Digital Cameras Buying Guide

Choose your camera type There are 4 main categories of camera - which one’s right for you?

Digital cameras

Photography skill level:
Beginner

Great value entry-level cameras, these pocket-sized models are ideal for snapping away on holiday and at family events

Features you'll like:

  • Good value
  • Ideal for personal use
  • Easy to use
  • Good quality for printing and web viewing
  • Lightweight

Things to consider:

  • Usually no viewfinder – you rely on the LCD screen
  • Small buttons
  • Slower frame rates – less able to take action shots
  • Shooting modes are restricted – less flexibility

Bridge cameras

Photography skill level:
Intermediate

Bridge cameras are more powerful than entry-level cameras, but unlike the more advanced cameras, they have fixed lenses, meaning they're less customisable to your photography needs.

Features you'll like:

  • Combines the power of a DSLR and the ease of use of a compact
  • Higher megapixel counts and greater zooming
  • Great for intermediate photographers
  • More manual controls
  • Many have built in viewfinders

Things to consider:

  • Single integrated lens (unlike DSLR) so can’t change lenses
  • Large and weighty

Compact System cameras (CSC)

Photography skill level:
Intermediate / Advanced

While DSLRs have a mirror inside their body that reflects images onto a sensor, CSCs don’t have these mirrors, making their bodies more portable while keeping picture quality similar to DSLRs.

Features you'll like:

  • Smaller than DSLR with all of the power
  • Less pricey than DSLR
  • Interchangeable lenses
  • Slimline design for portability

Things to consider:

  • Fewer lenses available than on DSLRs
  • Not all CSCs have viewfinders

Digital SLR cameras (DSLR)

Photography skill level:
Advanced / Expert

Pro cameras with fully customisable settings and interchangeable pieces: the photographer is completely in control.

Features you'll like:

  • Great for professional and semi-professional use
  • More detailed, clearer photos
  • High megapixel counts and powerful zooms
  • Interchangeable lenses, filters and flashes
  • Easy to edit on computers once shot

Things to consider:

  • Manual nature of settings means you need to learn how to use it
  • Large and weighty
  • Can be quite expensive

Decide which features you need Prioritise features to suit your budget and needs - what do you want from your camera?

If you’ve found your camera type, now you can think about
the features you want. Entry-level digital compact cameras can
start at under £100, while a DSLR can run up into the thousands:
the best way to choose is by prioritising the features that suit
your budget and needs.

Camera features can be very complex. One feature plays with another, so getting the full story of a camera from a single feature isn't possible: we’ve offered approximate guidelines below for each type of photographer.

 

Resolution


For showing photos online and printing small (up to A4) images, 4MP is fine: most digital cameras exceed this significantly, up to 16 or 20MP.

At 16MP you can print excellent quality pictures up to 20x30 inches big. Our bridge cameras are 20MP: you'll be able to print excellent quality 24x36 inch photos 24MP

Memory & SD cards


A camera's internal memory can't store many images – for example, a 5 megapixel camera with 64MB of memory can hold about 24 high resolution JPEG images. Get a memory card to go with your camera: some cameras arrive with memory cards.

The higher megapixel count your camera has, the fewer images it stores: this is because each image holds more detail, which means more data. Remember that shooting video takes up much more space than single images

Viewfinder or LCD screen


A viewfinder lets you see the exact photo as it'll be shot, but most cameras have an integrated LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) screen that can be used to see shots before they're taken, and review them after, as well as to play with settings.

Many now consider a large LCD screen one of the most important purchasing factors, although a large screen can also drain battery more quickly. Vari-angle screens can be moved around to suit you

Optical zoom


Higher optical zoom lets you take more detailed pictures of distant objects by magnifying the image. It works in tandem with focal length: this determines essentially how 'zoomed in' an image is before any manual zooming.

For example, if the magnification level is measured as 3x optical zoom, and the camera's minimum focal length is 50m, then it has the ability to zoom up to 150m.

Digital zoom, by contrast, is just cropping the photo in-camera, rather than truly zooming in - so don't buy a camera based on this feature

  Resolution
 
Memory & SD cards
 
Viewfinder or LCD screen
 
Optical zoom
 
Beginner
 
16MP 8GB > 1600+ images at 16MP LCD screen 3X magnifies the image by 3 times
Intermediate
 
20MP 8GB > 1300+ images at 20MP Viewfinder and LCD screen 10X magnifies the image by 10 times
Advanced
 
24MP 8GB > 1100+ images at 24MP Viewfinder and LCD screen 20X magnifies the image by 20 times

Other features to consider

4K Ultra HD Shoot film in crisp 4000 (4K) pixel
high-definition resolution
 
     
WiFi Instantly share images on social media
 
 
HDMI port Present your images on TVs
 
 
Image stabilisation Eliminate blurry photos caused by
an unsteady hand
 
Manual settings Customise shutter speed and aperture,
like with a DSLR
 
Full HD 1080p Capture High Definition video: this comes as standard on many cameras now
 
OLED Crisp colour technology for viewfinders, for
a detailed electronic viewfinder that accurately
shows images
 
High zoom Zoom in on objects from long distances
 
NFC (Near field communication) Share images instantly between camera
and devices, eg smartphone, from 4cm away
 
Night recording Record images in dim light and at night
 

Learn more about features A guide to the jargon to help you get to know your camera

Aperture rating

As with traditional cameras, the maximum aperture rating indicates how much light can be let in. The lower the aperture rating, the more light-sensitive the camera is and the better it can take photos in low light

 

CMOS

Complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor: a type of sensor technology that reduces noise and power consumption
when taking shots

 

Colour reproduction

The ability of a camera to record true-to-life colours

 

Compression

The process that shrinks a photo's file size. The majority of digital cameras take photos as compressed JPEG files, which means more images can be stored on the memory card.

