The more manual setting options you have, the more you can do with the camera. Most will let you control file type, quality, focus, aperture and shutter speed. Look also for meter options: spot metering lets you set the exposure to one part of the image, field metering takes in the whole frame.
There may also be pre-set options for different types of scenes, such as “Beach/Snow” (low exposure), “Landscape” (long focal distance) and “Fireworks” (slow shutter speed).
Photography is about capturing the moment – and a photo isn’t taken the instant you press the button. There’s a time delay, known as shutter delay or shutter lag. That time delay can mean the difference between a prize-winning image or a photo destined for deletion.
Many compacts have a shutter delay of half a second or more, and this can increase if you’re taking a number of quick shots in succession. DSLRs typically take photos much faster, because of their optical viewfinder and bigger electronic processor.
A macro setting allows you to take extreme close-ups. Most cameras have this, but the minimum focal distance differs, from about 1 to 20cm. Even without a macro setting, many cameras will be able to focus on objects quite close to the lens. Less than 10cm is good.
Nearly all compact digital cameras have a movie mode to let you record quick clips. Typically all you have to do is switch the camera to movie mode, press the shutter button and the camera will start filming. Press the shutter button again to stop recording.
Many newer digital cameras offer HD movie recording. This may be with a resolution of 720p, or an even higher resolution of 1080p – also known as full HD.
Even at the highest quality setting, the quality of digital camera video falls short of what you can expect with a full-sized HD camcorder. The sensors inside digital cameras are not as well-suited to video capture as the sensors inside camcorders. If this is important, check out our test scores for movie quality.
Red-eye reduction is present on almost all models. A few have an extra “hot shoe” or similar connection which allows you to attach an external (and more powerful) flash.
Look for a camera that is not too heavy and has a sturdy design. Fold-out screens can be flimsy, but also very useful. Cases/bags are not usually supplied, but can be bought separately.
Many models hook up to a television so you can view your photos or short films on the big screen. You may be able to play sound as well.
Always a useful feature if you’re interested in anything more than casual snaps.
Basic programs are sometimes supplied, although you may want to buy your own. Image editing is a lot of fun, and the only limit is your imagination. Check our report on Free image editing programmes.
PASM stands for the various shooting modes usually found on DSLRs but now increasingly common on compacts: program mode, aperture priority, shutter priority, and manual modes. Program mode offers partial control over shutter speed and aperture. Aperture priority and shutter priority allows you to control either the aperture or shutter speed while the other, along with ISO sensitivity, is calculated by the camera. Manual mode allows you to control everything.