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A Canon Digital Ixus in all its glory

How to choose a digital compact camera

Posted on 6 Aug 2009 at 13:53

Ignore megapixel ratings. There are many more important things to consider when choosing a digital compact, as we discuss in this buying guide.

Compacts are exactly what they sound like – small, light and easily portable. There’s a wider choice of compact digital cameras than any other type, and prices vary from £50 to around £250.

The more expensive models will be smaller, with longer-lasting batteries and higher megapixel ratings. There’s also a fairly distinct class of high-end digital compact, which is more expensive still and  offers more manual control for the serious photographer.

A mid-range compact such as the Canon Ixus 960 IS is a good choice if you want to shoot a variety of subjects: people, landscapes and macro (extreme close-up shots). Most offer a modest 3x zoom lens.

A huge benefit compacts enjoy is doubling up as a video camera, letting you shoot near-TV-quality clips with sound. In the world of Digital SLRs, video recording is a feature currently restricted to a handful of high-end models.

And while DSLRs need a special lens to shoot in macro, most compacts simply take it in their stride. Whether you want photos of flowers or more abstract shots, simply switch to macro mode and press the shutter; most compacts will focus down to just a few centimetres from your subject.

Compacts have their limitations, though. Many don’t offer full control over settings such as aperture or shutter speed, and the actual range of each setting is limited compared to DSLRs, particularly when it comes to aperture. This means that certain types of shots are very difficult to take with a compact.

Take waterfalls, for example. With a DSLR, you can choose to freeze the water or turn it into a soft blur, but with a compact in bright conditions you’ll only be able to achieve the first effect because of the limited aperture range. Similarly, if you want to take long-exposure shots such as sunset, you might be frustrated by the shutter speed range.

Of course, if you’re not fussed about being able to take these kinds of creative photos and prefer a pocketable camera that you can carry around with you everywhere, a compact is ideal.

How to choose a digital camera

How to choose a superzoom

How to choose a digital SLR

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