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Digital Cameras Explained

Compact Cameras

For many, the simplicity of a compact, which takes photos effortlessly and slips into the pocket easily, will be enough. The most recent compacts have moved on from the shutter lag which used to blight cheaper models – no longer do you press the trigger ages before the picture takes.

Even so, not all compacts are equal and along with the look of the camera you should consider the zoom lens, the number of megapixels, the size of the LCD screen on the back of the camera and if there are extra features you need.

If you’re after a slim, stylish snapper that’ll deliver strong results, I’d choose something like the excellent Fujifilm F80EXR which can do everything for you, or the great-value Canon Ixus 105, available in pink or silver.

Cool Features

Some compacts now have GPS built in so the photo has the location built into the digital picture file, for instance. And lots of cool features now come as standard, such as face recognition so your friends’ faces are in focus and smile shutter which automatically takes a shot when they’re smiling, without you even having to press the shutter. And shake reduction is a great boon, making sure your images are rock-steady even if, at the end of an enjoyable party, you’re not.

Feature-packed compacts include the Sony DSC-TX5 with its excellent Sweep Panorama function and the ruggedised Pentax WS80 which is dust-proof and can even be used underwater!

Compact Lens

If you think you’d like to take a lot of shots of wildlife, sports or landscapes, there will be compacts which will be especially suitable because they’ve got wider or longer lenses. Be warned, the longer the lens, the less likely the compact will fit your pocket without stretching the seams. The slimmest, sleekest camera is rarely the best for distance shots, though the Nikon S8000 packs a 10x zoom into a surprisingly slim case.

You might want to consider a superzoom. This kind of camera looks more like a full-blown digital SLR, but has an adjustable rather than removable lens – which has the great advantage that you don’t risk dust sneaking into the camera and leaving telltale smudges on your images. These cameras tend to be cheaper than a full D-SLR but offer a lot of flexibility. The Fujifilm Finepix S1850 is a good example.

D-SLR Cameras

And if it’s time to move up from a compact to a fully-fledged D-SLR, you’ll find picture quality excels in these bigger machines – and the entry-level models are surprisingly affordable. A crucial feature on D-SLRs is dust reduction – many cameras now have this and it means the camera sensor vibrates to shake any dust off when you switch the camera on or off.

Entry-level also means these D-SLRs are often geared to offer a gentle learning curve to compact users with automatic overrides and even scene modes: those automatic adjustments the camera makes when you tell it you’re shooting a night portrait or a seaside landscape, say.

Try the Canon Eos 550D – the latest in a trusted series – or the Nikon D5000, a spectacularly enjoyable to use camera.

Note, though, that not all D-SLRs have a feature called Live View, where you can frame up your shot on the LCD screen; on some you still need to use the viewfinder.

Interchangeable Lens Camera

Conversely, the newest kind of camera, the interchangeable lens camera, may not have a viewfinder at all. These cameras dispense with the Single Lens Reflex mirror structure from which D-SLRs take their name, replacing them with an LCD screen which shows exactly what the lens sees. As a result, they’re able to dispense with some of the bulk of a D-SLR but still have the same large photographic sensor with its superb quality. Most of these cameras have strong camcorder features, too, so you can shoot video as well, often at high-definition quality.

This new breed of cameras, called hybrids or Digital System Cameras are the most exciting development in high-quality photography in years. Key among them are the Sony NEX-5 (which also shoots 3D still images!), the exceptionally easy-to-use Samsung NX10 and PanasonicDMC-G2.

There’s a bunch of brilliant cameras which will suit you – the toughest decision will be to work out what you want your camera for. Then pick the features you need, the camera size and shape you want and the budget you can afford.

Don’t forget to buy a memory card (something around the 2GB or 4GB size will be affordable and mean you won’t run out of space too quickly) and then the best part starts – taking the pictures. Enjoy.

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