What do all those specifications mean, how to compare digital camera features?

Here is a camera that is very popular, highly rated. You will find detailed explanations of the most important specifications. They are highlighted in bold. When doing a digital camera features comparison before buying, take special note of these factors.

The camera's publishes specifications are on the white background. Our explanations and evaluations are on the highlighted sections beneath each specification category. Here are quick links to the most important things to look for in a digital camera:

Image Capture Device

Megapixels = an image is comprised of small dots, called pixels. The more of these pixels, the more detailed the image. A megapixel is one million pixels. Cameras with a higher number of megapixels are capable of higher quality photographs of better resolution. In digital cameras, this is the most indicative specification of quality.

Basic = 5 or less. Quality = 6-8. Professional = 8 and above. This camera has 14.7 megapixels (MP) and is part of the new generation.

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Lens

Focal Length = What a lens does is compress an entire scene into a very small area, around the size of a postage stamp. In the world of film photography, the most common image size is 24x36 mm (called 35mm). A lens of 50 mm will capture a scene to that size more or less in the same proportion as it appears to the naked eye. That is called a normal lens.

A wide angle lens has a shorter focal length, and can thus compress the scene into an even smaller area. Therefore, the 35mm film will have a bigger scene, as if you were standing farther away. A telephoto lens is the opposite, a longer focal length compresses the scene lets and thus captures a smaller area, with more detail, as if you were closer.

Digital cameras have smaller sized image capture areas, so the focal length specifications are proportionally smaller. Because of the popularity of the 35mm format, manufacturers will often state the 35mm focal length equivalent.

Optical Zoom = a lens that has the ability to change its focal length is called a zoom lens. It contains a number of lenses that can be moved closer together for a wide angle shot or stretched further apart for a telephoto shot. When the focal length changes by the movement of the lenses, the optics, it is called optical zoom. This specification is more important for quality of zoom images than digital zoom (see also). Zooms vary widely from camera to camera, and are not necessarily proportional to megapixels.

Basic = 3x or less. Quality = 4-5x. Professional = 6 and above.

This camera has a 3.6x optical zoom, starting at a wide angle and zooming to the equivalent of 3 times normal (it's called 4x because from widest to closest is 4:1). That's the equivalent of a 35-140mm in 35mm cameras, and is standard quality.

Digital Zoom = a method of zooming on a digital camera either by increasing the size of the pixels in the image or by interpolating between them. The image doesn't physically get any closer and no extra information is collected, as the optics on the camera stay in place.

The process on some cameras is equivalent to cropping the image: Only data from the centre of the available image is stored, meaning the resolution or megapixel rating of the photograph is reduced, with a corresponding decrease in file size. The resulting image is identical to a photograph taken with no zoom, except that the unwanted edges of the image are discarded.

This camera has a 4x digital zoom, a standard feature.

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Viewfinders

Viewfinder = what the photographer looks through to compose, and in many cases to focus, the picture. An optical viewfinder is simply a reverse telescope window that you look in to see the image you are framing. In some cameras, is simply a glass window through the camera slightly above or beside the lens. In others, it lets you see through the lens itself (TTL).

Digital cameras have electronic viewfinders that are more like a computer monitor screen. The most common technology is called liquid crystal display (LCD), and is a thin, flat display device made up of any number of color or monochrome pixels arrayed in front of a light source or reflector. Thin film transistor (TFT)  is a higher quality version of the LCD monitor.

Some viewfinders do not cover 100% of what will be photographed.

This camera has a TFT monitor that give 100% coverage, and so is good in this category.

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Aperture and Shutter

Aperture = Aperture means opening, and refers to the size of the lens opening. The wider the lens can open, the more light it allows in. This has relevance for taking pictures in low light situations. It is measured in what are called "f stops," which are in proprtion to the size of the opening. Without getting into the math here, suffice it to say that the lower the number, the wider the opening. Thus f/2.6 is wider than f/5.5.

The aperture is also affected by focal length, so a zoom lens at full zoom will have a smaller aperture than at a normal or wide angle zoom.

An issue directly affected by aperture is depth of field. When photographing a scene with objects at varying distances, not all objects will be in focus. The smaller the lens aperture, the greater the depth of field and the more objects that will be in proper focus.

