Our Ratings are divided into six categories: compact point-and-shoots, superzoom point-and-shoots, waterproof point-and-shoots, advanced point-and-shoots, mirrorless cameras, and SLRs. Note that all point-and-shoots, whether basic or advanced, include cameras with lenses built into the camera (that is, non-removable).
Compact point-and-shoots are, by and large, those that can fit in a pocket, are lightweight but generally have few manual controls. A few include nontelescoping zoom lenses, and others have zooms as high as 23x. Select models are a bit larger, and often have more manual controls.
Superzoom point-and-shoots offer 24x or greater zoom, with some recent models including optical zooms as great as 83x. Superzooms often, though not always, include manual controls. They're also among the more expensive basic cameras.
Waterproof point-and-shoots are models that resist moisture and withstand falls. Most have non-telescoping zoom lenses.
Advanced point-and-shoots have a nondetachable lens but differ from basic models because they have lots of manual controls, a hot shoe for an external flash, and support for RAW files. It's often the lightest advanced type.
Mirrorless models accept interchangeable lenses and have large sensors for the best image quality in low light, but they lack a through-the-lens viewfinder. They're smaller and lighter than an SLR but are usually larger than a point-and-shoot. Some mirrorless models include full-frame sensors, which are the size of one frame of 35mm film and significantly larger than sensors found in point-and-shoot digital cameras. One benefit is that these full-frame models allow the camera to handle a wider variety of lighting situations more accurately. They also limit the amount of visual noise that can distort and degrade an image.
SLRs have the most features. Like mirrorless models, they accept interchangeable lenses and have large sensors for the best image quality in low light. They also include a through-the lens viewfinder. Controls are extensive. They're also heavier than most other cameras. Like some mirrorless models, there are some SLRs that also include full-frame sensors.
Lastly, one feature that's becoming very common on every type of camera is wireless, which lets you connect to Wi-Fi hot spots and to mobile devices and to upload your photos and video to social networking websites. Some also include NFC (near-field communication), which makes connecting to mobile device quick and easy.