Everyone needs a compact camera. They're an essential household purchase right up there with a TV, a microwave and a fridge freezer. Digital compact camera manufacturers know this, which is why the market is swamped with models costing anything from £50 to £500. This makes your buying decision tougher than ever, but with a little bit of guidance you'll be making the right choice in no time.
First things first - don't go chasing megapixels when making your compact camera shortlist. While a number of manufacturers will try and allure you with talk of double digit resolutions, these aren't as great as they may sound. Sure, you can produce lovely big prints from a compact with a 14 megapixel resolution, but cramming that many pixels onto a tiny sensor can cause problems with increased image noise. A compact with a resolution of between eight and 10 megapixels is more than enough.
Lens quality is as important as pixel count. A poor lens won't be rescued by plenty of pixels, and vice versa. When buying a compact, you'll come across two zoom ranges; optical and digital. The figure to pay attention to here is the optical range as this refers to the range the lens physically zooms and retains full resolution. On a digital zoom, the camera simply crops in closer and closer on the centre of the sensor to give the effect of zooming closer to a subject. By digitally zooming, however, resolution – and therefore image quality – is reduced.
Design is important too. Some models offer design over functionality and, while these might look cool and have your friends nodding appreciatively when it's passed round at the party, if the buttons are too small and too fiddly, you'll get frustrated when trying to take pictures quickly. Make sure the models on your shortlist are easier to use and navigate around.
Most digital compacts use a rear LCD to both frame and comppose images. As these LCDs are power hungry, it's important to check battery type and performance. While compacts powered by AA cells mean that you'll be able to replace batteries easily and cheaply, they may well offer fewer images per set than a model with a dedicated rechargeable cell.
Other features to look out for? A well specified integral flash complete with red-eye reducing function, a movie mode and some amount of manual override to enable you to take control are all useful additions, as is PictBridge compatibility that enables you to print images out by plugging straight into a compatible printer, face detection to ensure people come out sharp and well exposed in your shots and a macro mode for close-ups.
Tick all these boxes and you're well on your way to finding the perfect compact for your needs. The rest of your decision is likely to come down to brand loyalty and, ultimately, price – start looking for those deals!