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You are hereHome > Articles > Digital Camera Accessories

Digital Camera Accessories

Your new digital camera kit usually comes with everything you need to start taking pictures right out of the box. In some cases, you may need to purchase a set of rechargeable batteries and a battery charger; and, in most cases, you definitely need to purchase a larger memory card to store those high resolution images. There are also a few items "missing" in the box. In this article, we look at some of the accessories that every photographer must have, and a few others that are nice to have.

 

We'll do away with the suspense and list the accessories right now, and then expand on them in following sections:

  • Rechargeable batteries
  • Battery Charger / AC Adapter
  • Larger memory card
  • Soft camera case & Bag
  • Lens Cleaning Kit
  • Tripod
  • External Flash
  • Filters

I have noted which ones I believe are must-have. The rest are nice-to-have, depending on your requirements.

Rechargeable Batteries

Digital cameras, like all electronic equipment, use batteries up really fast. Some are better than others at power consumption and your batteries will last longer. Here are a few things to consider:

Rechargeable batteries may cost a bit more up front, but they quickly save you money. Buy good ones.

Also, because you can recharge them everytime you finish a photo shoot, you are guaranteed to have fully recharged batteries the next time.

So as not to get caught with spent batteries in the middle of a long shooting session, many photographers have a spare set of fully recharged batteries with them. If the camera takes AA batteries, I also like to err on the super cautious side and carry some ordinary AA Alkaline batteries.

Do remember that "rechargeable" does not mean "lasts forever." Rechargeable batteries can usually be recharged a couple of hundred times before they cannot be used anymore. This means that you don't want to recharge them too often, especially when it is not necessary (say, you've just taken a few pictures when you know your batteries can take hundreds more). But if you are not sure (some digital camera gives an indication on the LCD monitor, but that is not too reliable), and you are going on an important photo shoot, recharge them fully by all means.

Battery Charger / AC Adapter

If your digital camera did not come with rechargeable batteries, you also probably did not receive a battery charger. If your camera came with rechargeable batteries, it may also have included either an AC Adapter or a battery charger.

The advantage of the AC Adapter is that your rechargeable battery stays inside the camera, and you just plug in the adapter to recharge the battery inside the camera. The adapter also allows you to transfer images from your camera to your computer without the risk of running out of power and potentially losing some images.

The disadvantage is that when your battery is flat out of power, you can only recharge it inside the camera -- which means your camera is out of action for an hour or two, depending on how fast the adapter takes to recharge the battery. If you believe you will never shoot long enough to run out of battery power and do not need to use a second set of spare batteries, then the AC adapter is a good thing.

With a battery charger, you must remove the batteries from the camera, insert them into the charger, plug in the charger (one type plugs directly into a wall outlet, another needs the use of a power cord), then remember to put the batteries back into the camera. The advantage is that you can now insert a spare fully charged battery in while the spent one recharges outside the camera.

When transferring images from your camera to your computer, ensure that your batteries are fully charged or have enough power to complete the transfer without failing in the middle of the transfer (and risk losing images).

The ideal situation is to have both a battery charger and an AC Adapter, of course. And, I would never base my digital camera purchase decision on whether it comes with an AC Adapter or a battery charger -- i.e. on which accessory it comes standard with; you can always purchase the accessory later, if needed.

Purchase a battery charger and you'll start saving money on batteries.

Larger Memory Card (Must-Have)

Most digital cameras come with a starter memory card, usually 16MB or 32MB, with just enough space on it to allow you to record only a handful of images at full resolution. The starter card is to allow you to learn your camera and get used to its various features. When you are ready to take pictures, you need to purchase a larger memory card, the size of which depends on how many pictures you expect to shoot during a photo session and the megapixels resolution of the digital camera.

The more megapixels resolution a digital camera has, the larger the image it outputs, and therefore the more space it needs on the memory card. For example, a 3 megapixels (MP) digital camera typically outputs images that are anywhere from 1 to 2 megabytes (MB) in size. A 7MP digital camera typically outputs images that are 4 to 5 MB in size. So, let's say you usually take no more than 100 images per shoot. With a 3MP digital camera, you'd need at least a 256MB memory card (100 * 2MB = 200MB); a 7MP digital camera requires at least a 512MB memory card (100 * 5MB = 500MB).

