Digital Cameras

Making a choice

Digital cameras come in all shapes, sizes and prices. £90 to £150 is enough for something pocket-sized with a decent 5x zoom range and a spacious 2.5 inch screen. Image quality is fine if you mostly view photos on a computer, but look out for optical stabilisation to minimise camera shake. If this is what you want you can choose from a wide range of Canon digital cameras, Nikon digital cameras and Olympus digital cameras.

If your budget is £150 to £300, you can go one of three ways. Some premium digital cameras are feature-packed gadgets with big touchscreens, GPS tagging, front-facing screens for self-portraits and more. Other digital cameras have big zooms that let you frame shots more creatively. A third kind offers superior image quality and advanced controls.

For a huge leap in image quality, budget at least £350 for a digital SLR camera. Their superior photos are mainly down to the size of the sensor, not how many megapixels it has but its physical proportions, which are around 10 times bigger than the ones in compact digital cameras. That means crisper details, a wider range of tones and less graininess

Megapixels

When you're choosing a digital camera, it's easy to spot the ones with big LCD screens and high megapixel ratings. This tells you little about a digital camera's image quality, though.

digital cameraIf you're upgrading from, say, an 8-megapixel digital camera, you'll want something that offers a significant improvement. However, while a 16-megapixel digital camera is tempting, quality is generally worse than with 10-megapixel digital cameras.


To understand why, think about the sensors in these digital cameras. They're about 10mm from corner to corner, but need to measure light at 16 million points. Each pixel is around 1/1,000th of a millimetre wide, and not a lot of light hits something that small. That makes it hard to measure the light accurately. The result is a grainy pattern as the camera tries to hide the noise.

Using fewer megapixels means each pixel on the sensor is a little bigger, capturing more light and measuring it more accurately. That's why enthusiast-oriented compact digital cameras use 10-megapixel sensors. This gives more than enough detail plus less noise than cheaper, higher-megapixel digital cameras. It also helps that these cameras' lenses let in more light. That's indicated by the aperture, such as f/2 or f/2.8, lower figures are brighter

Digital SLR

Digital SLR cameras are different. Because their sensors are so much bigger, they can afford to use higher megapixel ratings without being swamped with noise. SLRs have other advantages, too. They're designed for creative use with lots of hands-on controls, and their optical viewfinders give a detailed view that's better than any LCD screen. There's surprisingly little difference in image quality between a £400 and a £1,200 SLR, but pricier models are faster and have superior ergonomics, bigger viewfinders and extra scope to tweak every aspect of image quality.

Some digital cameras combine the image quality and performance of digital SLR cameras with the smaller dimensions and simpler controls of compact digital cameras. Most also use interchangeable lenses, so you can choose between a slim "pancake" lens, a bulkier zoom lens or buy both and swap between them. These digital cameras are relatively new and there's not a standardised name for them yet, examples include Sony NEX, Panasonic G-series, Olympus PEN and Samsung NX cameras.

Storage

Nearly all modern digital cameras use SDHC cards to bolster the paltry amount of built-in memory. If you buy a new digital camera, it's worth investing in an extra storage card at the same time. A spacious 4GB card only costs around £8 if you shop online, but much more on the high street or at airports.

Those who shoot a lot of video or use SLRs in raw mode should go for an 8GB or 16GB card. A fast SDHC card will avoid a performance bottleneck in fast digital cameras such as digital SLR cameras and look out for SDHC Class ratings, which appear as a number inside the letter C. Class 10 cards are the fastest and don't cost much more than slower cards, so it's definitely worth paying the extra if you've got a good camera.

That just leaves you to get your images off the card and onto your computer. Here, we'd highly recommend buying a card reader. These plug straight into a USB port on your computer and make it easier to transfer pictures, rather than scrabbling around trying to find the camera's USB cable.

Accessories

camera accessoriesTripods
If you're serious about your photography you should invest in a tripod. This will let you avoid shake in low light, as well as helping you compose shots carefully and take self-portraits. If you don't fancy something bulky, consider Joby's Gorillapod range of mini tripods that grip onto virtually any object.


Cases
A case is another worthwhile investment. Digital camera lenses are particularly delicate and a basic clamshell case for a compact digital camera only costs a few pounds.

Lenses
Extra lenses are great if your camera can accommodate them, just make sure the lens fits your camera's lens mount. Those with a Nikon SLR should be especially careful because autofocus doesn't work with some digital camera and lens combinations.

Most kit lenses that come bundled with digital cameras are fine for general use, but others let you specialise: a telephoto lens for shooting distant subjects, macro for very small subjects and wide-aperture for very low light. Wide-aperture lenses (between f/2 and f/1.4) are unable to zoom but their ability to capture lots of light more than makes up for it, and they're ideal for taking flattering portraits too