Digital Camera Buying Guide

Digital photography has become extremely popular over the past decade. There are literally thousands of brands and models to choose from, and comparing all the features and specifications can be very confusing. To simplify the process of selecting a digital camera, Consulting has written this guide to digital cameras that should help make your search a lot easier.  We have been taking digital pictures since 1996, and have purchased many digital cameras over the years, and have helped many people select digital cameras.

Megapixels (Resolution)

Most digital cameras these days offer resolution in the range of 2.0 megapixels or greater. Anything in this range will create quality digital images that can easily be printed at sizes up to 5×7. If you want to print 8×10 or larger pictures from your digital camera, you will want to consider a camera that with 3.0 megapixel or greater resolution.

One thing to remember is that the greater the megapixels, the larger the image will appear on your screen. A 2.0 megapixel image is approximately 1600×1200 pixels. An image this size will not fit on most monitors when it is full-size. When emailing pictures to friends or family, you will typically want to resize your digital pictures to 800×600 or 640×480, which is less than 1 megapixel.

Zoom (Digital & Optical)

Depending on what you intend to use your camera for, zoom may or may not be an important factor. First, you must understand the difference between digital and optical zoom. Optical zoom is the kind of zoom on standard 35mm cameras. Digital zoom, on the other hand, is essentially the same as zooming in on your computer, that is, it basically guesses to make a portion of the picture seem larger. We recommend not using digital zoom, and instead relying solely on optical zoom. For this reason, pay particular attention to the optical zoom offered with the camera.

Most standard digital cameras with zoom offer 2-3 times optical zoom, however some offer only digital zoom and a few offer much more powerful zoom, in the range of 8-10 times optical zoom. For everyday picture taking of people, objects, and landscapes, 2-3 times optical zoom is sufficient. If you know you frequently take pictures of far away subjects, you will want to look at cameras with higher optical zoom. Conversely, if you want a basic camera to take pictures of people or objects close to you, you may not need optical zoom.


Most digital cameras come with some sort of removable media for storing your pictures. Removable media for digital cameras come in many different shapes and sizes. These cards are usually very small, but function similar to a floppy disk, storing data that can later be copied to your computer and deleted from the card. Some popular removable media formats are: SmartMedia, CompactFlash, Memory Stick, MMC, and xD picture cards. If you have another device (such as an MP3 player) that uses one of these media formats, you may want a camera that use the same type.

The type of card is less important than the amount of data that the cards can hold. The amount of data that can be stored on a card typically ranges from 8 MB to 128 MB. Most digital cameras come with cards on the smaller end of this scale, but it is relatively inexpensive to buy a bigger card (approximately $25 to $75, depending on the media format and the number of MB).


Digital cameras use many different types of batteries. Some use rechargeable batteries, others use expensive Lithium Ion batteries, and others use standard alkaline batteries. It is often preferable to get a camera that supports more than one battery type. For example, your camera may come with a Lithium Ion battery that will last for several months, but also allow you to use standard AA batteries or a rechargeable battery that you purchase separately.

Rechargeable batteries definitely have the advantage of being cheaper in the long run than either Lithium Ion or alkaline batteries. However, they have to be recharged regularly, which can be problematic if you are using your camera a lot during the day (for example, on a vacation). You don’t want to be stuck with dead batteries in the afternoon! However, if you also have the option of putting in a spare set of AA’s when the rechargeable dies, you will have the best of both worlds.

Movie Mode

Many of the newer digital cameras are now offering a feature that allows you to take short video clips. If you do not have a video camera or if you find the idea of taking short videos without having to lug a video camera around, then you may want a camera that has this feature.

You should know, however, that these videos are often limited to around 10 seconds, they can take up a lot of space on your memory card, and they are not as good of quality as you’d get from an actual video camera. The videos will typically be only a small fraction of the size of your pictures when viewed on the computer, but will take up a lot MORE space on your memory card.

Physical Size

The physical size of your digital camera is one area where you will have to choose between convenience and picture quality. There are some extremely small digital cameras on the market that are very portable, and good choices if you plan to keep your camera in a pocket or a small purse. However, you definitely give up image quality if you choose a camera this small. Generally speaking, the bigger the lens, the better the image quality. You must decide if you are willing to tote around a much larger camera though.

For most people, somewhere in the middle is just fine. For example, there is a large selection of digital cameras that are about the size of a disposable 35mm camera. These cameras are easy enough to carry around with you when you want it, and have big enough lenses that you won’t sacrifice picture quality.


Depending on the features that you want, you can expect a digital camera to be in the $150 – $400 price range. The more expensive cameras are typically either very high resolution (megapixels), very small, or very high zoom. If you don’t need these features, than you can probably buy a camera in the $150-$250 range.

Brand Recommendations

Our preference among digital camera makers is to choose a camera company, not an electronics company. We have found that camera companies have the expertise to make digital cameras with excellent image quality. Among the camera companies, our personal favorite is now Nikon. We personally buy and use Nikon digital cameras and digital SLR cameras.