Digital Camera Buyers Guide
"7 Steps in Plain English"

Use this digital camera buyers guide to get the information you'll need to make a great decision. It's short and sweet AND it's all written in plain English!

The goal of this digital camera buyers guide is to give you good useful information in a simple step-by-step process!

Alright! Let's go...

Start Here!

Step 4: LCD vs. Viewfinders
Step 1: Megapixels in plain English Step 5: Save money on batteries...
Step 2: Don't be fooled on Zoom Step 6: Size - it's important
Step 3: How much memory? Step 7: Is your computer up to it?

What to pay and where to get the best deal...

What Will You Be Doing With Your
Digital Camera?

Digital cameras make it easy to email, print and play with pictures. However, not all are made the same....some produce much higher quality images than others.

Before jumping into the digital camera buyers guide decide what you'll be doing with your pictures. It'll make your decision making much easier. You'll save yourself some time and money!

  • Are you interested in emailing pictures? Maybe using online photo albums or putting them on web pages?
  • Will you be making some 4 x 6 or 5 x 7 inch prints as well?
  • Do you also want some blow ups, 8 x 10 inch pictures perhaps?
  • Or are you looking for professional quality images?

All set?

Great! Keep this in mind as you read the rest of the digital camera buyers guide...

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Digital Camera Buyers Guide Step #1...
Megapixels? You'll Need Them

Understanding this first step of the digital camera buyers guide will save you the most time and money!

When looking to buy a digital camera you won't be able to avoid making a decision about 'Megapixels'. The term is plastered all over every camera ad.

There's tons of confusing information about megapixels in digital camera buyers guides. Here's what you need to know...

Digital pictures (or images – we'll use both terms, how's that!) are made up of lots of little dots called pixels. The more pixels, the sharper the picture.

Camera manufacturers report the number of pixels using the term 'Megapixels'. One million pixels = 1 Megapixel, two million pixels = 2 Megapixels and so on.

Digital Camera Buyers Guide Tip: Sometimes you may see it referred to in horizontal and vertical numbers, like '1600 pixels x 1200 pixels'. Multiply the numbers to get this case 2 Megapixels.

The more Megapixels the higher the quality of the image. Most stores carry cameras ranging from 1 – 11 Megapixels.

So you'd think your best move is to buy the camera with the most Megapixels that fits into your budget. Right?

Well, that's one way and probably not such a bad approach.


You may not need lots of Megapixels to really enjoy your camera and get great looking pictures. Here's why...

If you're planning on viewing your images on a computer screen (for example, in email messages, on websites, or in online photo albums) you won't notice a difference between a 2 Megapixel digital image and one that has 4 or 5 Megapixels.

Your typical computer monitor can't display all the detail that a 4 or 5 Megapixel picture contains. The images are just too big.

So when should you care about higher Megapixel cameras?

Answer: If you're looking for enlargements. Pictures taken with higher Megapixel digital cameras (4, 5 and 6 for example) contain more information. These pictures can be printed at larger sizes before they start looking fuzzy.

The more Megapixels you want, the more you'll have to pay.

Digital Camera Buyers Guide Tip: If you're a casual user who wants to email some pictures to friends and family and print off some 5x7 inch pictures a 2 Megapixel camera will be fine (I use a 2.1 Megapixel digital camera and love it!).

Anything higher than 3 Megapixels may not be worth the money for a casual user.

You won't notice any difference in picture quality of 5x7 inch prints or on your computer screen with more than 3 megapixels.

Of course there are exceptions...

If you're a professional and have a real need for the sharpest picture available you'll want to go for as many Megapixels as the budget allows.

As you move up the Megapixel chain the cameras will have more manual controls and add-ons like interchangeable lenses. You'll also be able to develop big enlargements of your best pics.

One more tip...

There's more to a good digital camera than Megapixels. Good lenses and computer sensors also play key roles in image quality. Make sure you're getting these by sticking with the top manufacturers (Canon, Olympus, Fuji, Nikon, Sony and Kodak for example).

