How to buy the best digital camera

How to buy the best digital camera

by Ryan Shaw

Upgrading to a good quality digital camera will make a real difference when capturing your holiday memories. Our expert guide will help you find out which digital camera is best for you.

Just want to see reviews of great digital cameras? Sign up today for a £1 trial and access all our expert reviews and Best Buys.

The best cameras take fantastic photos in every situation, whether you’re on holiday, at a family gathering or just enjoying a big day out. With cameras available from well-known brands such as Canon, Nikon, Olympus and Sony, sometimes it can be hard to choose which model is right for you.

However, there are big differences in picture quality, advanced features and how easy they are to use, so if you want to find the best camera for your needs, do some research before you splash out.

The best digital cameras take superb photos with pin-sharp image quality, are simple to use and are reliable for long periods of time. Read on to find out the key factors to look out for, or take a look at our Best Buy digital camera reviews, to discover the models that Which? recommends.

What makes a good digital camera?

Whether you’re after a simple point-and-shoot compact camera or a more advanced digital SLR camera, our expert advice can help you choose from the hundreds available.

Thanks to our rigorous lab testing, we’re uniquely placed to offer you our essential camera buying tips. And we assess the key pros and cons of owning a compact, bridge, DSLR or waterproof camera.

  • Megapixels (Mp) - Even a 5-megapixel camera can produce good prints at 4x6, 5x7 or 9x10 inches, the kind that easily fit in a photo frame. Most cheap digital cameras offer at least 14Mp.
  • Zoom - Digital zoom enlarges the pixels in an image after it has been taken. With optical zoom, a camera’s lens magnifies an image for much sharper results - 5x optical zoom is the minimum acceptable standard.
  • Build quality - Some digital cameras may be pocket-sized and lightweight, but you shouldn’t have to settle for one that feels flimsy. Be sure to choose a camera with a metal or high density plastic casing. Be sure to also look for solid, well-placed buttons.
  • Image stabilisation - Image stabilisation helps reduce any blurriness in photos that’s caused by shaky camera movement. The best cheap digital cameras will produce sharp images regardless of how difficult they were to capture.
  • Face detection - This feature works by automatically detecting those people in the frame as you compose a shot. A great digital camera can accurately recognise faces, even in low light conditions.
  • Wi-fi - Some digital cameras now offer wi-fi for wirelessly transferring photos to your mobile phone or tablet. Most manufacturers now offer free apps to help with this process; some even allow you to use your touchscreen as a viewfinder.
  • Low light photo quality - A poor digital camera will offer fuzzy low light photos with imbalanced colours and little detail. Better models don't suffer so much in tough conditions.

How much should I spend on a digital camera?

Camera prices range from under £100 for a cheap compact camera to well over £1,000 for a DSLR. Best Buy compact cameras typically cost £150 to £200, bridge cameras £200 to £550 and DSLRs £400 to £1,500. Additionally, Best Buy waterproof cameras range from £149 to £300.

What type of digital camera should I buy?

There are three main types of digital cameras: compact digital camera, bridge camera, and DSLR/CSC camera. The type you opt for will depend on a number of factors, including how portable you want them to be and the image quality you are looking for. There is also an element of personal preference.

  • Compact digital camera: A compact camera is small enough to carry in a pocket or a handbag. The best compact cameras offer a good compromise between features and price, proving great photographic all-rounders. Choose the wrong model, and you can end up with a flimsy camera that takes out-of-focus snaps.

Pros: Automatic modes are perfect for beginners. Lightweight and easy to carry, plus inexpensive price.
Cons: Buttons can be small and fiddly. Most models lack a viewfinder.
Buy if: You want a better camera than your smartphone camera.

  • Bridge camera: A bridge camera is a popular halfway house between compact digital cameras and digital SLRs. They offer more advanced features than you get from basic compact cameras, and typically aren't quite as advanced or expensive as a digital SLR. This is due to their fixed-lens set-up, which offers excellent zoom capabilities without the ability to change camera lenses. They are a budget-friendly compromise if you want to add a professional sheen to your holiday shots.

Pros: Huge zoom lengths and more manual controls. Viewfinder is also often built-in.
Cons: Compact sensor falls short of DSLR/CSC standard. Lenses are fixed and not interchangeable.
Buy if: Photography is your newfound hobby.

  • DSLR/Compact system camera: If you want to have more professional control over your photography and the best possible picture quality, there’s no substitute for a DSLR. Also referred to as digital SLRs, DSLR cameras tend to be expensive, but they are very flexible, allowing you to change lenses to suit and control every aspect of your photography. It’s also worth considering a compact system camera that’s smaller in size, but also offers interchangeable lenses.

Pros: Large image sensor means more detailed photos. Can switch between lenses and features plenty of manual controls.
Cons: Premium models cost £800+. Bulky in size, harder to hold in one hand.
Buy if: Professionalism is what you want from your photos.

  • Waterproof camera: If you want to take pictures anywhere wet, whether the beach, by a waterfall or just out in the great British weather, a compact waterproof camera is worth considering. They’re built inside a waterproof, dustproof and usually shockproof casing, meaning you can take them to the pool, the beach, snorkelling or even scuba diving and still get good shots. Waterproof cameras are more expensive than conventional compact cameras: you can expect to pay £150 or more. You’ll also have to make do with a limited zoom range. A 5x optical zoom is about as good as it gets. However, they will work at depths of up to 15m, although 10m will be good enough for all but the keenest divers.

Pros: Easy to use. Extremely tough. Can shoot in places where other cameras fear to tread.
Cons: Limited zoom. Can be more expensive than a typical compact camera.
Buy if: If you want to experience the best of the outdoors.