Basic Point-and-Shoot Camera
Strengths: Very easy to use; inexpensive; small enough to fit in a pants pocket; usually has a large number of scene modes that select the right in-camera settings for your shot
Weaknesses: Usually doesn't have any manual controls; image quality is typically mediocre, especially in low light; inflated megapixel counts
A basic point-and-shoot camera is a no-brainer pick for anyone who just wants an affordable camera to have on hand at all times; most of them even shoot 720p HD video now. In-camera automation is getting better and better, meaning that these cameras basically drive themselves; you don't get manual controls that help you fine-tune your photos, but these cameras normally have very good Auto modes and scene selections that choose the appropriate in-camera settings for your shot.
These cameras usually have small sensors, so don't fall into the trap of buying an inexpensive camera with a very high megapixel count. Packing more megapixels into a small sensor usually leads to image noise, especially when you're shooting at higher ISO settings.
Although they won't offer the same optical zoom reach as a more-expensive camera, a good thing to look for in a basic point-and-shoot camera is wide-angle coverage (ideally around 28mm on the wide-angle end). That extra wide-angle coverage comes in very handy for group shots, arm's length self portraits, and landscape shots.
The Specs Explained
Different specs are important to different people, but there are a few generalizations we can make when it comes to cameras.
If you intend to take pictures only to e-mail them to distant friends or to print at snapshot size, a camera of most any resolution will do. Even so, having more pixels gives you greater flexibility--you can print sharper pictures at larger sizes, or crop and print small sections of pictures. These days most cameras offer a resolution of at least 10 megapixels, which is overkill for most shooters. 5 megapixels is enough to make a sharp 8-by-10 print. 8 megapixels is enough to make a sharp 11-by-14 print. A 10-megapixel camera can produce acceptable prints of up to 13 by 19 inches, though they may lose some detail. Images from a 13-megapixel camera look good at 13 by 19 inches and can be pushed to 16 by 24 inches. Many digital single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras today exceed 13 megapixels-all the better to creatively crop your images.
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