Digital camera buyers' guide
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.
Pocket Megazoom (Compact High-Zoom) Camera
Strengths: Very high optical zoom range for a pocketable camera; portable but versatile; normally has excellent image stabilization; many have manual controls
Weaknesses: Some are a bit bulky; more expensive than basic point-and-shoot cameras; some lack manual controls; normally has narrower aperture than an advanced point-and-shoot
If you're attracted by the versatile fixed lens of a megazoom camera but want something a bit more portable, a pocket megazoom is your best option. These compact cameras offer optical zoom ranges up to about 18x, and although they're definitely more compact than a full-size megazoom or DSLR, some of them aren't quite small enough to slip into a pants pocket. A jacket pocket or purse should be big enough, however.
These are great cameras for vacationers or for everyday use, due to their versatile combination of zoom range and portability. They're small enough to bring anywhere, and they offer enough optical zoom to cover anything from wide-angle scenery to faraway shots of sporting events or wildlife.
Although many pocket megazoom cameras have manual controls such as aperture and shutter priority, not all of them do, so be sure to check the specs if you'd like those features. These cameras normally have very good optical image stabilization to bolster their high-zoom lenses.
Advanced Point-and-Shoot (Compact Camera With Manual Controls)
Strengths: Better image quality than most fixed-lens cameras; manual controls over shutter speed and aperture settings; usually has a wide aperture at wide-angle end of the zoom; good secondary camera for DSLR owners; good learning tool for novice shooters
Weaknesses: More expensive than a basic point-and-shoot; can be more complicated to use than a basic point-and-shoot; smaller optical zoom range
Not all point-and-shoot digital cameras can live up to the scrutiny of a DSLR-toting pro, but an advanced point-and-shoot often gets the nod as a pro shooter's secondary, more-portable camera.
These cameras have manual controls for setting the aperture, shutter, and ISO, letting you fine-tune your shot more granularly than you can with a basic point-and-shoot.
Their lenses also tend to have wider maximum apertures than most fixed-lens cameras, meaning that you can shoot at faster shutter speeds, get good shots in low light, and achieve shallow depth-of-field effects to give macro shots and portraits a more artistic look.
Although you don't get the zoom range of a pocket megazoom, image quality is often better; you don't end up with the distortion you sometimes see with a high-zoom lens.
NEXT PAGE: Ruggedised Point-and-Shoot camera