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.
Ruggedized Point-and-Shoot Camera
Strengths: Immune to drops, water, freezing, and sand
Weaknesses: Usually has fewer features than a standard point-and-shoot camera; sometimes has subpar image quality
These are the ultimate cameras for extreme-sports enthusiasts, mountaineers, snorkelers, and the just-plain-clumsy.
Quite a few waterproof, freezeproof, drop-proof, and dustproof cameras are available, and they're great for taking underwater shots of fish, lugging to the beach, or taking on a snowboarding trip.
Due to their unique looks and sometimes-barren feature sets, these rugged cameras aren't the first choice for everyday on-the-go use. Image quality can be a mixed bag, as well: they're rugged, but they usually don't have the best optics or biggest sensors. But they're durable, and that's sometimes a more important trait to have.
Basic Point-and-Shoot Camera
Strengths: Very easy to use; inexpensive; small enough to fit in a pants pocket; usually has a large number of scene modes that select the right in-camera settings for your shot
Weaknesses: Usually doesn't have any manual controls; image quality is typically mediocre, especially in low light; inflated megapixel counts
A basic point-and-shoot camera is a no-brainer pick for anyone who just wants an affordable camera to have on hand at all times; most of them even shoot 720p HD video now.
In-camera automation is getting better and better, meaning that these cameras basically drive themselves; you don't get manual controls that help you fine-tune your photos, but these cameras normally have very good Auto modes and scene selections that choose the appropriate in-camera settings for your shot.
These cameras usually have small sensors, so don't fall into the trap of buying an inexpensive camera with a very high megapixel count. Packing more megapixels into a small sensor usually leads to image noise, especially when you're shooting at higher ISO settings.
Although they won't offer the same optical zoom reach as a more-expensive camera, a good thing to look for in a basic point-and-shoot camera is wide-angle coverage (ideally around 28mm on the wide-angle end). That extra wide-angle coverage comes in very handy for group shots, arm's length self portraits, and landscape shots.
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