Here's a guide to helping you choose your next cam as well as deciphering the numbers on the one you already have.

Most people in the street will tell you that choosing a camera is all about how many megapixels it is rated at. Basically the higher the megapixel count the bigger the digital picture that the camera will take. A higher megapixel count is desirable because any given camera can pack more color information and picture definition into the shot compared to an identical model with a lower megapixel count. The bottom line is a higher quality photo.

However, what most people don't know is that a camera's megapixel rating is only 1/3rd of the story as to how it will perform in the real world.... here's the other two factors you should look at:

- Sensor size. Most camera's you will buy at the moment will come with either a 1/4", 1/3", 1/2", 2/3" or 1" square sensor. The sensor does the same job the film roll did in film camera. It is the part that the light strikes after it passes through the lens and captures the image. The bottom line with sensors is that the bigger the sensor the better the final image and the more expensive the camera will be.

- Lens size and quality. There's a lot to know about lenses but its definitely worthwhile to know this stuff. Basically the larger the diameter of the lens and the shorter it is lengthwise, the more flexible it will be allowing you to shoot in low light conditions. Read more about lenses here

Digital cameras come in three distinct types;

- Compact. These are the small ones that are about the size of a pack of cigarettes. They typically have a tiny 1/4" sensor, a small diameter lens and whilst they can take a decent photo outdoors in bright light they are quite restrictive once you move past just pointing and shooting and hoping you "got a good one" when you look at your pictures later on the PC. Handy but limited in scope.

- ZLR. Zoom Lens Reflex. These look like the old big ass film cameras with a big body and a big lens hanging out the front of them. They are the next step up from the compact style of camera and some of them can do most things a good SLR type can. However unlike an SLR the lens on this type is fixed and non-interchangeable. ZLR's are a very mixed bag, on the cheap end of the scale the sensor size, lens quality and control functions are no better than a good compact type. On the expensive end of the scale they can do everything a good SLR can with the exception of switching out lenses, they have big sensors and high quality lenses. I spent a couple of years with ZLR's, I had one from the cheap end of the range that I took on high risk shoots and one from the expensive end of the range that I used on planned shoots.

- DSLR. If you have the money and you are serious about photography or want to get better at it then buy one. They are the pinnacle of camera technology and the sheer amount of accessories and lenses available for SLR's is mind boggling. This type is what the pro's normally use and there are good reasons for that. My current cam is good DSLR with a quality lens.

To sum up for buyers: Look at the specifications for all the camera's you are interested in. Narrow it down to the best few that have the highest megapixel count, the largest sensor, the biggest difference in the zoom lens numbers (ie, 22mm-200mm is way more flexible than 28mm-105mm) and the lowest F stop numbers on the lens. Put the most emphasis on the lens quality... from personal experience I know that a ZLR with a good lens kicked the ass of a compact with a far higher megapixel count for image quality and for flexibility of use. A good SLR kicked both their asses, hard.

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