OK, let's summarize:


Email & Web Sites

5" x 7" prints

8" x 10" prints

11" x 14" prints
1 Megapixel Yes - - -
2 Megapixel Yes Yes - -
3 Megapixel Yes Yes Yes -
4 Megapixel Yes Yes Yes Yes
5 and up Yes Yes Yes Yes
Digital Camera Buyers Guide and Tips Megapixel Summary

When putting this section of this Buyers Guide together I found the digital camera bestsellers list off really helpful.

It's great because you can easily scan the hottest sellers, check out customer ratings and see the price for each camera all on the same page...

Click here to check out their Bestsellers list updated every day...

The best part of their site is reading the customer reviews of each digital camera. They give you a great idea of what to expect before you buy. Priceless!

Megapixels can be confusing, take time to understand this step one more time if you have to...or send me an email with your questions. I'd like to help!

Hope you found this useful!

Next up in the digital camera buyers guide....Zoom!

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Digital Camera Buyers Guide Step #2...
Zoom Zoom

Zoom allows you to change between wide angle and close up shots.

This step of the digital camera buyers guide has a couple of things to watch out for when looking at zoom...

Most digital cameras have optical zoom and digital zoom. Don't be's optical zoom that produces the best picture quality.

The two types of zoom work together. You can zoom in with optical zoom...this makes the lenses on your camera move...and then you can zoom in even more by using digital zoom.

To see the results of the digital zoom you'll need to look on the LCD on the back of the digital camera.

But beware....the quality of your pictures can suffer when using digital zoom.

Digital Camera Buyers Guide Tip: Digital zoom reduces the resolution of your picture. When you print your pictures there's a better chance they may have some fuzziness.

Look for a camera with optical zoom or a combination of the two. You can also buy add-on lenses to give you more flexibilty, I've put some info about this here.

It's common to find digital cameras with a 3x optical zoom lens. You'll find some have as much as 10x.

When putting this digital camera buyers guide together I found some cameras will advertise something like a 5x zoom without specifying if it's optical or digital. Make sure you read the fine print.

OK, you've figured out Megapixels and understand optical zoom is better than digital's time to move on.

Next up, step 3 of the digital camera buyers guide...

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Digital Camera Buyers Guide Step #3...
You'll Need Memory

Digital cameras use memory instead of film to store pictures. The memory is reusable, unlike film in a traditional camera.

In this step of the digital camera buyers guide we'll cover the types of memory and what you should know about each.

There's two main types:

1. Internal or Built-In Memory
2. Removable Memory...referred to as 'Memory cards'.

Low-end digital cameras will sometimes use built-in memory, however, most popular digital cameras use removable memory cards. Removable memory cards allows you to easily upgrade to handle more pictures.

You can simply remove the memory card from the digital camera and slip in a new one.

This gives you some flexibility to upgrade to a larger memory card or to swap out a full one with a spare so that you can keep snapping away.

This is especially useful when you're away from your computer or taking a lot of pictures on one trip.

There are several different types of memory cards used by the different manufacturers. Most are about the size of a match book or stick of gum.

CompactFlash is the most popular type of memory card. SmartMedia and the Sony Memory Stick are also widely used. Less popular ones include MultiMediaCards, CompactFlash II, and IBM Microdrives.

Digital Camera Buyers Guide Tip: CompactFlash is typically the most durable and cheapest memory available. This type is used by Canon, Nikon, Casio, Minolta, HP and some older Kodak models.

Most Olympus and Fuji digital cameras use SmartMedia cards....and both are now introducing a new type of card - called XD Memory cards.

These XD cards are tiny! About half the size of CompactFlash memory cards and they're really writing your picture to the card is pretty quick.

Sony has created its own type of memory card called the 'Memory Stick'. They use the same cards in Sony digital cameras, video cameras and the Sony personal digital assistant (their version of the Palm Pilot). This makes it really easy to share pictures between all their products.

Researching for this digital camera buyers guide I found Sony also has a digital camera that uses small recordable CDs instead of memory cards. These can be used in any CD-ROM drive. It's the Sony MVC-CD250 2MP CD Mavica...pretty cool!

MultiMediaCards (and their newer cousin - Secure Digital cards) are used in Palm Pilots, some Panasonic camcorders and newer Kodak cameras.

The IBM Microdrive fits into a special type of CompactFlash slot, called CompactFlash Type II. These can hold the largest amount of pictures on a single card, more than 1Gig (1000MB) worth of your pictures.

