Tips to buy a compact camera

Choosing a digital camera can be much more complicated than you’d think. That’s why, through the following article, we’ll help you find the right camera for you.

1: Introduction

compact camera

Before you buy a camera, you must have a clear idea of what you need it to do for you and what you want it for. Unless you are a professional or serious about photography, the best is a compact camera, which are very portable –very useful as you likely will carry it around everywhere-, easy to use and offer everything you need to get good results. Though you could classify them in hundreds of categories, they’re commonly divided in 5 main groups:

2: Basic Compact Cameras

These are designed for beginners, children and people who want something simple and superior to a mobile phone camera. They’re lightweight and portable; usually they have a non-powerful zoon, small-sized sensor and little to no annual modes. They’re around 100 Euros, though depending on certain features like Wi-Fi connectivity or touch screens, it can increase.

3: All-purpose Compact Cameras

They’re pretty much identical to the previous group except for their design: these are resistant to small impacts, short falls, cold and heat without additional protection. They’re ideal in situations where the camera can be in danger –like extreme sports, camping or outdoor activities- and for kids. Because of its characteristics, their specs tend to not be remarkable. Most models can be found from 150 dollars.

4: Compact cameras with zoom

Nikon COOLPIX L820

Slightly bigger and heavier than a basic compact camera, these are designed for those who need a better and more powerful zoom, and therefore better pictures. The most expensive models can feature a P mode (automatic but with some manual controls), semi-automatic modes and even manual modes (though they’re usually very limited). They can be found for as little as 200 dollars and the price can increase depending on their extras.

5: Ultrazoom Compact Cameras (or Bridge)

We’re starting to get to the most powerful models. These look like DSLR cameras, although they like a mirror and the sensor is much smaller. They offer an even more powerful zoom and some of the manual modes reflex cameras have. They’re designed for users who want a wide-angle lens so they don’t have to constantly change lenses, though they tend to be heavier than DSLR cameras, not to mention they don’t offer as much features. They’re very fast and can be found for 300 dollars.

6: Advanced Compact Cameras

Nikon D3100

These are similarly-sized to the compact cameras with zoom, but are destined to users who want the best possible image quality a compact camera can offer. They offer a big sensor, high luminosity (between f1.4 y f2.0) and many manual modes, as well as a powerful –albeit limited- zoom and very luminous lenses. These are meant to be used by advanced users, as you’ll need some professional knowledge to take full advantage of their features. They can be found for as little as 450 dollars, though you can find models as expensive as 2500 dollars.

7: Don’t get crazy with the megapixels

When choosing camera, you need to have in mind many factors, and perhaps the most “important” according to the marketers is the resolution. Resolution is undoubtedly important, but not essential. Most marketers would like you to believe it is, so the market is filled to the brim with very poor models that only offer big resolutions. Between 8 and 12 megapixels should be more than enough to obtain good and sufficiently-sized pictures. A 4-megapixel camera can even get you great quality 10 x 15 pictures.

Therefore, it is recommended that you look for a camera with the best possible sensor and lens, and not just look for a big resolution. If you’re unsure, just look for cameras from well-known manufactures, like Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus or Panasonic, which tend to have good quality lenses and sensors according to their size and price. Having a big resolution when these components are poor can result in lots of noise and therefore low-quality pictures. You should also stay away from cheap models that offer great levels of zoom, as these produce awful pictures if the rest of the components are not as good.

8: Sensor Size

Sensor size is measured in inches –which, by the way, isn’t even close to the actual size-; the standard size of a compact camera’s sensor is 1/2.3 inches for basic cameras and 1/1.7 inches for the advanced models.

Sensor Size

9: Battery

Two kinds of cameras exist in regards to battery: those with their own rechargeable batteries –generally lithium-ion batteries- and those that use normal batteries, like AA. The former are smaller and offer greater battery life, though you have to carry the charger around at all times. Some models tend to have the battery built in the camera itself, though you can’t use them while the battery is being charged.

The latter offer shorter battery life and tend to be larger and heavier. However, if the batteries die they’re much easier to change.

10: Image Stabilizer

An optical stabilizer (when the lens is physically moved) is an interesting feature for any compact camera to have, since it translates into better quality pictures, and it’s essential if you want a camera with a powerful zoom. It’s important to not confuse it with a digital stabilizer, which only increase the shutter speed and ISO and therefore produce worse pictures.

Image Stabilizer

11: Wi-Fi connectivity and touch screen

If you want a model with touch screen, be sure it’s fast and precise.

It may seem obvious and silly, but it can translate into a much more enjoyable experience when using the camera. If the screen doesn’t convince you, look for a camera with buttons. The biggest advantage of a touch screen is that you can simply select the focus point simply by touching it.

Wi-Fi connectivity is useful to share your pictures through your social media accounts, like Facebook, Twitter or Picasa, store them in a cloud server or simply move them to your PC. Some models can even be controlled from a mobile device thanks to this feature. There are even cameras with Android, allowing you to edit and post-process your pictures thanks to the vast array of apps that exist for this purpose. It’s an interesting concept, though there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

12: Other things to have in mind

  • If possible, test the camera before buying it. Test how easy it is to use as well as its speed, see how long it takes for it to take and save a picture. Take a look at the quality as well –though you have to remember the resulting pictures you’ll have in your PC will look different-.
  • The GPS can add coordinates to your pictures to locate them on a map later. It’s an interesting feature, though it consumes a lot of battery, so watch out.

GPS

  • The internal memory isn’t a relevant factor, in fact getting the pictures out of the camera can be pretty inconvenient. Get a good-quality SD card, though micro SD cards are more common nowadays. If you plan on using burst modes, you’ll need a compatible card to avoid lag and bottlenecking.
  • Micro card

  • If you want to post-process your pictures, RAW shooting may be necessary, though no basic model will offer this.
  • Having a camera compatible with tripods is very useful to take group photos, taking pictures during the night and recording videos.
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