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.

Gone are the "megapixel wars" of recent years; it's hard to find a new camera with anything less than a 10-megapixel sensor. Instead, we're seeing a different kind of battle nowadays: manufacturers are building specialized cameras for different types of shooters.

Between feature-loaded cameras under £200, ruggedized point-and-shoots, high-zoom pocket cameras, hybrid still-and-video cameras, interchangeable-lens compact cameras, and full-fledged DSLRs, your options are growing – and getting a lot more confusing.

This Digital Camera Buying Guide will help you make a purchasing decision based on the specs you'll need to examine closely (and the specs you can basically ignore) before you fork over your hard-earned cash.

Choosing the right Digital Camera

If you're having a hard time figuring out which camera to buy, you may be tempted to make a decision based solely on megapixel count.

However, outside of making huge prints or blowing up small portions of an image, megapixels can be meaningless. In fact, a high megapixel count can lead to noisier, less-sharp images unless you're using a camera with a larger image sensor (such as a DSLR or a compact interchangeable-lens camera).

Other features are often more important, and they depend on what you'll be using the camera for.

For example, a lethargic camera that takes too much time between shots is a lemon for sports or action photographers, and a big, heavy DSLR that takes amazing photos may spend more time on the shelf than in your carry-on bag.

A camera with no manual controls may take fabulous shots in bright sunlight, but lousy ones in more challenging situations.

Starting at the top of the photographic food chain, here are the pros and cons of each type of camera.

Digital SLR (DSLR) Camera

Strengths: Superb photos, videos, and low-light shooting; no shutter lag; versatile interchangeable lenses; manual controls for exposure and focus; through-the-lens optical viewfinder

Weaknesses: Expensive; lack of portability; not all DSLRs shoot video; can be complex and intimidating

If money's no object and performance is your top priority, a  digital SLR camera yields the best photo quality and imaging controls of any type of digital camera.

The combination of a large sensor, high-quality lenses that you can swap out to achieve a wide range of effects, great high-ISO performance in low light, and lightning-quick shutter response times make it the go-to camera for hobbyists and pro shooters.

A DSLR is also the only type of camera that lets you frame shots using a through-the-lens optical viewfinder, meaning that what you'll see through the eyepiece is a true-to-life representation of your shot.

Though the prospect of using a DSLR can be intimidating for novice users, most modern models are outfitted with point-and-shoot-like features and LCD-based viewfinders to make the migration easier.

Beyond user-friendly auto-exposure and scene modes, you also get room to grow as a photographer due to a DSLR's full range of manual controls.

The only major drawback to a DSLR is its size, which makes it a tough camera to bring anywhere you go. Price is also a major consideration, even after you spend an initial £500 to several-thousand dollars on the camera body alone.

Additional lenses are a must when it comes to unleashing the full power of your DSLR, and they usually cost several hundred pounds a pop (at least).

If you're interested in shooting video, make sure your DSLR supports it; these cameras capture stunning HD video, but only the newest DSLRs are video-capable.

NEXT PAGE: Compact interchangeable lens cameras

  1. Chose the camera that suits you
  2. Compact interchangeable lens cameras
  3. Pocket Megazoom
  4. Ruggedised Point-and-Shoot camera
  5. The specs explained
  6. Size, weight and design
  7. RAW Mode
  8. Battery life
  9. Menus
  10. LCD and Viewfinder
  11. Digital camera shopping tips

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

  1. Chose the camera that suits you
  2. Compact interchangeable lens cameras
  3. Pocket Megazoom
  4. Ruggedised Point-and-Shoot camera
  5. The specs explained
  6. Size, weight and design
  7. RAW Mode
  8. Battery life
  9. Menus
  10. LCD and Viewfinder
  11. Digital camera shopping tips

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

  1. Chose the camera that suits you
  2. Compact interchangeable lens cameras
  3. Pocket Megazoom
  4. Ruggedised Point-and-Shoot camera
  5. The specs explained
  6. Size, weight and design
  7. RAW Mode
  8. Battery life
  9. Menus
  10. LCD and Viewfinder
  11. Digital camera shopping tips

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.