Most digital cameras will come with one 16MB or 32MB (MB = Mega Byte) memory card. The more MBs the more pictures you can hold on the memory card.

Here's an estimate of how many pictures will fit on memory cards with different sizes...

Camera Resolution 16MB Memory Card 128MB Memory Card
1 Megapixel 40 pictures 360 pictures
2 Megapixel 17 pictures 140 pictures
3 Megapixel 13 pictures 100 pictures
Digital Camera Buyers Guide Memory Summary

So if you plan to take a lot of pictures it may be a good idea to buy more memory for your camera. You can expect to pay less than a dollar per MB.

Putting this digital camera buyers guide together I found 128 MB CompactFlash memory cards for $40...and you can buy them almost anywhere. I noticed my local drug store now carries them!

Alright, we now understand memory!

Next up in the digital camera buyers guide are...LCDs...

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Digital Camera Buyers Guide Step #4...
Show Me the Picture

Most digital cameras come with an optical viewfinder (the thing you look through to take your picture), just like the one you use on regular film cameras.

Today almost all digital cameras also come with a LCD (Liquid Crystal Display). This allows you to see your pictures instantly! The LCD looks like a mini computer screen.

Putting together this digital camera buyers guide I found only a few beginner cameras don't have LCDs. Also, you may find a couple of 1 and 2 Megapixel cameras without them....when you see a really low price there's probably no LCD.

LCDs use the same technology as flat screen displays. They are one of the best features of digital cameras. After you take each picture you can see if you've cut anyone's head off or maybe half an arm!

You can also use the LCD to preview how the picture will look before you take it. They're also great for browsing your pictures and deleting any that don't make the cut.

Digital Camera Buyers Guide Tip: If you wear eyeglasses look for a digital camera with a focusable diopter in the optical viewfinder so you can adjust the focus.

And beware! Some digital cameras do not have viewfinders, only a LCD. This is bad for two reasons:

  1. It's difficult to hold the camera steady while looking at a little LCD screen.
  2. LCDs eat up a lot of battery power. So if you're using the LCD all the time because you don't have a viewfinder – keep extra batteries handy!

One more thing to note....more expensive digital cameras will sometimes refer to themselves as SLR cameras. SLR stands for Single Lens Reflex - in plain English - this means that what you see in the viewfinder is exactly what comes out in your picture.

There's another type of viewfinder that you should know about. They're like mini LCD screens and replace the optical viewfinder.

They're called EVFs - Electronic View Finders.

An EVF can provide a very accurate view of your picture but some tend to be choppy or very dark when used in poor lighting - however they are becoming more and more popular.

Fuji Film is using them quite a lot on their higher end models.

Okay, all done with viewfinders and LCDs.

Next up in the digital camera buyers guide, Power...

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Digital Camera Buyers Guide Step #5...
Power Check

Digital cameras eat up batteries quickly....especially when using the LCD. I'd bet few of us consider batteries before making a purchase but in this case it's important.

You may get as little as 15 minutes of life on 4 AA batteries. If the digital camera you're looking at doesn't come with rechargeable batteries I'd suggest investing in some – they'll save you money quickly.

Some digital cameras come with an AC adapter, but not many...typically you'll have to purchase an AC adapter separately.

I'd recommend you seriously consider buying one if your camera doesn't come with it - here's can be a real pain to run out of battery life in the middle of transferring a bunch of pictures from your camera to your computer.

It's happened to computer froze, I had to reboot it and then wait for the battery to recharge before I could start over - a real time waster!

Here's another buyers guide tip...when looking at rechargeables keep in mind the two best types:

  1. Lithium ion – long lasting power, small and recharge quickly (but more expensive and they are camera specific!)
  2. Nickel Hydride – cheaper and these come in common sizes (AA for example), so you can use them with other toys.

Nickel cadmium batteries are the third type, but these lose power over time. They hold less battery life after every charge.

Let's move on to step 6 of the digital camera buyers guide...

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Digital Camera Buyers Guide Step #6...
Choose Your Camera Size

Big, small, short, cameras come in all sizes. In this section of the digital camera buyers guide we'll go over the three main types.

1. Small compact cameras are great for carrying around with you in a pocket. You won't have to give up quality for size.... there's a great selection of compact cameras with good Megapixel counts and lots of features (like Macro mode for shooting close ups and movie mode for taking short 30 second clips with audio).

