Minimum compact digital camera features

Today’s digital cameras come packed with features, more than most casual photographers will probably ever use. However, some features are much more useful than others.

For general photo taking, look for a digital camera with these features at the minimum:

  • Megapixels – If you don’t make huge prints or crop a lot, six-eight megapixels are more than adequate for most casual photographers. However, unless you buy an older or used camera, it’s difficult to find one with less than 10 megapixels.
  • Automatic features – Auto focus, auto exposure, auto white balance; auto ISO.
  • Optical zoom – digital cameras usually have both optical and digital zoom lens. An optical zoom is a true zoom. Avoid cameras that have only a digital zoom. Image quality degrades the more you zoom in with a digital zoom.
  • Optical image stabilizationImage stabilization – A standard feature on most digital cameras today, Image Stabilization helps prevent blurred images due to camera movement. For the best image quality, get optical rather than digital image stabilization. Some cameras have more than one type of IS.
  • Intelligent Auto Mode – If you’re a point and shooter, look for a camera with an Intelligent Auto Mode. More sophisticated than standard Full Auto Mode, intelligent auto mode analyzes a scene and shooting conditions. The camera automatically selects the scene mode and factory optimized settings. Intelligent auto mode generally does well for many types of scenes and is a good choice for camera owners that prefer not to fuss with settings.
  • LCD quality– Since many cameras no longer have viewfinders, it important to get a camera with a good LCD. You’ll depend on it to compose and view a scene, review photos on the memory card and access camera menus. LCD displays have improved considerably during the years but they still may be difficult to view in bright light. The higher the resolution (dots-per-inch) of the LCD, the more detail shows on the screen.
  • Compression settings– compression is a method of reducing the file size of a digital image. Purchase a camera that lets you change compression and quality settings.
  • Macro mode – for close-up photography of flowers, insects, coins, etc.
  • Automatic flash – Illuminates a subject when there is not enough available light. If you take a lot of flash photography consider getting a camera with a hot shoe and purchasing an external flash.
  • Focus assist lamp – visible or infrared lamp that helps a digital camera focus better when taking photos in low light.
  • Removable media – you should be able to remove memory cards* from the camera so you can use additional cards if needed. If you plan to take a lot of images or shoot video, make sure you camera takes high capacity memory cards.
  • Viewfinder – as the sizes of LCDs have increased, fewer and fewer compact digital cameras have viewfinders. But if you take a lot of photos in bright light consider getting getting a camera with a viewfinder…if you can find one.  By pressing a camera against the face while looking through a viewfinder, the camera is steadied and helps minimize camera shake, particularly when using longer focal lengths and taking photos in low light. It also is useful when light is so bright that you have difficulty seeing the LCD.

* Important note about memory cards – before buying a memory card, check the camera specifications. There a many types of memory cards so make sure you buy one that is compatible with the camera.

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