From face recognition to Wi-Fi, modern digital cameras are capable of more than ever before. Here's our guide to the must have features this summer
1) Face recognition
It sounds strange, but the latest digital cameras can cunningly tell the difference between a person and a pot plant. This is an ingenious way of improving the accuracy of a camera's automatic focusing. All too often in the past, autofocus has often led to shots where the aspidistra in the foreground or the fridge in the distance is pin sharp - but the person you want to take the shot of is embarrassingly out of focus.
First trialled by Nikon a couple of years ago, face priority autofocus scans the sensor looking for people's faces - and trains the lens on this part of the picture. The system works so well that all the major manufacturers are now offering the technology in 2007 models. Recently launched examples include the Canon PowerShot S5 IS , the Ricoh Caplio R6 , and Nikon Coolpix S500 .
Some can even spot up to nine faces in the frame, and not just adjust focus and depth of field to suit, but also adjust exposure, colour balance and flash output for these all-important parts of the picture.
2) Waterproof and knockproof casings
As cameras don't mix well with water or sand, it is a wonder that anyone takes their camera on holiday with them. Fortunately a new breed of affordable digital cameras are being produced which can even be taken into the sea or swimming pool with you.
For those needing an even more rugged model, take a look at the Fuji Big Job HD-3W . Designed for use in construction sites, this is not just waterproof, but its rubberised shell is said to survive falling off the table after a heavy night on the sangria.
3) HDTV ready
Practically all digital cameras are supplied with a lead that can connect them to a TV, so you can see your images on the big screen. But the basic composite video lead that is supplied does not make the most of the picture quality that modern televisions are capable of.
We expect more and more digital cameras to become available claiming to be HDTV-ready, but first out of the block is Sony (which of course make nice TVs as well as cameras). The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 is being sold as the ideal companion to a high definition TV (HDTV) - although you need to pay extra for the necessary RGB phono leads that will make it happen.
4) Mega megapixels
With even quite basic models offering over seven million pixels, the resolution race seems unlikely to run out of steam any time soon. The more megapixels a manufacturer can offer the better (even though this is sometimes an unreliable indicator of picture quality).
Sony's new Cyber-shot DSC-W200 and the Casio Exilim Zoom EX-Z1200 push the envelope for a point-and-shoot camera by using a sensor that is capable of delivering images made up of 12.1 million pixels. But just ahead (for the moment at least) is Panasonic and the 12.2 million pixel Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX100EG . Enough resolution to generate your own billboard posters, perhaps - but be warned you may not get many pictures before your memory card is full.
5) Large built-in memory
Most digital cameras store their images on removable flash memory cards of various sizes and types. But there is an increasing and welcome trend for pocket models to come with a certain amount of built-in memory - in addition to its storage expansion slot.
This reserve tank is invaluable if you pick up the camera when you go out but leave the memory card in your computer's card reader. Sony's DSC-G1 goes a long way further, offering a full 2GB of internal memory in addition to a Memory Stick Duo slot.
6) Super-sized screens
Whilst digital cameras continue to get slimmer and lighter, the size of their LCD screens continue to get larger. A larger than average monitor not only looks very impressive, it makes your pictures look better too. It is particularly welcome when passing your most recent shots around for friends or family to see - and it lets you see much more clearly which snaps need to be deleted before anyone else sees them.
HP's PhotoSmart R937 [PDF link] has a sumptuous 3.6in LCD display - and as the screen touch sensitive, the camera can make do with far fewer physical buttons than average.
Wi-Fi is fast becoming a standard feature of laptops and smartphones. But it is also starting to being used on digital cameras. As a way of sending pictures from your camera to a computer or other Wi-Fi enabled device, this cable-free connection seems like a great idea. Two recent models with this facility are the Sony DSC-G1 , and the Ricoh Caplio 500SE (which also offers Bluetooth as a way of managing without wires). Chris George