Your ever-present cell phone camera may have led you to fall in love with being able to take photographs of the unexpectedly interesting, beautiful, and bizarre things you encounter in your everyday life. You may have begun experimenting with different ways of composing your photographs, and you might like to learn more about photography. Still, you might be intimidated by all of the controls on digital cameras. If so, a point-and-shoot camera is a good place to start for you and for your kids.
What Is a Point-and-Shoot Camera?
A point-and-shoot camera can be either a film or digital camera.
It might be an inexpensive, single-use film camera that you turn in when you have the film developed. With film cameras like these, you purchase a new one each time you want to take more pictures.
A point-and-shoot camera might be a film camera for which you purchase the film, or it might be a digital camera that is about the same size as your cell phone with a built-in flash and a fixed zoom lens, as opposed to removable, interchangeable lenses.
In some point-and-shoot film cameras, the viewfinder has a separate lens at the front of the camera directly opposite from where the viewfinder is positioned at the back of the camera. In short, the viewfinder and its lens are a single assembly that extends through from the front to the back of the camera’s body. The image seen through the viewfinder is separate from and positioned differently than the one seen through the lens, so composing the image involves some guesswork and compensation for the differences in position.
Digital point-and-shoot cameras may not have a viewfinder. In that case, the LED screen on the back of the camera is used to compose the image.
The main distinction between point-and-shoot cameras and other cameras is that point-and-shoot cameras use their autofocus systems to determine the best photographic and flash settings for the scene and conditions. The camera chooses the aperture, or the size of the lens opening; the shutter speed, or the length of time that the lens remains open; and the ISO setting for digital cameras, which is the equivalent of the type of film you choose for a film camera – 100, 200, 400, and so on.
Digital point-and-shoot cameras also generally choose the person or object upon which to focus, leaving the user free to focus on composing the shot. However, most digital point-and-shoot cameras do allow the photographer to change where the camera focuses to allow for composing a photograph with an off-center subject.
True point-and-shoot cameras have few, if any other, settings that you, as the photographer, can change manually, but the autofocus systems and image processing systems in digital cameras are becoming increasingly sophisticated so that, for the majority of photographic situations, even a professional photographer might have trouble finding a better setting than the camera has chosen. In fact, professional photographers do sometimes rely on the point-and-shoot autofocus modes of their high-end cameras to capture shots when they wouldn’t have time to adjust the settings manually.
Among the settings that you might be able to select with a point-and-shoot camera are the scene modes. These usually include settings for daylight and nighttime portraits, pet portraits, daylight, and nighttime landscapes, indoor scenes, low light scenes, beach scenes, snow scenes, panoramas, and sports or action scenes among others. The camera’s autofocus system also uses these scene modes to select a basic setting for the photographic conditions and then refines the basic settings to adjust for the specific light meter readings it receives from the scene and the subject upon which it is focused.
How Many Different Types of Cameras Are There?
In addition to point-and-shoot cameras, you’ll find SLR and DSLR cameras, mirrorless cameras, action cameras, and camcorders and video cameras.
- SLR or single lens reflex cameras are the familiar still film cameras used by professionals and advanced photographers. The term “single lens reflex” refers to the fact that the image seen through the viewfinder on these cameras is the image from the lens through which the camera takes the photograph. A set of mirrors reflects the image from the lens up to the viewfinder in the same way that mirrors in toy and submarine periscopes reflect the image from the lens down to the viewfinder. These cameras have point-and-shoot modes as well as an aperture priority mode, a shutter priority mode, and an automatic flash mode. Aperture priority mode allows the photographer to select the focus and the shutter speed while the camera chooses the corresponding aperture setting. Shutter priority mode allows the photographer to select the focus and aperture settings while the camera selects the corresponding shutter speed. In addition, photographers can take control of the flash settings and set the white balance setting to control what the camera perceives as white to compensate for artificial lighting and extremely bright or dark scenes.SLR cameras also allow photographers to take complete manual control of all of the camera’s functions and settings, including aperture, focus, and shutter speed. In addition, they have removable, interchangeable lenses for close-up macro photography, wide-angle shots, and long distance and action photography. All of these options allow advanced and professional photographers more control over the final image that the camera produces.
