Fancy sharper shots? Want to compose more striking images? Want intuitive handling? Here are seven things to look out for when you next buy a camera, to help you do all those things and more.
1. 4K video
Many cameras today are capable of high-quality Full HD video recording, but once you see the clarity of 4K footage you’ll appreciate just how much of a step up this is. 4K video is now available in compacts, mirrorless models and DSLRs, and it records footage with four times as many pixels as Full HD (or more if your camera shoots in the higher-resolution DCI 4K format).
Even if you don’t have a 4K display on which to view your creations, you benefit from shooting in 4K. Down-sampled footage can often appear crisper than if it were simply recorded in HD to begin with, and those wanting to edit their recordings have more control over panning, zooming and cropping without losing quality. 4K cameras also typically offer slow-motion recording in Full HD quality, which enables you to capture everyday subjects in a new light.
2. Composite mode
One feature that’s started to appear in a number of recent cameras is a composite mode (not to be confused with a multiple exposure option). This captures a number of images of the same scene with slight variations between them, before blending them together to create an image with much better definition than would otherwise be the case.
What actually happens here varies between cameras. Pentax models like the K-1, with its Pixel Shift Resolution mode, for example, shift the sensor between captures so that each pixel receives full red, green and blue colour information. Normally, each pixel only receives colour information for one channel, and the values of the other two are interpolated based on the values of surrounding pixels, and while this is efficient it can create softness in images, so the Pixel Shift Resolution technology cleverly gets around this.
A similar thing happens with Olympus models equipped with its High Res Shot mode, although this captures eight images and blends them together to output a 40MP image. Both of these technologies have some limitations – you need to use a tripod, for example – but for landscapes, still-life shots or scenes destined for enlargement, it can give you a much better starting point.
3. No low-pass filter
Most cameras are designed with anti-aliasing (low-pass) filters in front of their sensors to help keep aliasing artefacts at bay – these artefacts appear in images that contain fine repeating patterns, and take the form of moiré patterning – unsightly coloured patterns – or jagged steps where there should be straight lines. However, anti-aliasing filters can also compromise detail in the image by blurring it slightly.
Given that you won’t often be shooting scenes in which aliasing artefacts are likely to be an issue, a number of recent cameras either leave out the filter completely or simply cancel their effect. Others enable you to apply the effect of the filter as and when you need it; you may, for example, want to leave it off for landscapes to get extra definition, but turn it on when shooting anything with fine repetitive detail that can create problems, such as fabrics or architecture.
4. Focus peaking
If you use manual focus, you’ll know that there are a number of situations in which it can be difficult to accurately assess this – outdoors in harsh light, for example, or when shooting a low-contrast subject. Focus peaking is starting to appear in more and more cameras to help out here.
This feature applies a coloured highlight to edges in the scene as you adjust focus, which indicates where contrast is highest to help you find the right spot; some systems also enable you to change the colour of the highlight so it stands out better against your subject. It’s not only useful for stills – it’s a great way to check where you’re focusing when recording video too.