1080p high-definition video which is great — we wouldn’t go any lower. Cameras with 4K resolution are also quickly becoming more and more prominent.
When purchasing a camera with video consider looking for a camera that allows manual controls while shooting, a camera that can zoom while shooting, and even a camera that connects with your video-editing software.
Shutter lag can be quite frustrating. It literally can ruin a moment that you want to capture by not capturing it! I remember having a pretty crappy camera back in the day. I was in Boston watching my sister walk across the stage and as she reached for her diploma she stopped and smiled ready for her closeup and there I was, camera in hand, missing the perfect shot because my camera wasn’t up to speed — the startup time was horrendous. So, I highly recommend doing your research before purchasing a camera with a lagging shutter time.
Take a loot at a cameras specifications for “continuous shooting speed” or “burst mode”. What this means is the number of shots a camera can handle in rapid-fire mode while pressing down the shutter button. For example, if you want to shoot a lot of in-action shots, then look for a camera that has a continuous shooting mode of 3 shots/second.
Manual focus and RAW modes
I love to shoot in raw mode because I love the editing process. Shooting in raw mode simply means that all your data when shooting is untouched, which allows for you to work with more detail while editing. Plus your final sizes for your images will be higher.
Shooting in manual mode is also a favorite mode of mine. When you need more control over the image you are trying to capture and autofocus is just not cutting it, switch to manual mode. It allows you to choose your ISO/exposure, focus, etc.
Battery life and storage is also crucial
Battery life and storage was a huge “make or break” for me personally, although for others this may definitely differ. I need storage because I take a lot of photos. Most cameras today use storage cards like SD or SDHC (SD stands for Secure Digital and SDHC stands for Secure Digital High Capacity). SDHC cards are more expensive because they are not backward-compatible with SD slots.
Also, the difference between these two storage cards is speed. The cards come with a “Decoding Class”, which basically means the higher the class speed the faster it “writes”. If you want to shoot in burst mode, look for a Class 6 or higher.
Menu and controls
I am not going to lie to you, it took me quite awhile to get use to a digital SLR camera because of the menu and controls. There were so many numbers and words blinking at me from the menu screen, I was unsure how to use any of it.
Look for a camera that is comfortable for you. Make sure you are able to change your ISO, exposure, burst-mode, etc., within a blink of an eye. You want to be in total control of your menu on your camera so that you can focus on the subject you are shooting. Remember, you’re the boss. Don’t let the camera intimidate you. Do keep in mind however that at first it may seem overwhelming — just be patient and take time to learn!
Concluding digital camera specifications
I honestly cannot explain how much I love taking pictures. It is so fun looking back on a memory that I captured and playing it over in my head through an image. I hope that you find the same joy in photography. The world is so beautiful and there are so many things out there that are just waiting to be captured.
I hope this article helped you determine which camera is best for you and acknowledged you a bit more on digital camera specs.
Now get out there and start shooting!