NEXT PAGE: The specs explained

  1. Chose the camera that suits you
  2. Compact interchangeable lens cameras
  3. Pocket Megazoom
  4. Ruggedised Point-and-Shoot camera
  5. The specs explained
  6. Size, weight and design
  7. RAW Mode
  8. Battery life
  9. Menus
  10. LCD and Viewfinder
  11. Digital camera shopping tips

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.

The specs explained

Different specs are important to different people, but there are a few generalizations we can make when it comes to cameras.

Megapixel count

If you intend to take pictures only to email them to distant friends or to print at snapshot size, a camera of most any resolution will do – your mobile phone is probably enough.

Even so, having more pixels gives you greater flexibility – you can print sharper pictures at larger sizes, or crop and print small sections of pictures. These days most cameras offer a resolution of at least 10 megapixels, which is overkill for most shooters.

5 megapixels is enough to make a sharp 8-by-10 print.

8 megapixels is enough to make a sharp 11-by-14 print.

A 10-megapixel camera can produce acceptable prints of up to 13 by 19 inches, though they may lose some detail.

Images from a 13-megapixel camera look good at 13 by 19 inches and can be pushed to 16 by 24 inches.

Many digital single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras today exceed 13 megapixels - all the better to creatively crop your images.

Image quality

All megapixels aren't created equally; cameras with larger sensors and lenses normally take better shots, regardless of the megapixel count.

Bigger sensors normally create better images, as do higher-quality lenses; this is why DSLRs take such stunning photos.

If you can't get any hands-on time with a camera before deciding whether to buy it, check the specs to see how big its sensor is, and look at the physical size of the glass on the front of the camera. If both are big, it most likely offers good image quality.

Shutter lag and startup time

Even if the camera you've decided to buy has some drool-inducing specs, shutter lag may keep you from capturing the perfect shot. When it comes to shutter lag, a camera can let you down in a handful of ways: a slow shot-to-shot time, a slow startup-to-first-shot time, and a laggy autofocus that has trouble locking in on a crisp shot.

You can check for only one of these problems by scanning a camera's spec sheet: To get a grasp on a camera's shot-to-shot time, look for the camera's "burst mode" or "continuous shooting" count in shots per second.

This is the number of shots a camera will take in rapid-fire succession as you hold the shutter button down.

If you're interested in shooting a lot of sports or action photography, look for a camera with a continuous shooting mode of at least 3 shots per second; keep in mind that the continuous shooting speeds usually refer to situations with the flash turned off, as the time needed to recharge the flash will usually be longer than the shot-to-shot time.

Some cameras are built for high-speed shooting with shot rates much higher than that, but usually they significantly reduce the resolution of each photo in order to speed up image processing and write speeds.

The other forms of shutter lag are important reasons to get some hands-on time with any camera before you buy it, if possible.

Check to see how long the camera takes to power on and snap a first shot; generally, anything close to a second is considered fast.

Another good hands-on, in-store test is to see how long the camera's autofocus system takes to lock in on a shot after you press the shutter button halfway.

If the camera searches in and out for more than a second, you'd be better off with another camera for sports or spur-of-the-moment casual shots.

NEXT PAGE: Size, weight and design

  1. Chose the camera that suits you
  2. Compact interchangeable lens cameras
  3. Pocket Megazoom
  4. Ruggedised Point-and-Shoot camera
  5. The specs explained
  6. Size, weight and design
  7. RAW Mode
  8. Battery life
  9. Menus
  10. LCD and Viewfinder
  11. Digital camera shopping tips

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.

Size, weight and design

To some users, how much a camera weighs and whether it fits in a pocket may be more important factors than resolution.

Slim cameras are convenient, but they frequently have tiny dials and few buttons, which make changing settings somewhat trying.

Smaller cameras usually don't have many manual controls, relying on automated in-camera settings that pick the right in-camera settings for your shot. These auto modes normally do a great job, but you have less control over the look and feel of a photo.

