When it comes to buying a digital camera, it's easy to get confused as there are so many options. Fear not. We're here to help. This guide will help you make a purchasing decision based on the specifications you'll need to examine closely (and the specs you can basically ignore) before you fork out your hard-earned cash.
Compact Interchangeable-Lens Camera (Panasonic G-Series, Olympus PEN, Sony NEX, Samsung NX)
Strengths: More-compact than a DSLR; excellent photo and video quality; no shutter lag; versatile interchangeable lenses; manual controls for exposure and focus
Weaknesses: No through-the-lens optical viewfinder; can be expensive; fewer lenses available than for DSLRs; still a bit bulky for everyday use
If you can live without an optical viewfinder, these interchangeable-lens cameras offer most of what a DSLR offers in a more-compact body: a large sensor, fast mechanical shutter, swappable lenses, noticeably better image and video quality that your average point-and-shoot, and manual controls.
The lack of an optical viewfinder is a by-product of these cameras' smaller size: by eliminating the somewhat large mirror box that lets you frame your shot through the lens, manufacturers were able to make these interchangeable-lens cameras more compact.
One of the main problems is deciding which of the emerging compact interchangeable-lens formats to buy into, because like DSLR lens mounts, they're incompatible with one other: Panasonic and Olympus both use the Micro Four-Thirds System lens mount, but not all Micro Four-Thirds lenses are compatible with both companies' cameras; Samsung's NX10 uses its own NX lens mount; Sony's NEX series uses the E-Mount system; and other companies are bound to release their own interchangeable-lens compacts.
Because this is a newer type of camera, there aren't as many lens options to choose from, either. Adaptors are available that let you use full-size DSLR lenses with these cameras, but they often cost a hundred dollars or more.
Megazoom (Fixed-Lens High-Zoom) Camera
Strengths: Very high optical zoom range; manual controls; normally has excellent image stabilization; better lenses than standard point-and-shoot cameras
Weaknesses: Bulkier than a point-and-shoot camera; expensive for a fixed-lens camera; not much smaller than an interchangeable-lens camera
Megazooms don't give you the same lens-swapping versatility of a DSLR or compact interchangeable-lens camera, but they are the most-versatile fixed-lens cameras available.
They're called "megazooms" because their lenses serve up a whopping amount of optical zoom (20x to 36x), offering impressive wide-angle coverage and telephoto reach.
Most megazooms also offer DSLR-like manual controls for aperture and shutter, as well as excellent image stabilization to help steady full-zoom shots.
Because of the versatility of their lenses, they're good cameras for landscape photography (they can capture both wide-angle vistas and faraway details), sports photography (you can sit in the crowd and still get tight shots of in-game action), and animal photography (because you really shouldn't get too close to that bear).
Although a megazoom camera is smaller than a DSLR, it's about the same size as some interchangeable-lens compact cameras, and it won't slip into a pocket or purse. You'll probably need a backpack or camera bag to tote it along with you.
NEXT PAGE: Pocket Megazoom