Compact digital cameras

Introduction

The photographic focus over the last two years has been on the rise and rise of the digital SLR – bringing professional features to the amateur market at an affordable price. Yet the humble compact camera hasn’t been forgotten, and the major brands continue to release upgrades roughly every six months.

With this season being a key time for retailers, all the major manufacturers have recently done so. Thanks to the threat from camera phones, this group features a pixel count from 7mp to 12mp.

So now that just about every digital camera is capable of producing photo realistic prints up to poster size, the story has, to an extent, shifted away from resolution and onto what extra features new units offer.

Last year’s selling point was the ability to switch off the flash and achieve more naturalistic looking images, with ISO speeds creeping up to ISO6400. This year it’s been the turn of built-in image stabilisation to further eradicate camera shake – a feature traditionally only found on more professional models – plus more gimmicky features, such as face recognition technology, whereby the camera ensures that wherever a human face is in your frame, it’s always in focus. Sony says it has refined this further to pick up on human smiles, but couldn’t get us a sample in time.

With High Definition TV a current buzzword, the words ‘HD’ are starting to appear on camera bodies also. Another gimmick, this just means that you’ll be able to play back images on the latest digital sets like you always used to be able to do on the analogue variety. Still, with most digital-camera purchases now based on upgrading from older models – rather than switching to digital from scratch – such additions all help shift units to those who want the latest all-singing, all-dancing bit of kit.

Finally, as ever, you need to consider your budget. Spending £100 these days can still guarantee you a 7mp camera, but it may be made of cheap plastic, may not come with a rechargeable battery (usually just two AAs), and will almost certainly be missing any manual controls.

Spending £200 will get you a much better model. So work out how much you can spend and do some shopping around. All the cameras rated here have been chosen on a sliding scale of cost, making it obvious what a little more money can buy.

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