This camera has an aperture of f/2.8 at wide angle, which is above average, and f/5.6 at full zoom, which is good quality.

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Exposure Control

Light Metering = the measurement of the intensity of light. A light meter, together with the camera's exposure control method, ensures proper exposure of the picture. There are three main metering modes: Center-weighted average, spot metering and matrix.

Center-weighted average metering measures the light from the entire frame, but gives added significance to the amount of light in the center of the frame. This method ensures a properly exposed picture for most subjects. E variation is evaluative, where the entire picture is given equal weight. In some cameras, you have the option of partial area monitoring, which can be useful if the most important part is not located in the center.

Spot metering measures the light at only one point in the picture frame, typically the center. Some cameras allow you to adjust spot in the frame that is being monitored. This can be useful if an important part of your scene is in shadow. You can monitor the light from that part, although other lighter areas might then be overexposed. Spot metering is also useful when shooting into the sun, where average metering would leave large sections of the picture underexposed.

Matrix metering, also called multi metering mode, measures the light at different points in the frame to arrive at a composite level.

 

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White Balance

White Balance = refers to proper rendering of color. Some photographic situations are lit in ways that would render improper colors in the finished photograph. Fluorescent light, overcast sky all can create an unnatural hue in the picture. Cameras have filters or settings to compensate and keep the lighting in its natural color. Digital cameras can do this automatically and also offer presets, such as daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, flash, etcetera.

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Flash

Flash = a brief, bright light for use in photographing at short distances in dark or indoor settings. The use of a flash impacts exposure in conjunction with shutter speed and aperture. Most cameras make these calculations automatically. For maximum flexibility, the camera should offer the option of manually overriding the auto flash.

When the eye is subjected to a sudden flash, the pupil hasn't time to contract, and the light reflects off the retina. This can make the subject's eyes appear red. Good cameras have a function that reduces the effect of red eye by giving a few quick smaller flashes that cause the pupils of the subject's eyes to contract.

This camera has a flexible variety of flash settings, including on, off and auto. It features the ability to use red-eye reduction at your discretion. While built in flashes are by nature limited, as they can only be used in the direction of the camera and from the camera's location, this camera offers a good amount of flexibility.

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Shooting Specifications

Shooting Modes = most digital cameras have automatic settings for different photographic situations. They range from a standard automated program to a completely manual setting to variations inbetween. The settings can relate to lighting, movement, color balance, depth of field, special effects and so forth.

Some examples include portrait mode, which uses a wide aperture to reduce depth of field. That has the effect of keeping the subject in focus while blurring the background so that it does not draw attention. Landscape mode does the opposite, increasing the depth of field to get as much in focus as possible. Shooting fireworks would require compensation for low light and camera shake.

This camera excels in this category, with many creative modes beyond the standard ones. It also includes movie mode, which most quality cameras possess. The presence of a self-timer is also an important feature in any camera.

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Image Storage

Image Storage = method used for storing the picture data. Film cameras use, obviously, film. Digital cameras store the images as digital image files. They can use an internal memory which then can be accessed by a computer via a special cable. They can use a small memory card which can be accessed later by computer with a card reader. There are different types of image storage media on the market, including flash cards, SD cards, xD Picture cards, memory stick, mini CDR.

This camera uses what is, perhaps, the most common type of media, an SD card. They come in various sizes and because they are standard, can be read easily by most computers with a card reader. No problems here.

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Playback Specifications

Erasing Specifications

Interfaces

Interfaces = the ways your camera will connect to a computer, VCR, television, printer and so forth. USB connectivity to the computer is the most popular, followed closely by FireWire. Some even have wireless connectivity.

A card reader connects to your computer via USB or FireWire. You can remove the memory card from the camera, inserted into the card reader and access the files on it from your computer.

PictBridge is a technology that allows you to connect your camera directly to a PictBridge enable printer and print your pictures. Using your camera monitor, you decide which pictures to print. There are other technologies similar to PictBridge.

This camera can connect directly to computer via USB, thus not requiring a separate card reader. It also has various technologies for connecting directly to most printers. This is good quality and features.

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Power Supply

Shooting Capacity

Physical Specifications

Panasonic DMC-FX150 Lumix 14.7-Megapixel Compact Digital Camera

 

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