What makes a good digital camera, and which should I buy?


You need to consider the following: Do you want a simple point-and-shoot to carry in your pocket or purse camera, or are you going on a safari to capture the hard-to-photograph leopard?

It's either a compact camera or the more advanced DSLR right? It's not quite that simple – there are hundreds of different cameras of both types to choose from and a number of hybrids which claim to do everything. So, although there's not a simple answer, there is an easy way to focus on your ideal purchase. Ask yourself what type of photos (or videos) you will mainly be taking. A compact camera is handy for holidays and convenience but will be limiting when it comes to the features needed to take a prize-winning wildlife photo or breath-taking landscape. Once you've decided on what you will be using your camera for, you can then concentrate on the specifics of the device.

Essential camera buying tips:

1) The mega-pixels (Mp)

You are going to need more than your smartphone if you are serious. However your average Samsung Android, Apple iPhone or Google Pixel are plenty capable of producing great prints up to 9x10 inches or home framed photos as well as internet-generated photo booklets. Not to mention the hundreds of smartphone accessories to boost photo taking skills. Most cheap digital compact cameras offer a minimum of 14Mp but DSLRs for serious photography can provide 20Mp, 40Mp and even more.

2) Quality build

Some compact cameras may be light and easy to put in your pocket, but don't go for a camera that feels cheap and flimsy. Make sure you choose a camera with a hard plastic or metal casing. A good test of this is to look at the button placing and the size and pressure that can be applied.

3) Image stabilisation features

No one wants blurry photos from shaky camera movement and any cheap digital camera worth its salt will offer image stabilisation features to produce sharp shots no matter what the circumstances, within reason. However, there are more advanced accessory options for those undertaking adventure-type shots - see the GoPro Karma device for advanced stabilisation capabilities.

4) Critical zoom

Digital zooms enlarge the actual pixels in an image, but that is after you have taken a great shot. This is all well and good but with an optical zoom, a camera's lens does the enlarging of an image in real time for much sharper results. 5x optical zoom is the minimum acceptable magnified standard.

5) Face detection - say cheese!

Good quality cameras will be able to detect people in the frame by accurately recognising faces, even in low light conditions.

6) Low light capabilities

You want a camera to capture great photos no matter what the conditions, the last thing you need when printing or reviewing photos at the end of the day is to see imbalanced colours and not enough detail.

7) Wi-Fi sharing options

The image sharing phenomenon means manufacturers want to be better at competing with smartphones. So, most digital cameras will offer share by Wi-Fi features or supply apps to assist in transfers.

And how much should I spend on my first digital camera?

Compact cameras typically cost £150 to £250, bridge cameras £200 to £600, waterproof £150 to £400 and DSLRs £600 to £2,000.

What type of digital camera should I buy?

Other than the above points it will ultimately come down to your own personal preference potentially dictated by peers and photographers you admire and trust. However, here are some positives and negatives of buying a compact, bridge, waterproof camera or DSLR.

You want a camera that is better than your smartphone?

A compact camera is small enough to carry in a pocket or a handbag. However, even the best compact camera only offers a compromise between its features and a low-cost solution, but you get a great all-rounder. Just choose the best model you can afford otherwise you can end up with a flimsy piece of plastic that takes poor snaps.

Positives: Great for beginners and, if you choose a good model, offers great value for money.
Negatives: Lack of detailed features and can be risky with poor small buttons.

You want a camera with more features but maybe this is a passing hobby?

A bridge camera is the halfway house between compacts and DSLRs. Bridge cameras offer more features but typically aren't quite as advanced as a DSLR. This is partly down to their fixed-lens that might offer excellent zoom but without the ability to change camera lenses they fall short. The reality is they are a compromise.

Positives: More control and zoom
Negatives: Lack all the controls, and without interchangeable lenses the experience falls short if you're looking for professional results.

You want to capture your high-octane sporting and outdoor pursuits?

If you want to take pictures in the great British weather or fix your camera to your surfboard or snorkelling gear on holiday, check out waterproof cameras. GoPro and similar cameras usually have shock, water and dustproof casings that allow you great durability whilst taking fantastic shots. You can take them to the pool, the beach, snorkelling or even scuba diving and still get good shots. For all this though there is a compromise on zoom and they can also be fiddly to choose settings with a small touchscreen.

Positives: Tough and can be used in situations where no other camera would survive.
Negatives: Limited zoom and potentially fiddly to change settings on the go.

You want the best camera?

If you want the best possible picture quality, the best set of features with interchangeable lenses and a camera that allows you to do almost anything photography-wise, there is no getting away from the DSLR. The king of cameras. DSLRs are notoriously expensive due to the additional lenses. However, you can build these up over time and the range of features will allow you to get the best of what you have in the meantime.

Positives: More detail, more control, more features and versatile.
Negatives: Cost. Can be hard to hold in one hand.

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