Zoom lens and image stabilization

Inexpensive cameras often lack a powerful optical zoom lens, but that's changing. Among the new breed of £200-range cameras are a few pocket megazooms: compact cameras with optical zoom lenses as powerful as 10x optical zoom.

If we had to choose between a point-and-shoot camera with more optical zoom and one with higher resolution, we'd take the model with the more powerful zoom lens – it means you won't have to magnify your subject and then use software to crop the image (and discard some of the resolution as a result).

If you're buying a DSLR or a compact interchangeable-lens camera, both the zoom range and the stabilization features depend on the lens you're buying. A few DSLRs and interchangeable-lens compacts have in-body image stabilization, meaning that your images will be stabilized by in-camera mechanics regardless of which lens you attach.

If your camera doesn't have in-camera stabilization features, optically stabilized lenses are available, but they're often a bit more expensive.

Fixed-lens cameras now offer zoom ratings of up to 36X. These lenses are great for nature or sports photography, but unless the camera has good image stabilization (look for a camera with optical image stabilization) or a very fast shutter, you may need a steady hand or a tripod to avoid blurry pictures at extreme telephoto lengths.

You should try a camera's autofocus at full zoom: We've tested some models that were slow to focus at full zoom in low light.

Also note that not all high-zoom cameras are created equal. You know how you have to ask everyone in your group shot to gather in close to get in the shot? A wide-angle lens can solve that problem, so pay attention to the wide-angle end (lowest number) of the optical zoom range, not just the telephoto end (highest number).

If you take a lot of group shots or landscape shots, the wide-angle end of the lens is even more important; it lets you capture more of the scene when you're zoomed all the way out. A good wide-angle lens starts at about 28mm or less on the wide-angle end; the lower the number, the wider-angle the lens.

Be wary of advertised zoom ratings – many vendors combine the optical zoom (which moves the lens to magnify the subject) with digital zoom, which merely captures fewer pixels and magnifies those. Optical zoom gives you all the benefit of the camera's maximum resolution, combined with the ability to focus in tight on faraway action.

NEXT PAGE: RAW Mode

  1. Chose the camera that suits you
  2. Compact interchangeable lens cameras
  3. Pocket Megazoom
  4. Ruggedised Point-and-Shoot camera
  5. The specs explained
  6. Size, weight and design
  7. RAW Mode
  8. Battery life
  9. Menus
  10. LCD and Viewfinder
  11. Digital camera shopping tips

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.

RAW Mode

All digital cameras take .JPEG images by default, which compresses your photos and compromises the details in each shot.

Many DSLRs and compact interchangeable-lens cameras, and some advanced point-and-shoot cameras also allow you to shoot in RAW mode, which preserves all the data in your images without compression.

Shooting in RAW lets you bring out more detail in your image during the editing process, but it also means that the file sizes on your images will be much higher. If you plan to shoot in RAW, make sure you have a high-capacity storage card to hold all that extra data.

Manual focus

For close-ups and situations in which a camera's autofocus doesn't quite cut it, switching to manual focusing can help you get the shot. Low-end cameras often omit manual focusing or allow only stepped focusing, which forces you to choose from a few preset distances.

It's also a good idea to test out a camera's autofocus before you buy; some cameras struggle to lock in on a focus point at full telephoto or in macro mode, meaning you may not be able to capture your perfect shot.

Storage

If you have an existing storage card that you'd like to use with your new camera, make sure that it's compatible with your new purchase.

Most cameras on the market today use SD (Secure Digital) or SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) format cards.

SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) cards are more expensive, offering storage capacities up to 32GB, but they're not backward-compatible with standard SD slots.

There's also a new format on the block: SDXC, which supports storage capacities up to a whopping 2TB; those are even more expensive, and they aren't compatible with all SD/SDHC card slots.

In addition to storage capacity, there's also the speed issue to consider. SD and SDHC cards have a "Decoding Class" rating listed, which refers to the data-writing rate for each card. The higher the Class number, the faster the write speed; if you're planning on shooting video or using a high-speed burst mode, look for a Class 4 or Class 6 card at the very least.

To complicate matters further, there are a couple of other formats out there.