- DSLR cameras are the digital versions of SLR cameras. They include settings for aperture priority, shutter priority, white balance, scene modes, point-and-shoot mode, and full manual mode. They also allow photographers to make adjustments to the brightness, contrast, hue, and intensity of the colors in the image as well as other adjustments to the colors. While some DSLR cameras have fixed, super zoom lenses, more advanced models use removable, interchangeable lenses. These advanced models come with one lens, either a general purpose or a wide angle lens. Then, you select other lenses that best suit the type of photography you prefer. These cameras may have optical or digital viewfinders. Optical viewfinders function exactly as the viewfinders in SLR cameras do, a set of mirrors reflects the image from the lens up to the optical viewfinder. So what you see through the viewfinder is the analog image, the image from the real world. However, the photographs taken by DSLR cameras are digital ones captured by the photoreceptors on the camera’s image sensor. Digital viewfinders display the image from the camera’s image sensor rather than the one from the lens. This is the same image that you see on the LED screen on the back of a DSLR camera, and it is the image that will be used to create the actual photograph. Choosing between optical and digital viewfinders is simply a choice between whether you prefer to compose your image using the real world image from the camera’s lens or the digital image that will become the actual photograph.
- Superzoom or bridge cameras offer a bridge between point-and-shoot and DSLR cameras. They have many of the same options and levels of control as DSLR cameras, but instead of removable, interchangeable lenses, they have a zoom lens that is fixed to the camera. Zoom lenses can adjust from small focal lengths to capture wide-angle shots of group portraits, landscapes, and buildings to midrange shots for portraits and general photography to long focal lengths for tightly focused shots for action photography and distant subjects.
- Because the images produced by digital cameras come from the image processor and not the lens, mirrorless cameras or mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras (MILCs) dispense with optical viewfinders and the mirror system required to reflect the image. Some dispense with a digital viewfinder as well and use the LED screen for composing the image. These cameras are lighter weight and more compact than DSLRs, and they use smaller, lighter weight lenses as well.
- Action cameras are designed for extreme sports and more extreme outdoor weather conditions than standard cameras. They are more rugged and durable to enable them to withstand impacts. They can be dustproof, water resistant, and even waterproof so that they can be used around water. Some are even designed to be used by divers for underwater photography. Action cameras also are able to operate at lower temperatures than standard cameras, some are even freeze resistant. Some action cameras can be mounted to chest straps, helmets, and sports equipment, and some respond to voice commands so that they operate hands-free.
- While most digital cameras, including point-and-shoots, now capture video, camcorders and video recorders are dedicated to capturing your subjects in motion. Some point-and-shoots can capture video in full HD at a resolution of 1080p, which is standard for sharing on YouTube. However, camcorders and video cameras generally have larger image sensors than all but the high end still photo digital cameras. Larger image sensors mean that they have larger photoreceptors which capture more detail and produce better quality video than cameras that are mainly meant for still photography. Video cameras and camcorders also allow photographers to create video effects such as speeding up or slowing down the image. In addition, just as digital still photo cameras can capture video, some video cameras can extract still images from their videos.
Are DSLR Cameras a Better Choice Than Point-and-Shoot Cameras?
The answer to that question depends, to some extent, on how you will use the camera and whom will be using it.
The Professional Photographer’s Perspective
When interviewed, professional photographers often say that they have and use both a point-and-shoot camera and a more expensive DSLR with interchangeable lenses because, in their eyes, each one has its advantages, and they put each one to different uses.
All DSLRs have point-and-shoot and scene modes for quickly choosing settings, but they are heavy and bulky, especially those with interchangeable lenses rather than ones with a zoom lens.
MILCs eliminate some of the weight, and, consequently, some professionals are switching to these mirrorless cameras.
You still have to deal with changing lenses, though, and that could cause you to miss a shot.
