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Digital camera choices
We categorize digital cameras into compact, ultracompact, superzoom, enthusiast, and digital SLR, or D-SLR.
Compact cameras aren't the best, fastest, most stylish, smallest, or most flexible digital cameras. They take reasonable pictures and have reasonable feature sets. They generally also offer better performance, LCDs, and optics than the sexier, pricier ultracompacts.
Compacts lack the pro features and performance characteristics of higher-end cameras but fit into handbags or roomy pockets. This is by far the most popular camera category?particularly among bargain-conscious shooters and women?and it represents the best value for the average user. Unless you need a higher-end or smaller camera, this is the type of camera you should consider first. Typical compacts offer great value for money. But not all compacts offer sensibility over luxury.
Ultracompacts are small enough to fit in your palm and stylish enough for any social milieu: They'll fit into tiny bags or suit jacket pockets without ruining their lines. They can be simple?or sophisticated high-megapixel powerhouses. Either way, performance, features, and image quality generally take a back seat to form factor and style. Ultracompacts are for those who want the coolest toys and a camera always on hand.
Enthusiast cameras are full-size models built on bigger budgets than compacts. They offer more precise controls, better lenses, and more features. Most important, they provide superior images, suitable for larger prints. They tend to have lenses that can zoom in closer, faster performance, histograms, exposure bracketing, high resolution, and manual controls for shutter speed, f-stop, and white balance. They're for users who don't want to spend the money on a D-SLR but still want versatility, quick and sure handling, and fast shooting.
Superzooms, which have 10X or greater optical zoom lenses, are a subset of enthusiast cameras. Their large lenses put them into the full-size category, but their prices tend to fall between those of compact and enthusiast models. While some superzooms have high-end features, their users often prefer automatic settings. Some correct for camera shake?which is greater the more you zoom in?via image stabilization.
D-SLRs are at the pinnacle of digital cameras, with true reflex through-the-lens viewfinders, interchangeable lenses, total control over exposure and color, and a host of accessories. Besides pro features and functions, D-SLRs yield performance similar to those of 35-mm film cameras. Most important, they also produce the best image quality of any type of digital camera. D-SLRs usually have fully automatic settings, but to get your money's worth, you'll have to be the kind of shutterbug who likes manual controls. D-SLR users include avid amateurs, pros, and those who need top-of-the-line equipment, regardless of cost.