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Features of digital camera
Megapixels make great sound bites, but optics and processing algorithms are also important. Indeed, just a few sensor manufacturers supply camera makers, so two cameras with the same MP rating may have the same sensor. And we've seen cameras produce better pictures than cameras in the same class with a higher MP count.
MP ratings are useful for determining how large you can print images?as well as how much you can crop images and still retain acceptable image quality.
Image quality is a more useful measure. Most digital cameras produce good images, with color fidelity, sharpness, and dynamic range that will satisfy most users. We rate image capabilities by sharpness (the more lines of resolution a camera can distinguish, the better) and the percentage of transition pixels on a subject's edges (the fewer, the better). We also consider color reproduction and exposure accuracy.
If you plan to e-mail your pictures or print them on your ink jet using low-grade paper, you needn't be picky. Other criteria, such as price and size, may be more important. If you want razor-sharp, professionally finished 8-by-10 prints with colors that pop, then image quality is key.
To get top image quality, select from among cameras that we rate at 4 or 5 stars. We won't give a camera these scores if its pictures aren't good, no matter how cool it looks or what bells and whistles it has.
Digital cameras are getting faster, but they're still slower than film cameras. We test each camera's boot time (how quickly it can start up and be ready to shoot) and recycle time (how long it takes to shoot, process, and be ready for another shot). Long boot times are annoying, long recycle times more so. Make sure you can live with a camera's speeds. Try it out, or, if you can't, use a stopwatch to see what a 5-second recycle time really means.
Is the feature set right? Taking digital photos can be as simple as pointing the camera and pressing the shutter button. But digital cameras can also provide as much control over exposure, color, dynamic range, and so on as you want. Also consider extras like in-camera red-eye removal and panorama modes. In general, however, we'd pick a camera that takes better pictures over one with many features. You can always remove red-eye later, but you can't add in detail that a poor camera missed.
Ergonomics and style matter, too. When you try on shoes, you consider what they look like and how they feel. Apply similar criteria to each camera: How does it feel to hold? Is it too large or too heavy? Does a plastic body feel too flimsy? Are the controls sensibly placed? Are there too many or too few? Are the menus easy to navigate? The best menus explain features and settings and even give shooting advice. And don't forget vanity: Does the camera suit your style, or will it embarrass you?