What, there's more than one type of compact camera? There certainly is. In fact the term 'compact camera' needs explaining because 'compact' cameras now come in all shapes and sizes.
In fact the one thing that separates compact cameras from digital SLRs and compact system cameras is not size at all, but that that the lens is fixed – you can't swap it for a different one.
You need to keep this in mind when you're choosing a camera, and we'll talk more about lenses as we go through this guide.
Where do you start? Compact camera types
The range of compact cameras on offer can be confusing, but the trick is to break them down into five different types:
Point and shoot compacts: These are the pocketable snapshot cameras you normally associate with 'compact cameras'. They're affordable, easy to use and let you get on with your life instead of demanding your attention.
High-end/advanced compact cameras: These deliver SLR features and/or quality but in a much smaller package. They make ideal second cameras for D-SLR fans and some have larger sensors for better quality.
Bridge cameras: These look a lot like DSLRs and offer a huge zoom range and many of the controls and features of digital SLRs – but the sensors are much smaller, so you do lose out on picture quality.
Travel/superzoom cameras: A relatively new type of camera that's almost as small as a regular point and shoot compact camera but has a very long zoom range. They're ideal for travel but the sensors are small.
Waterproof/adventure cameras: These are often not much larger than regular point and shoot compact cameras, but they're waterproof, shockproof, even freeze-proof!
Compact cameras vs DSLRs and CSCs
There is some crossover between high-end compacts and bridge cameras and digital SLRs and compact system cameras, so just in case you're still not quite sure which of these to choose, here are the main pros and cons of compact cameras:
Compact camera pros:
- Size: You can slip a point and shoot compact or travel camera into a shirt or trouser pocket.
- Cost: Compact cameras are (usually) much cheaper than DSLRs and CSCs
- Simplicity: Most compact cameras are designed for novices, so you can just pick them up and start shooting
- All-in-one convenience: There are no extra lenses to buy and, if you choose a bridge camera, you'll get a zoom range you'd need two or three different DSLR lenses to match.
Compact camera cons:
- Picture quality: Most compact cameras use tiny 1/2.3-inch sensors. This limits the picture quality – it's fine for snaps, but for big enlargements or for shooting in low light you need a camera with a bigger sensor (some high-end compacts do now have bigger sensors).
- Controls: Only the more advanced compact cameras will let you set things like the lens aperture, shutter speed and focus manually, and the small size can make this more fiddly.
- Lens restrictions: Compact cameras don't take interchangeable lenses, so you can't simply buy a new lens in the future if you want to shoot different things – you'll need to buy a new camera.
- Not everyone likes a small camera. They're easier to carry around but can also be trickier to use.
For many people the pros of a compact camera will outweigh the cons, and if that sounds like you, then keep reading...