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5 questions to ask before you buy a point-and-shoot

Your answers can help you determine what your camera needs are

Published: July 29, 2014 09:25 AM
The Fujifilm FinePix XP200, $230, is a rugged-and-waterproof point-and-shoot.
Photo: Picasa/Fujifilm

Considering a basic point-and-shoot to capture photos and videos of your summer vacation and other activities? Before you buy one, answer these five questions:

1. Do you need a camera at all?

If your smart phone has a decent camera, that might be all you need—for basic photos, anyway. In fact, your smart phone can not only shoot photos but also capture high-definition video. Some phones have neat features such as the ability to create a composite group photo combining the best individual faces from a series of shots.

2. Do you want an optical zoom lens?

If yes, then a smart phone isn't the answer. Although a phone does have zoom capability, it doesn’t have an optical zoom lens. Instead, it uses digital zoom, which magnifies the center of the frame without increasing picture detail. That generally degrades image quality, especially if you zoom in a lot. Optical zooms, which use lens elements to get you closer to the action, don't compromise image quality. Some cameras, which we call superzoom, have very long zoom lenses. The Nikon Coolpix P600, $450, has a super-long, 60x optical zoom lens that can go from 24mm to 1440mm.

For more on point-and-shoots, check out our buying guide and Ratings for digital cameras.

3. Do you need a rugged-and-waterproof camera?

Another feature that sets some point-and-shoots apart from smart phones and tablets is that they're rugged and waterproof. That means you can swim underwater with a rugged-and-waterproof model to a specified depth for a specified length of time, and the camera is designed to survive a fall onto a hard surface. The Canon PowerShot D30, for example, is waterproof to a depth of 82 feet and can withstand a 6.5-foot drop.

4. Do you want to take better flash photos?

Almost all smart phones and tablets have very weak LED flashes. So, if you want to take better flash photos, a point-and-shoot is the way to go. Some point-and-shoots even have manual controls to increase or decrease the amount of illumination the flash puts out.

5. Do you desire better image quality?

Although smart phones have improved in image quality, point-and-shoot cameras still have larger sensors and, by and large, better lenses, which are the main factors in delivering photos and video with higher image quality.

—Terry Sullivan

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