Compact, or point and shoot, digital cameras are a convenient way to capture your memories. If you don’t buy carefully, though, you could end up with a camera which looks nice but doesn’t do what you need it to do.
First Things First
Before you even set foot in the shop, think about the kind of pictures you’ll be taking, and how, when and where you’ll be taking them. Do you just want to snap friends and family, or will you be taking lots of fast action shots (cars, football games etc.)? Will many of your photos be taken at night or in dim light? Will they be inside or outside? Do you want the camera to do everything for you , or do you want some manual control?
Once you have a firm idea of your needs, consider the following points when choosing your camera from among the multitude of available compact models.
Lots of megapixels are only important if you want to print out larger copies of your photos. 3 megapixels, about the lowest you’ll find on a camera these days, is plenty for good quality 8″ x 10″ prints. If you want bigger prints than this you’ll need more megapixels, but maybe not that many more as 4 megapixels will do a sharp 11″ x 17″ print.
After a particular point, you’re better off spending your money on other features, rather than more megapixels.
Perhaps one of the most useful and used featured on compact digital cameras. There are two sorts – optical and digital. Many cameras have a combination of both. Optical zoom telephotos in on an object by manipulating the lens of the camera – the entire image sensor is still used. Digital zoom just crops the picture and blows up the pixels that remain. – only a portion of the image sensor is used and the picture quality is correspondingly poorer.
In short – get as much optical zoom as you can afford, and forget about digital zoom entirely.
There are two areas of digital camera operation that can be particularly irritating if the response times are poor.
- Time the camera forces you to wait between shots.
- Time between pressing the button and the camera actually taking the photo.
Test these functions on the camera you’re contemplating. If there’s a noticeable delay, look at another model – there are plenty out there. You might also check how long the flash takes to power up after a shot.
The LCD Viewfinder
In the last few years these have got bigger and bigger and it is almost standard now for a compact camera to have a 2.5 or 3 inch screen. This isn’t just a luxury, it actually allows for easier operation of the camera. Menus are easier to read and photos are easier to frame, particularly in difficult light conditions.
Size isn’t the only thing you should look at, though. The quality of the screen is important too. Some LCD screens can be next to impossible to view in bright light, and some function poorly in the dark. Make sure you at least test your camera outside the shop in direct sunlight to see how its LCD screen performs.
Many cameras have a video with sound function. It’s nice to have, but if you really want quality video you need a proper camcorder. If you do want video on your camera, though, make sure the model you get shoots it at 30 frames per second. Some cameras only shoot at 15 fps and the quality is nowhere near as good.
A lot of cameras come loaded with an array of scene modes – particular combinations of preset variables that best suit the camera to certain types of photography e.g. landscape, portrait, macro, beach, underwater, firelight etc. Don’t get hung up on these. You’ll probably hardly ever use most of them. Even if you do, by the time you’ve ploughed your way through the menu to activate your particular scene mode you may well have missed your shot.
A few basic scene modes are useful, a whole dictionary full of them is probably superfluous.
Low-Light Focussing Aid
Dim light can be a real problem for some cameras. Having a flash is not enough. If the camera can’t focus, you might get bright pictures with a flash, but they’ll still be blurry. To combat this, some cameras have a small (sometimes red or orange) light that activates before the flash and enables the camera to focus in poor light. Buying a camera that can’t take photos at night is pretty much a waste of money.
Basically you have two choices – a camera which uses disposable AA batteries, or a camera which uses a proprietary rechargeable battery module. Both sorts have their advantages. When you run out of juice with AA batteries you can simply buy some more and keep on shooting. With a battery module, you’ll have to go home and recharge. You will, however, save money on all those throw-away AA batteries.
Most people buying a compact digital camera really just want to point and shoot, to let the camera do most of the work. But if you want greater control, you might want to look at cameras which allow manual override of functions such as focus, aperture, shutter speed and image sensor sensitivity.
What Does it Come With?
You’ll almost certainly need a memory card, as most cameras are sold without them. Cameras do have a small amount of internal memory, but this is usually only enough for a handful of photos. Make sure you factor a memory card into the total purchase price.
Will you need a camera case, a battery charger, a hand strap etc? Are these included?
Do Your Homework
There are so many digital cameras out there that a trip to the camera shop can be a bewildering experience. Your shopping expedition will be far more successful if you do a little research beforehand. Search the net, there are plenty of camera websites. See what they recommend and, most importantly, read the user reviews. The most valuable advice will come from someone who’s actually owned and used the camera you’re thinking about buying.
If you do this research, think hard about what you really need and what functions you’re actually going to use, you’ll get more value for your money and end up with a camera that gives you years of photographic pleasure.
Learn more about buying a digital camera with this video.