Buying a new digital point and shoot camera can be confusing. If you are an amateur photographer, you will be bewildered by all the funky terms used for marketing. This is a concise and brief guide on how to narrow down your choices into the one digital camera that best suits your need. Make sure you get a basic idea about camera settings before you buy any camera.
You should fix your budget first. This will help you narrow down your options very much. By setting a budget do not assume you should just set an upper limit. Go for a price range and search for a good camera in that range. Being a starter it is safe to set a $50 range. For example look for cameras in the $150 to $200 category. Once you have set your budget, stick with it.
It is always better to put your eggs in a reputed brands basket. Go for brands like Canon, Nikon, Sony etc. All are pretty good. Once you have narrowed down by price, go to a store front and take pictures on those cameras, see for yourself how they look. In my personal experience which includes around 50 cameras from different brands, Canons have been found to have much better image quality in the point and shoot segment. But do not take my word, go and try some cameras for yourself and find out which is the best one for you.
As a beginner, ease of use is going to be a primary concern. When you are checking out cameras, switch them on and check for ease of use. Note how easy it is to take pictures in automatic mode, setting flash, setting macro mode, deleting pictures, playing slide show etc. Use the camera to feel where the switches are placed.
How many Megapixel do I need?
Megapixel count is one of the most popular marketing gimmick used in point an shoot segment. People tend to fall for the bigger numbers for obvious reasons. Think about what your primary use of the pictures would be. If your main use would be to share pictures online, you definitely do not need that 12MP camera. Higher megapixel are primarily aimed for printing. There are chances that you will never print 99% of the images you take. Another thing with the higher megapixel count is that as the size of the sensor remains same and more and more megapixel are crushed in, the amount of light per pixel will reduce and can lead to higher noise.
Always look for how much Optical Zoom the camera has got. Do not give a damn about the digital zoom. Always go for a higher optical zoom. When the optical zoom is more than 3X, its a good idea to have a camera with Image Stabilization (IS). There are two types of image stabilization, Optical and Digital. Most of the time, optical is better.
If you are going to be capturing videos frequently, get a camera that captures HD movies. The good thing bout cameras that can capture HD movie is that they will also support lower resolutions such as 640x480px and 320x240px. Make sure the camera can zoom and auto focus while the movie is being recorded. If the camera doesn’t have these two features, the HD movie feature is pretty much useless.
Features like extended shutter delay, extended ISO, water proofing and the like can be found in many cameras. Give them necessary points if they help your purpose. Many of the Canon cameras can be feature enhanced with CHDK. You can check it on their website. They allow you to unlock features of your camera without voiding the warranty. And they do not make any permanent changes, it can be reverted any time you need.
Always remember, that great pictures are taken by great photographers, not necessarily with great cameras. The camera is only a tool, you are the one who is taking the pictures. If you have a buddy who is into photography, ask for his help.