Digital cameras now proliferate our lives, since every mobile phone has one built in! Often the question is asked do I need a separate camera when I have one on my phone? The answer is almost always YES! Although you can take nice photos with your fancy smart phone you can’t beat the images from a good high end compact or better still a dSLR or compact system camera. If you want the best images to record your life events for posterity, then a good camera with zoom lens is essential. These pages help you choose the right one for you, assuming you are an average family user and not a photographic pro!

There are a lot of choices to be made when selecting a digital camera as not only are there large variations in the size and price but also the functions and features! It is best to first have an idea of when you will be using the camera and if you need to shoot video as well. In general there is no one camera that will suit everyone! Have a look at the size and weight comparisons on the Size Matters page.

Most will need to buy at least two cameras in my opinion, one for day to day use that is small enough to fit in a pocket or handbag, and another for ‘special’ occasions and trips. If you have a modern high end mobile phone you may just about get away without purchasing a compact camera but in most cases it is better to have a dedicated compact, even if just as a backup to your phone! The larger camera for those ‘special’ occasions will generally have a much better lens and controls to allow more creative potential, including the ability to get nice ‘soft’ (out of focus) background/foreground while maintaining a crisp subject focus.

Viewfinder or Not? When selecting a camera it is a good idea to think about a viewfinder, in the past all film based cameras had an optical viewfinder in order to compose the shot. Nowadays cameras are fitted with an LCD screen and sometimes have no optical viewfinder. This is great when the sun is not too bright and as long as you don’t need glasses for reading, otherwise it can be very difficult to see what you are shooting! Also since you are holding the cameras at arms length there is more chance of blurred shots due to camera shake, even with modern stabilisation methods. My preference, where possible, is to buy a camera with some form of viewfinder, either optical or electronic ( referred to as a EVF).

Recommendations The compact market is moving very fast and the first choice you have to make is the length of zoom you need. Remember most people take photos of other people, usually indoors at parties, so a lens that has a wide angle of view is better than one without. I would look to cameras with a minimum of 28mm (in 35mm equivalent terms) as a start. Also don’t be lured by high pixel counts! In most digital cameras the higher the pixel count the higher the noise! Better to get a 10 Mega Pixel camera that has good noise performance than one with 14 Mega Pixels and lots of noise! For a long zoom compact try the Panasonic TZ20 or TZ30 or for a normal zoom the Canon S95 or new Nikon P310 & Olympus ZX-1. Also remember the smaller the lens aperture number (the more light it can let in) the better. If possible look for a f2 of better lens as this will help get better low light images and give a chance of putting backgrounds out of focus. Some suggest a Sony NEX-5 as a compact camera but as you can see from the size comparison below, once a lens is attached it is no longer that compact! I know all the cameras I show are quite expensive but you want to capture your precious memories on the best device you can afford!

When we step up to the camera for special occasions we need really good optics and an image sensor that is larger, so we get less noise. This would mean the purchase of a D-SLR like the Nikon D3100 but now there is competition from the new micro four-third format cameras like the Panasonic G2, G3, GH1 or GH2. I suggest these over the other micro four-thirds such as the Olympus PEN and Panasonic GF1, GF2 as they include the invaluable viewfinder and are not that much bigger and heavier than the other so called compact micro four-thirds models. Although at first glance there may seem to be no benefit to a micro four-thirds model over a normal D-SLR just carry both around for a day! The lenses on the micro 4/3 are much smaller and lighter, as are the bodies, due to the lack of any mirror to flip up during a shot. The Panasonic G10 as shown below is as light as anything yet produces really nice results. (Now replaced by the smaller G3.)

D90 - GH1- FZ28 - GF3 Size comparison
Size comparison of Nikon D90 D-SLR, Panasonic GH1 CSC, FZ28 Bridge and GF3 CSC
As you can see even the compact GF3 too large to fit in a pocket once a lens is attached!

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