5 Must-Have Point-and-Shoot Camera Features

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5 Must-Have Point-and-Shoot Camera Features
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5 Must-Have Point-and-Shoot Camera Features

Some car drivers enjoy the involvement of a manual transmission and like the feeling of control they have when shifting gears; other drivers simply want to get from point A to point B safely and easily. Likewise, while professional photographers and amateur enthusiasts prefer making manual adjustments to their camera settings, other photographers are only interested in getting clear snapshots to record special events and memorable activities. This latter group of picture-takers is the target market for most point-and-shoot (P&S) cameras.

Although most point-and-shoot, or compact, cameras are really as simple as their name suggests and almost automatic, the quality of such cameras can vary. Even casual photographers want clear, sharp, vivid images, but not all cameras perform to this standard. There are some basic elements and specifications that one should pay attention to when shopping for a user-friendly compact camera. Understanding the function of a camera and being aware of the must-have point-and-shoot camera features will give buyers an edge when wading through the sea of available products.

How Point-and-Shoot Cameras Developed

The first cameras did not create photographs but merely images, which could be traced onto paper and perhaps filled in with color from paints or pastels. The first actual permanent photograph was produced in 1826 on a metallic plate, and film became popular before the turn of the 20th century. George Eastman’s first Kodak camera could be considered a point-and-shoot camera, as it was simple to operate and offered only a fixed-focus lens and one shutter speed. Eventually, cameras evolved and branched out into different categories, including the single lens reflex ( SLR ) camera, field camera, rangefinder camera, and instant camera, among others. Disposable or single - use cameras are another type of point-and-shoot camera. Over the years, a huge number of compact cameras have been sold, and they have been the most popular type of camera for some time. Digital cameras entered the market in the early 1990s, forever revolutionizing photography. Experts predict that the invention of camera phones will eventually eliminate the market for independent point-and-shoot cameras, although this remains to be seen.

While most pros swear by their SLRs, some photographers claim that one can often get better pictures with a point-and-shoot than with an SLR. This is because many novices using SLRs do not know how to maximize the camera’s potential, and SLR cameras and their accessories, being much bulkier than a point-and-shoot version, are frequently left behind, resulting in altogether missed shots. The key to getting great photos from a compact camera is to pay attention to the following five essential features.

Must-Have Point-and-Shoot Camera Features

Most cameras, even the simple point-and-shoot variety, offer so many different features that it can be difficult to understand what is even necessary. Plenty of camera features enhance photography, but there are five essential features that one should look for when purchasing a point-and-shoot camera.

Feature 1: Large Sensor

The first Kodak digital camera appeared in 1991, one year after the first commonly available digital camera, the Dycam Model 1. This Kodak DCS-100 featured a 1.3-megapixel sensor, which would be considered extremely low-resolution by modern standards.

Because the number of megapixels is often listed in a camera’s basic specs, many consumers are led to believe that the more megapixels, the better. The truth is that this is no longer an accurate assessment on its own. All modern cameras now feature enough megapixels to produce quality shots; the number of megapixels must be considered in relation to the size of the sensor. A camera’s sensor size determines how much light is captured and, therefore, the quality of the final image. Many point-and-shoot cameras contain relatively small sensors as compared with single lens reflex (SLR) cameras, sometimes having as little as three percent or less of the area of a full-frame SLR sensor. Even if both cameras had the same resolution, the one with the larger sensor would almost always produce higher-quality photos.

Even though the sensor in a point-and-shoot camera is going to be on the smaller size by virtue of the fact that point-and-shoots are more compact devices, it is worthwhile to search for the largest sensor available in such a camera. Look not only at the number of megapixels but also at the sensor size. This will ensure top-quality images.

Feature 2: Lens Focal Length

Focal length can be a confusing concept for beginning and casual photographers. The focal length of a camera lens is usually stated in millimeters, but this measurement does not indicate the length of the lens; rather, it is the distance that the image travels from the lens to the image sensor (or the film itself in a traditional camera). When a lens is adjusted to a longer focal length (known as zooming in), the image will appear closer, but less of the image will be captured in the frame. Conversely, when the focal length is shortened (zooming out), a wider angle will be visible in the final image.

Photographers who use SLR cameras can change out their lenses to suit the situation, but with a point-and-shoot camera, only one fixed lens is available. While this lens can be adjusted somewhat, the range is limited. Therefore, when choosing a point-and-shoot, it is important to decide which type of photography one is liable to do more of. If a photographer tends to take photos of outdoor scenes, sporting events, and group shots of family and friends, a shorter focal length is more useful, usually around 28 millimeters. If someone prefers to get close-up shots of faces, pets, flowers, and other such individual subjects, especially from some distance, then a longer focal length is needed for the most magnification possible. Look not only for the zoom magnification but also the lens focal length when shopping for cameras.

