Camera Buying Guide
When purchasing your camera it’s important to consider the size – will you want something that will fit discreetly in your pocket or bag, or are you happy to carry a larger model around with you?
There are various advantages of opting for a compact sized camera – they are lightweight and will easily slip in your pocket or bag – making a compact an ideal choice for those that like to travel, go on day trips and socialise with friends and family.
However with a pocket friendly design there’s also compromises – compacts usually have a lower specification and fewer or more cramped controls.
If you’re willing to consider a heavier, bulkier design which usually requires a separate bag, a bridge camera offers more creative control – usually featuring a more powerful zoom, a better layout and ergonomics with a solid grip.
Key features of a compact
There are various key features to consider when choosing which camera is right for you – we’ll be looking at the importance of megapixels, zoom, battery types and other features you should consider, as well as an explanation of different types of compact cameras.
Pixels are small receptors that capture light, affecting the resolution of your images, and together they form megapixels – a single megapixel equals exactly one million pixels. The number of horizontal and vertical pixels in an image can be multiplied together to get the total amount of megapixels, for example 4608 x 3456 equals 16 megapixels.
The amount of megapixels your camera has is an important factor of the quality of your images – you need enough megapixels for your images to look sharp, although you may not need as many as you think.
If you’re only planning on viewing your images on your PC screen or printing them out at standard 4 x 6 size, then you’ll get good results with just 3 megapixels. However if you’re shooting images for A3- sized posters, or viewing them on a 32” HDTV or above, or if you’re likely to edit or crop the images, then you would need around 8 megapixels.
However more megapixels don’t always mean better quality. Another very important factor is if your camera has a big enough sensor to handle the number of megapixels. Larger image sensors receive more light that passes through the lens which ultimately will give you cleaner, crisper images. If your camera has a high megapixel count but a small sensor, you can end up with a lot of visual noise in your image, and you can also waste disc space on needlessly large file sizes.
So while megapixels are an important factor when finding your perfect camera, always consider what you’ll be using the final images for.
Zoom allows you to get closer to your subject in camera, without physically moving closer. In compact cameras zoom is usually measured as optical zoom – the higher the number the greater the ability to zoom.
You may also notice many cameras have a focal length measured in ‘mm’ which indicates the overall reach of a camera. A low number results in a wide angle view, while a high number lets you shoot subjects at greater distances.
Many cameras use lithium-ion batteries which are rechargeable and supplied with a mains charger. These offer a longer battery life than AA batteries, but can be relatively expensive to get spares or replacements.
Single use AA batteries offer convenience as they are readily available worldwide and compared to li-ion batteries, rechargeable AA batteries are relatively cheap to buy. While it might seem simple to keep a stash of AA batteries around, they can be bulky and heavy to carry, and non-rechargeable AA batteries can be expensive to purchase in the long run.
Deciding what option will be best for you will most likely come down to convenience and the sort of places you shoot or film in. Li-ion batteries may be better for everyday use but if you’re travelling to more remote areas where li-ion recharging may not be possible, then AA’s might be more appropriate.
Tough cameras offer more durability than the average compact – to be classed as tough they need to be both waterproof and shockproof. This means you can take the camera underwater to a specified depth for a unique photographic experience, and that the camera is able to withstand accidental drops from a certain height.
Thanks to their tough construction, these cameras are ideal for more adventurous photographers and those that love to travel – think trekking up mountains, snow sports or simply enjoying a day at the beach. Their rugged design means tough cameras are also a great choice for youngsters with an interest in taking photographs.
Instant cameras let you skip the processing lab as they print your photograph directly from the camera itself. They offer a fun and unique way to capture photographs – you can even get themed film.
You may want to consider what you want to do with your images after you’ve taken them – if you’re a fan of uploading photographs to social media platforms on your smart devices you may want to look at cameras with Bluetooth or WiFi – plus you can pair your devices even quicker with one-touch NFC.
Some camera models feature compatible apps, allowing you to keep a gallery of images on your smart device or use your smartphone as a remote shutter. GPS is ideal for the travelling photographer as it tags your photographs with location data.
Love snapping selfies or group shots? Look for cameras which feature a dual screen – a screen on the front as well as the back – or a tilting screen – a screen which you can position so it can be seen from the front – which are also ideal for shooting from high or low angles.
Compact system camera | (also called mirrorless cameras or CSC’s) Similar in size to a compact camera but with the ability to change lenses, compact system cameras have many of the features of a DSLR, with a reduced form factor.
Instant cameras (Instax / Polaroid) | Instant cameras print their own photographs. Instax and Polaroid are major brands which make instant cameras.
DSLR camera | DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras are interchangeable lens cameras with a wider range of lenses and often faster autofocus mechanisms to give higher quality images, suitable for print and professional use.
Bluetooth | A short-range wireless connection that can be used to transfer data between devices.
NFC | Stands for near field communication. Allows for device pairing and data transfer by touching devices together.
WiFi | A wireless connection that allows devices to connect to the internet or communicate between devices.
GPS | Stands for Global Positioning System. A satellite-based navigation system that detects the exact location of your camera as you shoot.
ISO | The measurement of light sensitivity of your sensor (or film) – the higher the number the more sensitive it is.
HD video (720 + 1080) | HD video has at least 720 horizontal lines of vertical resolution, while Full HD has at least 1080 horizontal lines of vertical resolution.
4k video | 4k video has at least 2160 lines of vertical resolution.
Sensor types (CMOS + CCD) | Sensors capture light and turn it into image data. A CMOS (complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor) sensor is efficient, uses low power and can capture images at high speeds. A CCD (charged couple device) sensor offers high image quality, excellent dynamic range and noise control.
Screen types (LCD, LED, OLED, TFT) | LCD (liquid-crystal display) uses the light modulating properties of liquid crystals. LED uses light emitting diodes. OLED uses organic light emitting diodes. TFT (thin film transistor) is a technology uses in LCD screens for a clearer image with less power.
Image stabilisation | Comes in different modes to combat different types of camera shake. This results in smoother videos and sharper images.
Prism | As used in DSLR cameras, an image passes through the lens which is reflected in the mirror and then through the prism. The prism then turns the image the right way round for the sensor and viewing through the eyepiece.
Mirror | As used in DSLR cameras, the mirror reflects the image coming through the lens and into the prism.
Viewfinder | This is the method of viewing your composition as seen through the lens. A viewfinder is more commonly found on a compact system camera or DSLR than a compact camera.
Internal focusing | This is a feature found in some lenses where the end of the lens doesn’t extend – useful for macro photography where you are close to your subjects.
Weather resistant | Some high end lenses are weather resistant, meaning they are sealed against the elements so they won’t be damaged by rainfall, fog or dust.
Projector | This allows you to turn your camcorder into a portable projector as it throws the image to form a larger picture – all you need is a large clean white surface.
Slow Motion | This lets you slow down footage so you can watch it back at a slower frame rate – ideal for action replays.
Field of View: (also called FOV) | The entire angular expanse visible through the camera or camcorder at a given time, the larger, or wider the range, the more you can capture within the frame.