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.
When evaluating a camera, consider how easily you can reach common settings - resolution, macro mode, flash, and exposure adjustments - and how easily you can play back just-taken images. Too many buttons, and you waste time trying to figure out which button does what; too many menus, and you waste time digging through them.
Some cameras try to entice prospective buyers, particularly beginning photographers, with a large number of scene modes - presets that are designed for a variety of settings and subjects, such as the beach, fireworks, and underwater. However, selecting one of these less common modes usually requires a trip to the menus, and multiple button presses. Some cameras let you assign one of the modes--or a custom mode of your creation - to a position on the control dial, where you can more easily access it. Some DSLRs offer multiple positions on their control dial for storing customised settings, and some point-and-shoots allow you to store customised settings as a mode within the scene modes menu or via the control dial.
One potentially helpful feature offered by almost every point-and-shoot camera is facial detection. In detecting people's faces, the camera aims to optimise both focus and exposure for the subjects, presumably to better effect than the more traditional portrait mode that almost every camera offers. Some new cameras even have smile recognition, which will automatically take a picture when someone in the frame smiles; this feature is great for baby pictures or for shooting an otherwise moody subject.
Unique shooting modes
With the megapixel wars officially over, camera manufacturers are focusing on other ways to make their offerings stand out from the pack. Some in-camera features are worth the price of admission alone, and they vary by vendor. For example, Casio has a high-speed shooting mode in many of its cameras that takes up to 60 shots per second. Nikon has a camera with a projector in it. Sony has a Sweep Panorama mode that lets you press the shutter button once and then pan across a scene to create an instant panoramic image. Canon and Olympus both have scene modes that make large objects look like miniature models, and several companies have cameras that shoot 3D images. You'll also find quite a few cameras available now with built-in GPS and mapping features. When it comes to cameras, don't be afraid to dive into the details; you might discover a cool feature hiding in the spec sheet that makes a camera a top contender for meeting your needs.
Almost all digital cameras allow you to choose a white-balance setting via presets. This setting tells the camera which elements in a shot should look white, and then by inference which elements should look black and what everything in between should look like. If you're finicky about colour accuracy, look for a custom white-balance mode in which you press the shutter button while aiming at a white object.
NEXT PAGE: LCD and Viewfinder