Some cameras support MicroSD or MicroSDHC cards, a smaller version of the SD card format that isn't compatible with full-size SD slots.

Older Sony cameras take MemoryStick cards, and older Olympus cameras use the XD card format; both companies' new cameras now support SD/SDHC cards.

What's more, many higher-end DSLRs have a larger-format CompactFlash card slot.

NEXT PAGE: Battery life

  1. Chose the camera that suits you
  2. Compact interchangeable lens cameras
  3. Pocket Megazoom
  4. Ruggedised Point-and-Shoot camera
  5. The specs explained
  6. Size, weight and design
  7. RAW Mode
  8. Battery life
  9. Menus
  10. LCD and Viewfinder
  11. Digital camera shopping tips

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.

Battery life
Cameras use one or more of several types of batteries: AAs, either nonrechargeable alkaline or rechargeable nickel metal hydride (NiMH) high-capacity disposable CRV3s or proprietary rechargeable batteries.

Some digital cameras quickly drain batteries - especially alkaline batteries - which can be expensive and annoying. Battery life and cost often aren't related; some inexpensive cameras have great battery life, and some expensive ones use up a charge quickly. Either way, it's a good idea to buy spare batteries.

Movies and sound
The majority of today's cameras can capture video as well as still shots, and some even record 1080p high-definition video. If you plan on shooting a lot of video with your camera, here are some things to consider:

  • Can the camera zoom in and out optically while filming video?
  • Can you use autofocus while shooting video?
  • Does your video-editing software support the format your camera records? Most cameras' video output will work with any video-editing program, but the AVCHD format is still incompatible with some software. That said, the AVCHD format will upload directly to YouTube.
  • Do you have a Class 4 or Class 6 SDHC card? You'll want to pick one up to make sure it can handle the speed of video capture.

If you're torn between a digital SLR camera and an advanced point-and-shoot model, check to see whether the DSLR you're considering shoots video. A growing number of DSLRs capture high-definition video, and the larger sensors and lenses mean that the video quality is usually phenomenal.

Exposure settings
All digital cameras let you shoot in fully automatic mode - just press the shutter release and you get a picture. Some cameras also offer aperture- and shutter-priority modes, in which you adjust the size of the lens opening or how long the shutter stays open, and the camera automatically controls the other variable to give you the proper exposure.

Typically, you'd use aperture priority to maintain control over an image's depth of field--for example, to blur the background of a shot while keeping the foreground sharp - and shutter-priority mode to capture fast-moving subjects. A camera that relies exclusively on full auto would attempt to keep both the foreground and background in focus in the former example, and it would probably blur the moving subject in the latter.

Usually, cameras that offer priority modes also provide full-manual exposure control, in which you set both variables. These modes make a camera adaptable to almost any situation.

NEXT PAGE: Menus

  1. Chose the camera that suits you
  2. Compact interchangeable lens cameras
  3. Pocket Megazoom
  4. Ruggedised Point-and-Shoot camera
  5. The specs explained
  6. Size, weight and design
  7. RAW Mode
  8. Battery life
  9. Menus
  10. LCD and Viewfinder
  11. Digital camera shopping tips

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.

Menus
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.

Scene modes
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.

White balance
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

  1. Chose the camera that suits you
  2. Compact interchangeable lens cameras
  3. Pocket Megazoom
  4. Ruggedised Point-and-Shoot camera
  5. The specs explained
  6. Size, weight and design
  7. RAW Mode
  8. Battery life
  9. Menus
  10. LCD and Viewfinder
  11. Digital camera shopping tips

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.

LCD and Viewfinder
All digital cameras have an LCD screen; these vary in size from 1.8 to 3.5in. The smaller size limits your ability to review just-taken images on the camera. A good LCD is essential for knowing whether you got the shot you wanted, and can usually give you an indication of whether it was properly exposed. Some new cameras have touch-screen LCDs that allow you to tap on subjects in the frame to focus on, as well as to navigate menus. If you're thinking about getting a camera with a touch-screen LCD, make sure the screen is responsive--and account for the screen-smudge factor.

