How to Buy the Perfect Compact Digital Camera: 5 Step Guide

August 20, 2010 · 12 comments

in Gear

If you’re not ready yet to take the plunge with a dSLR, you’d be happy to know that a simple point-and-shoot camera can produce a great photograph too. With thousands of choices in compact digital cameras, how do you pick the perfect one? Hopefully, with these 5 easy-to-follow tips, you’d end up with the right one that suits your requirements.

1.) Have a budget

A compact digital camera can cost anywhere from $100 to even over $500. If you walk into the store without a budget in mind, you will end up spending more than you can afford with features and extras you don’t need. On average, you can find a very decent compact camera for around the $250 mark. Compare prices and reviews online.

If you’re tight with money, look out for used cameras on auction sites, trading posts, forums and second-hand camera shops. A tip is to check after the Christmas period as a lot of people start posting “unwanted” gifts and you can be lucky enough to grab yourself a new camera for half of the retail price.

Photo thanks to

2.) Don’t Be Fooled by the Mega-pixels

10 years ago, mega-pixels were all the rage. A 5 mega-pixel camera would easily trump a 3 mega-pixel one. However, it’s not quite the case these days as most cameras come with at least 8 mega-pixels.

A lot of people confuse mega-pixels with the quality of the camera. What it basically determines is how big the photo can be enlarged to. The larger the mega-pixel of the photo, the more space it would also take up. I would rarely take a photo with my compact that’s over 5 mega-pixels, unless I was looking to blow it up to an A4 size. If you’re looking to print photos in its normal 4 x 6″ size, then shooting even with 3 mega-pixels will suffice.

Photo thanks to Claudio Matsuoka

3.) Take Note of the Lens

The quality of the lens is probably something I would focus on the most when it comes to selecting a compact camera. Things to look out for are:

  • Wide angle lens (28mm or less): Lets you fit more into a photo. Great for landscapes and group photos.
  • Optical zoom: A lot of cameras come with 3X optical zoom, with some going beyond to even 10X. Don’t confuse optical zoom with digital zoom. Digital zoom is like an inferior zoom where it’s done by your camera (rather than the lens) — it’s actually just cropping the photo while magnifying it.
  • Aperture: A large aperture (lower f-stop) like f2.8 or f1.8 means a faster lens and less depth of field in your photos. It will definitely be helpful in low-light conditions or trying to freeze an action shot.
  • Image Stabilization (IS): Look out for this feature, most notably with Canon cameras. It’s also great for capturing clearer and crisper images in low-light conditions or when you have an unsteady hand.

Photo thanks to George Rex

4.) Flexibility With Settings and Modes

Look out for different scene modes or presets like macro, sports, fireworks, beach etc. They can help you take a better photograph by automatically adjusting ISO, white balance, shutter speed and aperture. What’s even better is if you have more manual control over those settings. That’s usually the case with premium compacts like the Canon G11 and Panasonic DMC-GF1.

If you’re looking to shoot videos, be weary of the resolution, frames per second (fps) and also sound quality. Some compacts allow you to zoom in when you’re recording, while others remain stationary. A lot of compact cameras now offer video recording in HD format, which I’ve been quite impressed with.

Photo thanks to Jbangelo

5.) Try Before You Buy

Never buy a camera without trying it and its competitors. A touch-screen LCD monitor might sound great, until you try it in real life and realize it’s not what you’re after. The camera might look slick in the photos, but might no be ergonomic to hold in your hand. All these things can be sussed out at your local camera shop or duty free store.

Photo thanks to Paul Mayne

Article by

1 part ad agency. 2 parts freelancer. An avid urban photographer, traveler, and streetwear lover. Geeky curator of all things awesome. Sustains on Vegemite, meat pies and lamingtons. Follow me on Twitter or Flickr.

Yi has written 69 awesome articles for us at Photoble

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