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Choosing a Camera for good snap shots and general creative work

Sony S500
Canon SX1 IS
Nikon D3100

Very Light - good for slipping in the shirt pocket or handbag. Image quality usually not great above 200-400 ISO.

Light - not too heavy to hang around your neck or shoulder. May have manual capability but short range of apertures gives less less control of Depth of Field. Image quality usually not great above 200-400 ISO.

Non-removable lns with long zoom. Not as bulky as SLR, better features than compact but will not fit in pocket. Pop up flash is better and may be able to fit external flash. Image quality usually not great above 200-400 ISO.

Wider range of features and accessories, more flexibility with external flash option. Wider range of apertures for greater control of Depth of Field. Image quality usually very good up to 3200 ISO and acceptable up to 6400 ISO

Canon Ixus
Sony S500
Canon SX1 IS
Nikon D3100

Most Digital Cameras are capable of taking reasonably good photographs. There are 4 distinct types, as described above, these are: Ultra Compact, Compact, Bridge SLR (non-removable lens) and true SLR type with removable lens. The further up the scale of these types of camera you go then the more options tend to available to you.

Whatever camera you have, or want to buy there are certain key options which help you keep the technical quality of your photographs as high as possible. We are assuming that the camera you have in mind has a built-in flash, a self-timer and a macro facility. On that basis our recommendation on key features of a digital camera are as follows:

Optical Zoom of 3x or above (stay away from Digital Zoom only cameras)
this keeps the sharpness of the shot as high as possible, Digital Zoom just enlarges a smaller part of the picture. You could end up with a 1 megapixel photo of a zoomed in image on a 4 megapixel camera. The quality of this enlargement would not be good.

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8 megapixels or above This resolution allows you to get a good quality 10x8in (25x20cm) print with room for a little bit of cropping. The vast majority of shots are printed to 6x4in (15x10cm) so 4 megapixels is plenty for this.

Adjustable ISO up to 400 or above
This allows you to take shots zoomed close or in lower light without flash or tripod, and get little or no camera shake (blur).

Anti-Shake/Image Stabilisation/Vibration Reduction/Super Steady Shot This is a fantastic new development which will allow you to take shots in quite dark situations or extremely zoomed in shots without getting camera shake (blur). It is certainly not able to correct all blur but when combined with higher ISO settings allows for great flexibility in low light or zoomed in shots without camera shake.

White Balance Settings Photographs taken indoors without flash indoors have an orange color cast if taken under ordinary bulbs or they have agreenish tinge if taken under florescent lights. With White Balance you can tell the camera you are shooting in these lighting conditions and the color in your shots will look as natural as possible, particularly on skin. Other White Balance settings could be for cloudy days or candle lights. The more the merrier.

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Tripod mount Some things you just do not check. A few cameras are now being supplied without a tripod bush mount. Hard to take night shots (or group shots with you in it) if this fitting is not on your camera

Scene Modes/Scene Settings/SCN/Best Shot These put the shutter speed, aperture, flash and ISO settings in the correct configuration for the shot in hand, without you having to worry about it. "Portrait Mode" deliberately chooses an aperture which helps to throw the background out of focus while "Sports Mode" sets the shutter speed as fast as possible to help freeze actions shots. Many of the newer cameras have multiple scene modes for a wide range of photographic settings putting the requirement for in-depth knowledge of camera techniques firmly in the background. For instance, some cameras have a "Candle Light" Scene Setting, this not only chooses a slow shutter speed and wide aperture (the light from candles is not very strong!) but it also adjusts the white balance to take out the overly orange color cast that candle flames give. It even warns you to use a tripod or steady surface to make sure the shot is not blurred because of the slow shutter speed.

Rechargeable Lithium Ion Batteries Digital Cameras eat up batteries, particularly when the LCD screen is on all the time. Double AA (and certainly AAA) just do not have the power to last more than 30 to 50 shots, usually less if the flash is being used a lot. Besides re-chargeable batteries are much better for the environment.

While it may not be possible to get all these features in the camera you want you should try and tick as many of the boxes as possible.

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