With the market for compact digital cameras so crowded, the travel editor offers some advice for people wanting an easy to use model for the holidays.
A point-and-shoot camera for the holidays
I read with interest your feature on travel photography ("The big picture", February 19). I wondered if you could advise on which camera to purchase to take with me on holiday, or at least advise on where I should start to make my decision? When I walk into a camera shop I find that I am bewildered by the array of models from Panasonic, Nikon, Sony, Samsung and Canon, among others. I just want something that produces good quality pictures but is not too expensive or bulky.
You are correct - the marketplace for cameras is incredibly crowded and, with new models coming out every month, it can be difficult to know where to start. You are also right to be concerned about bulk. There is no point in spending a fortune on an expensive professional camera if you are going to leave it behind in your hotel room. It's always better to have a camera with you, even if it is only a basic one, than no camera at all.
At the same time, it's worth spending a little on a proper compact digital camera instead of relying on the built-in phone on your iPhone or mobile, because the pictures taken with these cameras often disappoint, particularly at night.
The good news is that today's compact digitals are smaller, better and cheaper than ever. The first thing to consider is megapixels. Generally, the higher the number of megapixels, the better the image quality. However, to fit in more megapixels, camera manufacturers make the sensors inside them smaller, which can lead to a reduction in image quality. Between eight and 10 megapixels is what you should be looking for in a compact camera.
You will also want to think about zoom. Most consumers tend to think that the bigger the zoom, the better, but there is a difference between digital and optical zoom in terms of image quality. Digital zooms essentially magnify the image, which again can lead to a deterioration in picture quality. Unless you are going on safari, it may be better to opt for a digital zoom that zooms three to five times and use good composition and/or simply getting nearer to your subjects to get the best pictures.
Next, consider how easy the camera is to use. If you're only going to be using it on holiday once or twice a year, there's no point in going for anything too complicated. For overall picture quality, design and ease of use, I like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5. It has 10 megapixels and a 3.8 optical zoom and will set you back about Dh1,500. The only negative I have found is that there is a slight shutter lag, which may result in you "missing the moment" when photographing fast-moving animals or people.
If you also want to use your camera to shoot videos, tell the salesperson how much video you plan to shoot and what definition you require before you make that purchase. Currently, two very popular top-end point-and-shoots are the Nikon P7000 and the Canon G12, which will each set you back about Dh1,800. If you want to spend less, both Canon and Panasonic are pretty safe bets at virtually any price range.