How to buy the best digital compact camera

Digital cameras

If you want a small, lightweight camera that’s perfect for most types of photography, then look no further than a digital compact camera. These models are the perfect all-rounders for most types of photography and offer a great range of features at a reasonable price.

Good compact cameras usually have a decent-sized image sensor, so picture quality is potentially better and the zoom range of their lenses is usually good for most everyday photography.

Although you won’t get the same level of control as offered by a digital SLR, compact cameras combine automatic operation with manual controls so you can be more creative with your photos.

Top features to look for 

Size and weight – While compact models vary in size, most are small and lightweight enough to carry for everyday use. At less than 2cm thick, ultra-compacts are the thinnest models you can buy. These super-slim models may easily fit into your pocket, but they typically lack manual controls and a viewfinder. Their tiny buttons and dials can be fiddly to use.

Resolution – This refers to how many pixels the camera uses to produce an image –and it usually described in megapixels. But a higher count alone doesn’t guarantee better picture quality. High resolutions are only really useful if you’re enlarging printed photos. Most compacts have a resolution of 15mp or more – enough to print photos at large sizes or enlarge to get detailed images.

Photos captured at a high resolution result in larger file sizes. So, if you regularly email or upload photos to sites such as Facebook and Twitter, consider a compact camera that lets you shoot at lower resolutions. It also means you can fit more on a memory card – useful if, for example, you’re on a long holiday.

Optical zoom – Every compact camera has a zoom lens so you take close-up shots in sharp focus. A camera’s lens magnification capability is describes as optical zoom. The higher the optical zoom, the better. Look for a compact camera with a 15x optical zoom or more.

Wide angle – The wider the lens (wide-angle) on a compact camera, the more you can fit into landscape or group photos. When measuring wide-angle, a lower number is better – look for a minimum of 25mm.

Flash – All digital compact cameras have a built-in flash but look for a model with a range of 5 meters or more to ensure night shots and party shots are lit correctly when the flash is used.

Sensors – An image sensor is in effect the ‘film’ of a digital camera. When taking a photo, the sensor is exposed to light and records what it sees as a digital file. A small sensor may struggle to capture good quality photos in low-light condition, so opt for a model with a larger sensor.  Compact cameras use sensor sizes ranging from 1/4-inch to 2/3-inch.

Viewfinder – Because of their small size, many compact cameras lack viewfinder. You therefore have to rely on the LCD screen on the back on the camera to compose your shot. While a viewfinder isn’t essential, it can help when taking snaps in bright sunlight as reflections on the LCD screen can make it tricky to use.

LCD – Most compact cameras have a 2.5-inch LCD but some offer a larger 3.5-inch screen. A larger LCD makes it easier to compose shots and if your model has a touchscreen LCD you can zoom in and pan out of your photo simply by tapping the area of the image you want the camera to focus on. A larger LCD also makes it easier to navigate menus and review photos after they’re taken.

Battery – Compact cameras use either a custom rechargeable battery or standard AA batteries. A rechargeable battery saves money in the long run but for travelling or holidays  a camera that takes standard AA batteries can be a good option. That way if the camera suddenly runs out of power, as you can easily swap in cheap replacement batteries.

Optional features 

GPS tagging – Cameras that have a built-in GPS (global positioning system) receiver let you tag your photos with location information such as longitude, latitude and place name. Worth considering if you need to know the exact location of where you took a photo. 

Face detection If most of your shots are of family, friends and other people, look for a compact camera with face-detection. This feature automatically detects faces in the shot you’re composing, keeping those areas in sharp focus and optimum exposure to ensure perfect portraits photos every time.

Image stabilisationSome compact cameras offer image stabilization, which helps reduce image blurriness caused by shaking hands moving the camera. Unlike more expensive digital cameras that have mechanical image stabilization built into the body of camera, compacts typically use software processing tricks to achieve sharper images.

VideoMost compact models can record video, and some even record full high-definition (HD) video. However, don’t expect it to replace a dedicated HD camcorder. The footage you capture is typically good enough for uploading to the web for sharing.

Waterproofing – Want a camera to take to the beach or use underwater? Opt for a waterproof model. Typically, these models can be used to a depth of 10 metres, but they have limited zoom capabilities.

Wi-fi connectivity – Built-in Wi-fi lets you wirelessly transfer photos from your camera to your printer or computer, or upload them straight to your favourite photo-sharing site. This is a useful feature if you travel regularly as you can transfer all your photos off your memory card whenever you’re in a wireless hot spot.

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