Desired features when choosing a digital camera

Posted on Jan 16, 2012

This entry is part 2 of 7 in the series Digital Photography for the Genealogist


Are you ready to buy a digital camera?  The following are recommendations (specifications for digital camera) that will fit the needs of most genealogists:


Match megapixels to your use:  Most point-and-shoot cameras offer at least 4 megapixels, which is plenty for producing 8-by-10-inch prints. Cameras with more megapixels will yield even larger prints, and allow you to blow up a part of an image with less likelihood that the print will be blurry. If you plan to make only 4-by-6-inch prints, you don’t have to shoot at the camera’s highest resolution–and as a result, you can fit more shots on your memory card.


Look for rechargeable batteries and a charger: The cost of disposable batteries adds up over the long run. Some cameras can use AA batteries of any type–disposable or rechargeable. That capability can be helpful if your rechargeable batteries run out of juice and you don’t want to wait while they replenish.


Get at least 3X optical zoom: Most cameras offer digital zoom in addition to optical zoom–and sometimes vendors combine the two specs to tout a high total zoom. But digital zoom results in photos that aren’t nearly as good as those produced with an optical zoom.


Look for a low-light focusing aid: Some cameras have auxiliary lights that help them focus in dim settings. That’s important for many indoor shots.


Try the camera before you buy: Some cameras have commands and menus that are easier to use than others–a comparison you can make only with a hands-on trial. Also evaluate the lag time between the time when you press the shutter button and when the camera actually takes the picture. Try the zoom lens–does it operate quickly and smoothly? Find out how long you must wait between taking pictures. Be sure to look at the LCD viewfinder–in the sun if possible–to determine how easy it is to read.


Give extra consideration to a camera with a good selection of software:  Look for useful packages like Adobe Photoshop Elements and Ulead Photo Impact for editing images, as well as applications for sharing them.


Don’t base your decision on video capability: Any still camera’s ability to take moving pictures is limited. If you want to shoot video, invest in a camera dedicated to the job.


Consider investing in a memory card reader: These readers act like an external hard drive attached to your PC or laptop, allowing you to download pictures directly from the storage media your camera uses. Many newer laptops have one or more memory card slots built in, as do some inkjet printers. If you have a second memory card, you can keep shooting while the images download, rather than having to keep the camera hooked up to your PC.



  • 4-megapixel camera
  • Good quality glass lens
  • Automatic and manual exposure controls or scenes
  • Built-in flash
  • Ability to shoot multiple formats (JPEG, TIFF, RAW)
  • 3X (or greater) optical zoom (not digital zoom)
  • 4″ (or closer) macro resolution and quality controls
  • Can use rechargeable batteries
  • Minimum 3X zoom on playback
  • Lens cover that closes automatically when the camera is turned off



Automatic mode vs. the ability to choose both the aperture and the shutter speed: My camera offers “Scenes” instead of aperture and shutter modes. You can see on the camera the type of shooting you are going to do, i.e., close-up, bright backlit, landscape, portrait, or action scenes, so the camera can automatically adjust the shutter speed and aperture for the best results.


Macro: The closer the macro the better; 4 inches or closer is the minimum. This feature is necessary for photographing inscriptions in heirloom jewelry and other objects that require close, detailed photos.


Technology is changing so fast and advances so quickly that often we find articles can begin to become outdated in a short period of time. While this article is certainly still relevant, we want to direct the audience to a couple of other great resources for similar information. For more information on this topic, please refer to one of the following sites, or do a Google search.

Labels: photography

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