Buying Options

Testing a new digital camera

Written by Gail Bjork

Make a few simple tests to make sure your new digital camera is functioning correctly and free of problems.

Camera checkWhen you first buy a new digital camera, take it for a test drive to make sure it’s functioning correctly.

Don’t expect problems but understand that, like all electronic products, there may be occasional “lemons.”

Many merchants let you return a faulty camera without penalty for up to two weeks from the purchase date. After that time, a problematic camera needs to be seen by an authorized camera repair dealer. So give the camera a good workout before the time runs out with the seller.

To test a new digital camera, use it

The best way to test a new digital camera is simply to give it a good look-over and take pictures. Do so before making any major changes to the factory default settings! It’s advisable to do the testing with fully charged batteries.

Shoot all types of subjects, inside and out, with and without the flash; in low light and in sunlight. Try the different exposure, metering, focus and scene modes.  Zoom the lens in and out. Take a few macro shots, keeping your lens at the widest angle as most manufacturers recommend. Photograph colorful subjects to see how the camera handles a variety of colors.

Sight, sounds and connections

Check the LCD display for bad pixels, tiny dots on the screen. While a LCD itself may have no bad pixels visually, check if any show up in photos. If the number of pixels are excessive, exchange the camera. Also check if the actual LCD has a color cast (as opposed to improper white balance in a photo).

A digital camera may emit sound when it focuses, when the lens is zooming in or out or when continuous features such continuous Image Stabilization are enabled. Unless the sound is very loud or unusual, consider it normal.

If your camera has a hot shoe, slide an external flash into it. It should slide on and off easily but firmly. On rare occasions, a hot shoe may be too tight. Carefully check all the compartment covers, terminals and cords.

Reset the camera if needed

If after you test the camera, and doesn’t seem as it was when you first started using it, you may have inadvertently changed one or more camera settings. Simply reset the camera. Resetting changes all settings to the factory default: those originally set by the manufacturer.

If your camera exhibits any of the following to an extreme, return, exchange or send it in for repair.

  • Corner softness – Edges of an image appear very soft when taking shots due to lens decentering. Some corner softness is normal.
  • Hot pixels – white dots against a dark background that look like stars in an evening sky.  To test this, take a picture with the lens cap on. Take a long exposure and then look at the image for excessive dots. Realize that  every camera will have hot pixels if you take long enough exposures.
  • Video – unusual flickering in video shot in low, artificial light. This should not be confused with changes that occur when the camera make exposure adjustments as it is moved around a scene.

The following are normal, but some cameras do better than others:

  • Vignetting – darker corners at edges of a photo. Vignetting is from the side of the lens becoming visible and can occur when a lens is at wide angle.
  • Fringing – A blue, purple or other color around the edges of a high contrast subject such as branches against a bright sky. The fringing is most noticeable when shooting at wide angle.
  • Light drop off when using the flash – light may drop off in the corner of photos when the built-in flash is used at wide angle however the fall-off should not be extreme. Most built-in camera flashes are not powerful and should be used within the specified range for each focal length for optimal results.

About the author

Gail Bjork

Gail Bjork, who is passionate about digital photography, is the owner and editor of Digicamhelp.Gail is the author of three illustrated ebooks about digital photography. A number of her photos and digital photography related articles appear at other websites.In 2006, a series of her photos, People in the Louvre, were exhibited at the Underground Photo Gallery
in Iisalmi Finland. Eight of her photos taken in the Florida scrub are on permanent exhibition at Parrish Medical Center in Titusville, Florida.Gail served twelve years as an elected member of The School Board of Palm Beach County, Florida, one of the largest school districts in the U.S. She has also been the editor of a small town newspaper and a free-lance writer. Gail and her husband owned and ran several small businesses.