Camera Shopping Guide

There is no shortage of compact cameras on the market, in fact the shelves are packed with endless choices at every price point. But how can you filter out what you actually need and not overpay for features that no one needs?

Well, this is a simple guide to clarify the various features on these little cameras.

If you are just looking for a point and shoot camera, just go through this simple list:

Focal length: This is basically the field of view of the lens. It’s usually specified in the 35mm equivalent focal lengths, such as the popular 35-105mm that a lot of compact cameras have. The smaller the number the wider the angle of view is.

Look for something with a real wide angle, this means ideally 28mm. Up to 35mm as the widest is still ok, but do not consider any models starting at 38mm and higher, they will be frustrating to use.

Image stabilisation: This is a useful feature that compensates for camera shake and reduces the likelihood of blurry photos. It is especially important if you take a lot of pictures in low light situations.

This is a good feature to have, if you can find it in your price range. If you are mostly shooting out in the sun, don’t worry about it. Many camera manufacturers also somewhat mislead consumers by claiming high ISO’s as a type of image stabilisation. Be sure to check that the camera you plan on buying has actual physical image stabilisation.

Image quality: It is almost impossible to predict the image quality of a camera based on the specifications these days. But there is one easy test you can do to check this:

I have found the following rough test to judge the quality works for a great many cameras: Take a picture, and display it on the screen. Zoom in until 1/16th of the picture is on the screen. This means the little box that shows you where your zoomed in part is should be 1/4 the height and width of the frame, roughly. Now, if the picture looks good at this zoom level, the camera is probably good enough. If it looks all smudgy, move on. While this is an utterly and completely un-scientific test, surprisingly, it works for a lot of cameras.

If you have narrowed your search down to only 2-3 cameras, simply try them out. If you already own an SD-card, this is much easier. When you are trying out the camera in the shop, simply stick your card in the card slot. Take a few pictures, take your card out and make your way to the photo printing machines. You know the ones, which develop and print the selected pictures in 2 minutes? Print out 3-4 pictures of the size you are likely to use, and have a good look. Most shops are not really well lit, so this is quite a good test for a compact camera. Chances are, if you like these pictures, you will be happy with the camera. This is quite a cheap way to test your choice before actually buying the camera.

Screen size and resolution: Most cameras now have decent sized screens, 2.5 inches and bigger. However, the size alone is not the only important thing, the resolution is important as well. A large, low resolution screen will look blocky, so don’t be fooled by the screen size alone. Also, some of the cheaper screens have quite poor brightness or viewing angles, so if the screen is important to you, make sure to actually play with the camera and don’t buy just based on the specifications.

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