LCD quality varies widely: Many wash out in sunlight or become grainy in low light, or the image may change if you tilt the camera slightly. If you can, try a camera outside before you buy it. Some cameras also have an eye-level viewfinder, which is a convenient backup for framing your shots (and if you turn off the LCD when not using it, you'll save battery power). Perhaps the best way to ensure an accurate exposure is to view the photograph's histogram on the LCD (if the camera offers this feature). A histogram is a graph that will show you highlights that are overexposed to the point of being pure white, and shadows that are underexposed and show as pure black.

Wireless
Using Wi-Fi to transmit images to a PC, a printer, or a photo-sharing site may sound enticingly free of entanglements, but we recommend that you try this feature beforehand. In our reviewers' experience, sending Wi-Fi transmissions did not work seamlessly in some cases, and as a result this feature was not worth the extra money it added to the camera's cost. You don't have to buy a Wi-Fi-enabled camera to send photos directly from your camera, however. Eye-Fi cards enable any compatible camera to send photos wirelessly to your computer, to photo-sharing sites, and even directly to a mobile phone. And TransferJet wireless technology lets you transmit photos and video between compatible devices simply by holding them close to one another.

NEXT PAGE: Digital camera shopping tips

  1. Chose the camera that suits you
  2. Compact interchangeable lens cameras
  3. Pocket Megazoom
  4. Ruggedised Point-and-Shoot camera
  5. The specs explained
  6. Size, weight and design
  7. RAW Mode
  8. Battery life
  9. Menus
  10. LCD and Viewfinder
  11. Digital camera shopping tips

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.

Digital camera shopping tips

Here are our recommendations:

  • Match Mp to your use: Most point-and-shoot cameras offer at least 5Mp, which is plenty for producing 11x14-inch prints. Cameras with more megapixels will yield even larger prints and allow you to blow up a part of an image with less likelihood that the print will be blurry. If you plan to make only 4x6-inch prints, you don't have to shoot at the camera's highest resolution - and as a result, you can fit more shots on your memory card.
  • Look for rechargeable batteries and a charger: The cost of disposable batteries adds up over the long run. Some cameras can use AA batteries of any type - disposable or rechargeable. That capability can be helpful if your rechargeable batteries run out of juice and you don't want to wait while they replenish.
  • Disregard digital zoom: Most cameras offer at least 3x optical zoom - and some boast an optical zoom as high as 30X. But sometimes vendors tout a high total zoom that includes digital zoom, which you should disregard: Digital zoom produces photos that are inferior to those produced with an optical zoom.
  • Look for a low-light focusing aid: Some cameras have auxiliary lights that help them focus in dim settings. That's important for many indoor shots. A lot of cameras these days have backside-illuminated (BSI) sensors, which generally do a great job in low-light situations.
  • Try the camera before you buy: Some cameras have commands and menus that are easier to use than others, a comparison you can make only with a hands-on trial. Also evaluate the lag time between when you press the shutter button and when the camera actually takes the picture. Try the zoom lens - does it operate quickly and smoothly? Find out how long you must wait between taking pictures. And try the LCD viewfinder - in the sun if possible - to determine how easy it is to read.
  • Consider investing in a memory card reader or a camera dock: A memory card reader acts like an external hard drive attached to your PC or laptop, allowing you to download pictures directly from your camera's storage media. Many newer laptops have one or more memory card slots built in, as do some inkjet printers. Alternatively, some cameras come with a dock or offer one as an option, and some of these docks offer a dedicated button for uploading all of your new photos on a memory card. A dock also charges the camera's battery.
  • Buy a second memory card: If you have a second memory card, you can keep shooting while the images download, rather than having to keep the camera hooked up to your PC. Also, you won't have to worry about running out of space (and missing your perfect shot) quite so quickly.

See also: Group test: what's the best digital camera?

  1. Chose the camera that suits you
  2. Compact interchangeable lens cameras
  3. Pocket Megazoom
  4. Ruggedised Point-and-Shoot camera
  5. The specs explained
  6. Size, weight and design
  7. RAW Mode
  8. Battery life
  9. Menus
  10. LCD and Viewfinder
  11. Digital camera shopping tips