We recommend you purchase the largest memory card you can afford. This is because, as the megapixels resolution of digital cameras increases, you will need the larger sized memory card to store at least 100 shots (believe me, you'll easily take more than that in one photo session). It's a one-time purchase (you won't need to keep buying more and carrying a number of easily misplaced small memory cards). Don't forget, if it's large enough, you'll usually only need one memory card, erasing the pictures after you have transferred them to your PC, and reusing the memory card.

Compare prices and buy only brand names. There's nothing worse than to get a defective memory card and lose all your precious images.

Some photographers prefer a number of smaller memory cards than one large one in the event one proves to be defective or gets damaged accidentally.

The largest memory card may cost more than twice the cost of two smaller memory cards, e.g. a 1GB memory card may cost more than two 512MB memory cards. So shop wisely. Of course, if you absolutely must have the 1GB memory card and money is not a problem, go for it.

Soft Camera Case & Bag (Must-Have)

A digital camera is a fragile piece of sophisticated electronic and optical equipment. If you have ever dropped a digital camera from only a few feet above the ground, knocked it against something hard, scratched the body, LCD monitor or lens -- you know that a camera case is simply a must.

I don't know why camera manufacturers do not provide a soft camera case as standard (oh well, I do know: $$$) like they do for 35mm cameras, but this is one purchase you must not put off. I usually try to haggle with the salesman to include it as a perk, but you can purchase one for only $10 - $20.

A camera bag is also nice to have if you travel a lot with your camera, but I find that a regular backpack is sufficient for my purpose. I do line my backpack with bubble wrap and even a thick towel to act as a cushion against accidental falls and bumps.

Lens Cleaning Kit (Must-Have)

I am totally floored when I look at some of my friends' digital cameras: I can clearly see smudges and oily fingerprints on the LCD monitor (where it is just a nuisance at most) and on the lens (where it will affect image quality). If the AF optics are dirty, the camera won't focus properly.

Do NOT clean any of the optics of your digital camera using your shirt, your fingers, your breath, or water. Chances are that you will scratch and damage the lens, and leave oily residue made up of whatever last you had for lunch ;o).

Instead, purchase a lens cleaning kit for a couple of dollars at a reputable camera dealer. The kit usually includes a small blower brush (use it to blow and brush dust off); a soft cloth (use it to wipe the camera body); a small plastic bottle of lens cleaner solution and a number of sheets of lens tissue (use them to clean the lens and other optics). Follow the simple instructions on how to clean your lens (only one or two drops of lens cleaning solution on the lens tissue is needed). Remove dust first with the blower, then clean with the cleaning solution (if needed). Be gentle, never rub.

Tripod

Tripods are a necessary evil. Today's digital cameras, in their compact and ultra compact forms, positively look ridiculous perched atop a huge tripod. But anytime your shutter speed drops to below 1/60 sec. at wide-angle, you should probably be using a tripod to prevent camera shake.

The rule of thumb is that we can generally hand hold a camera at a shutter speed reciprocal to the focal length used. It simply means this: if your digital camera has a zoom that goes from 35mm to 105 mm (3x optical zoom, 35mm equivalent), then the shutter speeds you can safely handhold your camera is between 1/35 sec. to 1/105 sec. That's all "reciprocal" means ("1 over...").

But since you do not usually know the focal length being used (in 35mm SLR cameras, this is marked on the lens), you have to make an intelligent guess. I usually remind myself that any shutter speed below 1/60 sec. will probably introduce camera shake, and hence a blurred picture. If I zoom fully, I know I need a shutter speed of 1/125 sec. or faster.

Some digital cameras will warn you that you are using a shutter speed that will introduce camera shake, usually via a blinking flash symbol (the "lightning" symbol) on the LCD monitor. This is your cue that there is not enough light, and you need to move your subject to a brighter venue, or use the flash (if your subject is within flash range), or use a tripod (usually for static scenes, such as landscapes, buildings, street night scenes).

For macro photography, because you are so close to your subject and even a slight movement will magnify the blur effect, you definitely need a tripod. I also usually use the self-timer (2 sec. delay is perfect) or the remote controller (if available). I avoid using flash since it's too close, but if your camera accepts a ring flash, that will help. If you must use flash, then see if you can squelch its output in the menu; then, move back and zoom in to increase the distance from the subject. This allows the light of the flash to reach and evenly cover your subject, avoiding harsh shadows.