I love my compact Canon PowerShot Digital Elph. It's a popular choice.

On the downside smaller cameras have smaller buttons so they can be harder to control. They can also be harder to hold steady in large hands. Some very small digital cameras will leave off a LCD to save space.

2. The widest range of digital cameras come in the same size as a typical film camera. Standard size digital cameras have the best range of features and price. When you're browsing you'll find that most digital cameras fall into this category.

Typically standard size cameras can offer larger buttons and better optical zoom because of the extra space.

3. Professional cameras are larger still but offer the most options. They'll handle add-on lenses easily and have tons of features to adjust every detail (mostly around shutter control). These are larger than standard size cameras and are usually overkill for the casual user.

OK, last step of the digital camera buyers guide coming up...

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Digital Camera Buyers Guide Step #7...
Is Your Computer Up To It?

Here's your final piece of the digital camera buyers guide...

Connecting a digital camera with your computer is where the real fun begins!

You can email out your pictures, put them up on web sites, create digital photo albums, personalized calendars, greeting cards with your picture on it! The possibilities are endless.

Digital Camera Buyers Guide Tip: The software that comes with the camera will have some minimum computer requirements. Double check this. Also, most cameras will connect to your computer via a USB or Serial connection. Check that your computer can handle that.

The software will usually allow you to see thumbnail size images of the pictures on your camera before you download them to your computer.

It should also allow you to do basic editing of your pictures.... adjusting brightness, resizing or adding special effects. You can make tons of copies so you don't destroy the original!!

Some new printers allow you to insert your digital camera memory card directly into it, no need for a computer!

If you want advanced image editing ability you'll want to use image editing software. Adobe Photoshop and Jasc Paint Shop Pro are two very popular choices for this.

Also, if you're using a MAC make sure the software will work for you.

Next up in the digital camera buyers guide...quick review and what you can expect to pay!

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Digital Camera Buyers Guide...
Price Ranges & Where to Shop

Finding the best digital camera is a matter of understanding your needs and knowing some of the basics. Hopefully this digital camera buyers guide helped you do that.

To recap, you figured out how many Megapixels you'll need, you know to watch out for optical vs. digital zoom.

You looked at memory types, batteries, camera sizes and computer requirements.

Only one thing left to much to pay!

Here's the Digital Camera Buyers Guide summary of what to expect:

Price Summary
$30 - $199 GREAT FOR KIDS AND EMAILING. Simple, no LCD or Zoom, less than 1 Megapixel.
$199 - $499 SIMPLE POINT & SHOOT. Recommended for first time buyers. Great for email, websites and printing. 2-4 Megapixels.
$299 - $599 ADVANCED POINT & SHOOT. More manual settings to play with. 3-5 Megapixels.
$499 - $999 HOBBYISTS & ADVANCED AMATEUR. Popular category. Supports enlargements. 3-5 Megapixels.
$999 and up PROFESSIONAL DIGITAL SLR. Film like performance, lens add-ons, highest quality. 5-11 Megapixels.
Digital Camera Buyers Guide and Tips Price Range Summary

When researching prices for this digital camera buyers guide on the Internet I did a lot of price comparisons at the top online stores.

Surprisingly I always found some of the best prices at figured there would be some smaller specialty stores online that would compete with them. It doesn't seem that's the case....I guess no one can match their buying power...

Click here to access their digital camera page to check them out...

Digital cameras are tons of fun, you'll love sharing your favorite pictures. I hope you found the digital camera buyers guide useful....good luck with your search!

Want some help making the best choice?
Try this...

Bestsellers List at
Check out the Bestsellers list at It gives you a good idea of what the hottest sellers are and you can quickly scan customer ratings of each camera along with the price....and don't forget to read the customer reviews before you buy!

Here's Some More Information...

Click here to check out recommended places to buy digital cameras...
Top 3 online stores to buy digital cameras. Each of these has good prices, great reviews and most importantly they are dependable retailers.

How to Find the Best Digital Camera - Digital Camera Buyers Guide and Tips
Return to the Digital Camera Buyers Guide and Tips Home Page...all you need to know about buying digital cameras in plain English.