Compact Digital Camera Buying Guide

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Compact Digital Camera Buying Guide

Compact digital cameras are small cameras that can be easily carried in a pocket or purse. Typically user-friendly and simple to operate, they are ideal for most people for general use.

About Compact Digital Cameras

Digital cameras work by storing images on an electronic image sensor. Like traditional film cameras, they have a lens with a diaphragm that can be adjusted to allow light in. Unlike traditional film cameras, digital cameras have the capability to instantly display images, to store images on a memory card and to edit images. These useful functions have combined to make digital cameras the standard type of camera for general use over a very short period of time. As technology has advanced, digital cameras have become increasingly sophisticated, offering complex functions and superb resolution.
Small and portable, compact digital cameras offer an excellent balance between functionality and affordability. They are ideal for most purposes, from close ups to landscape photographs. However, compact cameras do differ in their capabilities so it is important to do some research, becoming familiar with the particular features required and checking out product reviews of particular models. The nature of compact digital cameras means that size, portability, and ease of use are frequently placed over factors such as picture quality and functionality. This doesn’t mean they can’t produce very decent pictures, but they are typically used more as point and shoot cameras for snapshots than for specialist or professional-quality images.

Choosing a Compact Digital Camera

Features to consider when it comes to buying a compact digital camera include price, size and weight, quality settings, resolution, zoom capabilities, wide-angle lens, flash range, low-light capabilities, and video-recording capabilities. These are the basic features, but there are many more features and functions that particular models may offer, such as a viewfinder and waterproofing.

Budgetary Requirements

Price is one of the primary considerations for many people when purchasing a compact digital camera. Often there is a budget in mind and customers will shop around for a model that fits into the specific price range. It is worth remembering that prices can vary, so if a particular model has all the features required and seems perfect for the job, it may be available at a cheaper price from another seller. The prices of compact digital cameras have gone down in recent years even as their quality and functionality have improved, so very decent compacts are available at a fraction of the price they were a few years ago. Frequent upgrades have become commonplace in recognition of this.

Size and Weight

If a compact digital camera is to be carried frequently in a particular place, for example a pocket, purse, or handbag, it is important that it is small and portable enough to fit comfortably. This usually isn’t a problem for compacts, which are typically about 100 mm x 65 mm or less and about 25 mm depth. Ultra-compact digital cameras are even slimmer, at less than 20 mm depth. However, they may be more difficult to use with fewer controls and they are less likely to have a viewfinder.

Quality Settings and Resolution

Image resolution on digital cameras is expressed in megapixels (MP). Megapixels are made up of pixels, which can be easily seen in pixelated images. To avoid pixelation and achieve a seamless image, it is necessary for a camera with a high enough resolution. This in turn is dependent upon how large the final image is required to be. If the image is to be printed in a larger format then greater resolution, and more megapixels, are required. As a general guide, a 6 MP resolution can give decent photos up to around 20 inches x 12 inches, while a 16 MP resolution can give decent photos up to around 30 inches x 20 inches. Even the 6 MP resolution is more than sufficient for most purposes, considering that 5 inches x 7 inches is a larger standard print size.
Most modern compact digital cameras have 10 MP or more, and many have up to 16 MP. Bear in mind that megapixel quantity isn’t the only indicator of image quality, and a camera with fewer megapixels but other useful features could produce better-quality pictures than a camera with more megapixels. Many compact digital cameras give the option to take images at lower resolutions if required. Because resolution corresponds to file size, this allows more images to be stored and also makes it easier to email images. This can be a useful option for long trips, but remember that resolution cannot be altered once the picture is taken. If high-gresolution images are required, the settings need to be changed back.

Zoom Capabilities

Digital cameras have both optical and digital zooms. Optical zooms use the lens to bring the image closer, magnifying it by the same mechanism used by traditional film cameras and by other instruments such as binoculars. The resolution of the image does not change. Optical zoom is sometimes referred to as true zoom, and it is the most important type of zoom to consider when aiming for sharp, high-quality images. Optical zoom is given in values that indicate how far the image can be brought closer. At least 10x is recommended if this is an essential feature, though lower optical zooms may be fine for general purpose use.
In contrast, digital zoom does not bring the image closer or make any alterations while the image is being taken. What it does is enlarge the individual pixels once the image is taken, in the same way PCs and laptops enlarge images. This makes the image appear closer but there is no increase in detail or sharpness so images can sometimes look blurred. Digital zoom on a camera can be helpful for those that don’t want to edit or print photos at a later stage, and in situations where it is helpful to get a closer view of the subject. If using digital zoom frequently, a higher MP rating can improve image quality. Optical zoom and digital zoom, used together, can enable more detailed images of distant objects to be obtained. The distance at which objects can be photographed can be calculated by taking the optical zoom and digital zoom together, giving a figure known as total zoom. However, caution should be taken if a camera only gives a total zoom figure as the optical zoom is the most important element.

Wide-Angle Lenses

Compact digital cameras tend to have smaller lenses than traditional film cameras. The wide-angle figure is the field of view that can be fitted in when zoomed out. Lower figures are better here, and at least 30 mm is recommended.

Flash Range

All compact digital cameras have built-in flashes, but the range varies. If the camera is to be used frequently at night, it is preferable to have a camera with a range of at least 5 m.

Low-Light Capabilities

Compact digital cameras have smaller electronic image sensors than larger digital cameras, which affects the amount of light that can enter and the quality of image recorded. This can make finding a model with excellent low-light capabilities difficult, but it is worth checking out the sensor size and researching product descriptions and reviews to find a decent low-light camera if this is an important function.


Digital cameras use electronic image sensors to record images. They have a variety of features and functions to enable image alteration and editing. Compact digital cameras are ideal for general purposes, offering a balance between functionality and price. They differ in their capabilities, especially with regards to important considerations such as zoom and resolution, so it is important to research the various features. Optical zoom is the most important type of zoom as it has a direct effect on image quality. Cameras with more megapixels will produce images that can be enlarged further than those with fewer megapixels, but megapixel rating alone is not an indicator of image quality. Besides zoom and resolution, other features to consider include wide-angle lens, flash range, low light capabilities and video recording functions. If you're feeling really adventurous you could consider a GoPro camera. They can even be attached to a drone for a truly unique capture experience. There are many other special features offered by compact digital cameras, and these may also be worth considering.

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