Feature 3: High ISO

Just as 35 mm film is rated according to its ISO (or ASA), which essentially indicates its sensitivity to light, so are digital camera sensors. The lower the ISO, the less sensitive the sensor. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive the sensor is to light; unfortunately, this is accompanied by "noise" in the image (which correlates to grainy images in film photography). The following chart gives a breakdown of ISOs to give an idea of the differences.

ISO/ASA

Qualities

Best Uses and Situations

50

Low sensitivity and grain/noise

Bright lights, outdoors with sunshine, still portraits

100

Low-medium sensitivity and grain/noise

Bright lights, outdoors with sunshine, still portraits

200

Medium sensitivity and grain/noise

Bright lights, outdoors with sunshine, still portraits

400

High sensitivity and grain/noise

Moderate lighting; indoors with natural light; cloudy, rainy, and wintry days; subjects in motion

800

Very high sensitivity and grain/noise

Low-light conditions, high winds, fast action such as sports or dancing, photographers with very unsteady hands

1600

Extremely high sensitivity and grain/noise

Low-light conditions, high winds, fast action such as sports or dancing, photographers with very unsteady hands

Lower ISOs require a longer exposure time (slower shutter speed) to allow enough light in to capture the image. Because of this, hand movement can result in blurred images. Higher ISOs can capture an image so quickly that the likelihood of blurring is minimized. This is where the image stabilization feature is necessary, because point-and-shoot cameras are generally not going to be supported on a tripod.

The ISO is generally adjustable on a digital camera, but most should offer a top ISO of 800 or even 1600 if a photographer is interested in taking a great deal of action photos or shooting regularly in low-light situations.

Feature 4: Optical Zoom

This feature applies to any digital camera, not only the point-and-shoot variety. Many digital camera manufacturers advertise the optical zoom, digital zoom, and intelligent zoom specs. The optical zoom is really the only figure that matters. This is because digital zoom and intelligent zoom are fairly useless for rendering high-quality images. Digital zoom works by cropping an image and then enlarging that crop to the size of the original image. In the process, a great deal of resolution is lost. This feature is supplied by editing software on a PC and is not necessary when taking pictures. Intelligent zoom is a variation of digital zoom. Optical zoom is "true" zoom that physically moves the lens further away from the sensor. This type of zoom does not affect the quality of the resulting image.

Feature 5: Image Stabilization

Image stabilization compensates for the movement of a photographer’s hands when he or she is holding the camera. This feature reduces the chances of blurry pictures. Photographers often use tripods to steady their SLR cameras, but using a tripod for a point-and-shoot camera defeats the purpose of having a lightweight, portable, easy-to-use camera.

Like the zoom feature, image stabilization can be found in both optical and digital formats. Digital stabilization techniques usually result in a loss of image resolution. A good point-and-shoot camera should offer both optical and digital image stabilization for the best results. Some of the least expensive cameras do not offer this feature, so always check to see if cameras offer image stabilization, particularly if one is researching budget options.

How to Buy a Point-and-Shoot Camera

Asking photographers you know for recommendations is a good way to start getting some ideas for which brands of cameras to check out. Point-and-shoot cameras are made by several well-known and respected camera manufacturers. Going to the company websites is a good way to get specs and technical information; however, remember that the information will be biased. If a camera looks good to you there, always follow up by doing some independent research. Once you have a list of potential cameras, you can read consumer reports and editorial reviews in magazines or online. Internet photography forums are another place to get good suggestions for specific cameras.

How to Buy a Point-and-Shoot Camera on eBay

To shop for a point-and-shoot camera on eBay, visit the Electronics portal and select Cameras and Photography. Then, choose Digital Cameras and click Point and Shoot. (Alternatively, if you prefer old-school photography, you can choose Film Photography, Film Cameras, and then again, click Point and Shoot.)

One of the many benefits of eBay is the option to buy pre-owned items such as cameras. Because cameras require a moderate investment of money, even point-and-shoot cameras, budding photographers or those who are unsure of which camera to purchase may feel more comfortable starting out with a used device. If your camera is a hit, you may wish to follow up with a new version or an upgraded model by the same company in the future.

Conclusion

When it comes down to it, photography is not about the camera itself but about the images it is capable of producing. By doing research up front on how to select the best point-and-shoot cameras, casual photographers can prepare themselves for a smooth buying experience and great photos. There are many helpful features on cameras, but some of them are gimmicks that do not add substantially to the quality of the image, and others are not truly useful in any way. By focusing on the five must-have point-and-shoot camera features, photographers have the highest chance of finding a device that produces the images they are looking to capture.

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