If you are into landscapes and you frequent windy regions, you need a very sturdy tripod that won't get buffetted by the wind. There are also tiny table top tripods that you can use on the roof of your car (turn the engine off to eliminate vibrations). I use a rather light and collapsible tripod that fits into my backpack. It's nothing fancy, but a life saver when I need to use long shutter speeds, especially for night photography.

Of course, if you should be caught without a tripod and need ti use a slow shutter speed, brace yourself against a wall or use a table, a chair, a railing, ... as a makeshift tripod.

External Flash

The flash on your digital camera has a limited range, usually up to what I call "portrait" distance. That's where you can frame a person in your LCD monitor from head to hips. Anything further than that, and your onboard flash might just be too weak to illuminate the scene properly with. Now you know why your group shots in the restaurant come out too dark.

Some onboard flash can automatically adjust its light output depending on the focal length you are using. At least one digital camera has twin flash bulbs to handle the wide-angle and the telephoto focal lengths.

The best kept secret is this (and I wish someone had told me that long time ago when I first took up photography): if you want to have properly lighted indoors pictures, you need to use an external flash. The external flash is mounted on a hot-shoe on the top of your digital camera.

What is that? You do not see a hot-shoe on the top of your digital camera, you say?

Ah, yes. Currently, only the advanced models seem to feature a hot-shoe. Most consumer models are stuck with the onboard flash. After all, your digital camera is so compact that a (usually) huge external flash will just look silly. You'll have to hold the flash, not the camera to balance the whole lot. It's just not practical. So, if you have a compact digital camera, I wouldn't worry about the lack of a hot-shoe and live within the onboard flash range. If you take indoors pictures a lot, then you probably need a digital camera with a hot-shoe so you can use an external flash.

If you have purchased a digital camera with a hot-shoe, and decide to purchase an external flash, make sure you get one with a head that rotates up and down so that you don't shine the light directly at your subject but bounces it off the ceiling. Some provide you a rectangular plastic attachment that you clip on top of the flash to redirect the light, but "bouncing off the ceiling" technique is one that works quite well to provide a natural looking and even lighting.

Filters

Consumer digital cameras usually do not accept filters. Some allow you to attach an adapter to the camera body (around the lens) which will then allow you to screw filters onto the adapter.

Filters are used for special effects, so it's not something you need on a regular basis. On 35mm lenses, we usually screw on a Neutral Density (ND) filter to protect the lens from scratch and dust, but you won't need to do that on your consumer digital camera.

Any special effect that previously required the use of a filter now can more or less be accomplished in post-processing in your image editing software: sepia tone, star effects, coloured effects, etc.

The one filter you may need is a polarizer, which works by cutting reflections off water and shiny objects. The result is that glare is effectively eliminated. Ever wondered about those beautiful tropical waters pictures where you can seemingly see right through all the way down to the sand floor? Polarizer used. Pictures that show the bottom of a pond? Polarizer used. No flash glare on the shiny hood of a car? Polarizer used. Skies that seem rich in colours. Polarizer probably used. Just be careful how you use the polarizer. It's not a filter that you leave on the camera for regular shooting. Depending on the type of polarizer youpurchase, you may need to rotate it until it cuts through the amount of glare you desire. Unless your LCD monitor is high resolution enough, you may not be able to gauge its effect properly on a non-SLR camera. Experimentation definitely required.

Well, these are some of the accessories I can think of. There are, of course, more and we have listed some at the bottom of the page, with links so you can research them more. Don't go gung-ho and purchase all of them, especially the nice-to-have ones. Learn your digital camera first, then learn all you can about an accessory, before going out and purchasing one. Have fun!

We hope this article has been helpful to you. Why don't you send it to a friend? And, please give us your feedback on how we can make it better, or what articles you would like to read next.


Memory Cards

Batteries & Chargers

Cases & Bags

Photo Printers

Tripods

Lenses & Filters

Underwater Cases

Digital Frames
 
Photo Quality Paper
 
Software

External Flashes
more...

 

 

 

 

 



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