Compression results in a small amount of data loss, so buy a camera that takes uncompressed photos if you need the sharpest possible results

 

Continuous shooting / Burst modes

This lets you take multiple rapid-fire shots with one touch of the exposure button - a useful feature when photographing motion, such as sporting events

 

EVF

Electronic viewfinder. The image captured by the lens is shown on a miniature digital display that emulates a traditional optical viewfinder

 

FPS (Frames Per Second)

A measure of how much information is used to store and display motion video. Each frame is a still image; displaying frames in quick succession creates the illusion of motion. The more fps, the smoother the motion appears. In general, the minimum fps needed to avoid jerky motion is about 30

Memory and memory cards

A digital camera's internal memory can usually only store a few pictures at any one time – for example, a 5 megapixel camera with 64MB of memory can hold about 24 high resolution JPEG images. Get a memory card to go with your camera, and make sure you always have enough space for photos

 

Memory card slot

Allows you to easily store still images in JPEG and MPEG formats and transfer them from your camera to your PC. Often a 16MB MMC (Multimedia Card) or 32MB SD (Secure Digital) Card, which offers advanced copyright protection.

 

Optical zoom

This allows you to take more detailed pictures of distant objects. Consider it alongside focal length: if the magnification level is measured as 3x optical zoom, and the camera's minimum focal length is 50m, then it has the ability to zoom up to 150m.

 

Pixels

Short for 'picture elements', the minute, coloured dots used to store images. The greater the number of pixels, the better the resolution (see below).

 

Resolution

This refers to how many pixels (the coloured dots that make up digital images) make up photos that you take. Higher resolution (more pixels) mean more sharpness and detail. It’s measured in megapixels (MP).
You only need higher megapixel counts if you want to blow your image up. Most cameras, from entry level to DSLR, have between 16 and 20MP – this is more than many photographers would ever need: 16MP means you could blow up and print a clear image at 83 x 55cm – most people don’t need to print at these sizes.

 

Rotatable lens

Lets you to change the angle of the lens - as much as up to 360 degrees in some cases, permitting self-portraits.

ISO-equivalent rating

Indicates how light sensitive a camera is according to standards defined by the International Standards Organisation. For example, a camera rated ISO 100 is perfectly acceptable for everyday use, with approximately the same light sensitivity as a conventional camera loaded with ISO 100 film.

Higher ISO ratings indicate the camera is more sensitive to light and can take pictures in darker settings

 

Image-editing software

Most digital cameras arrive with their own software so you can crop, enlarge, correct colour and add effects to your pictures

 

Image stabilisation

This steadies the picture so the shake is largely eliminated

 

In-camera editing

Resize, copy, or make other changes to images, or even edit video, on your camera

 

JPEG files

Joint Photographic Experts Group) files - the file format used to store compressed images.

 

Macro

Lens feature for taking 'close-up' at 12" or less from your subject.

 

Manual settings

Some digital cameras allow you to set shutter speed, aperture size and ISO speed – exactly as you could with a traditional camera

 

MegaPixels (MP)

One million pixels. The greater the number of pixels, the better the resolution (see above). Usually expressed as the number of horizontal and vertical lines of pixels, e.g. 1280 x 960.

The total resolution is found by multiplying the two figures together. If the result is above a million it is termed a 'MegaPixel' resolution

Scene modes

Scene modes offer you a range of options, such as sport mode, shooting in black and white or sepia, and as panoramic or macro shots. Some cameras can even capture stop-motion animation and 3D pictures

 

SD card

‘Secure Digital’ storage media which offers advanced copyright protection. About the size of a stamp, supported by most leading brands.

 

Viewfinder

In a true viewfinder, a series of mirrors and prisms within the camera mean that when you look through it, you see what’s in the actual picture frame. Digital cameras often have electronic replicas, or no viewfinder at all, with an LCD screen instead.

 

Viewing images on your TV

A 'video out' or 'HDMI out' function lets you hook up your camera to a television to view your images. Many players and TVs even accept the camera's memory card directly

 

Wide-angle lens

A camera lens with a short focal length, such as 24mm or 28mm.

 

Wireless transfer

Digital cameras with built-in Wi-Fi so you can send images wirelessly to compatible devices. Some professional DSLRs are compatible with wireless transmitters that you attach to the camera

 

Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi allows the camera to connect without cables, for features like backing up photos and posting directly to social networking sites.

Lenses What kind of lens do you need to get the pictures you want?