So, for these reasons, many professional photographers save their more expensive cameras and lenses for assignments. They carry a compact, lightweight point-and-shoot camera with them for capturing the unexpected things they encounter on a day-to-day basis, even though they know that the quality of the images will not be as good as those from their professional gear.
Who Will Use the Camera?
Portability and ease of use are two reasons for purchasing a point-and-shoot camera rather than a DSLR. As already mentioned, another question to consider is who will use the camera.
If you are considering an entry level camera for a young child, a point-and-shoot might be the better option. That isn’t just because it will be easier for a younger child to learn to use a point-and-shoot, either.
Children can be accident prone, and even if they aren’t, they don’t always see or understand the consequences of some of the things they do. They also can forget details such as where they left things like a coat that they took off on the school playground during recess.
If a child drops a camera on the ground or into water, sets the timer to delay the shot and then tosses the camera into the air to see what the picture will look like, or sits the camera down while playing and forgets to pick it up again, its better if the camera is an inexpensive point-and-shoot than a more expensive super zoom, DSLR, or MILC.
Children also can change their interests quickly, so just because your child begins to show an interest in photography doesn’t mean that interest will continue. On the other hand, you don’t want to frustrate your child’s interest if it does turn out to be something more serious.
Use your knowledge of the type of things that your child has shown an interest in previously and how serious those have been and then apply your best judgment to decide how seriously to take this interest.
If your child’s more lasting interests tend to favor artistic or creative pursuits, you might choose a camera with a point-and-shoot mode that also offers access to some of the camera’s other settings. These cameras provide your child with the opportunity to explore photography and camera settings if the interest does turn out to be a serious one, but they are less expensive than cameras that include full manual control.
How Will You Use the Camera?
Finally, depending on how you intend to use the camera, you may not need to invest all the extra money in a DSLR. Less expensive point-and-shoots and superzooms have more than enough pixels per inch for sharing images on the internet where the images are compressed anyway. They also have enough pixels per inch for snapshots for scrapbooking and, probably, for use as 8-inch x 10-inch portraits or vacation photographs to hang on your walls.
However, as professional photographers comment, more expensive DSLRs do produce higher quality images. They offer more accurate focusing and better quality image stabilization systems. The lenses also are of higher quality. As already mentioned, they have larger image sensors, which, as discussed with camcorders and video cameras, have larger photoreceptors that capture more detail.
If you’ve already studied photography and camera settings and you want to offer your services as a professional or if you want to sell your photography as art, then that is a reason to invest in an expensive, professional grade DSLR or MILC. If you are still learning, though, you might want to consider a super zoom camera that includes manual mode as an option.
What Should You Consider When Purchasing a Point-and-Shoot Camera?
There are several things to look for when choosing a point-and-shoot camera. These include image quality, versatility, video resolution, and the ease of handling the camera’s controls among others. Below are a few features to consider.
The most important thing to consider in any camera is the quality of the image it produces. Image quality depends upon the camera’s image sensor and the photoreceptors on the image sensor, the camera’s focusing system, and the camera’s image stabilization system.
The Image Sensor
The most important factor regarding image quality is how much of the image is received by the photoreceptors on the image sensor. Each photoreceptor equals one pixel, which is why producing image sensors with more photoreceptors is one way to ensure that more of the image is received by the photoreceptors. The other way is to use larger image sensors with larger photoreceptors. Consequently, a camera with fewer but larger photoreceptors on a larger image sensor will have fewer pixels but can, nevertheless, produce a higher quality image than a camera with a large number or smaller photoreceptors on a smaller image sensor.
Image sensors are measured on the diagonal, like television screens, and they range in size from 1/2.3 inches to 1/1.7 inches. There are two kinds of image sensors – CCD and CMOS, and they are differentiated by the way the photoreceptors connect to the image sensor.
The photoreceptors on CCD image sensors are wired so that an entire row or even all of the photoreceptors on the image sensor send their information to the image processor as a group. This arrangement does slow down the processing of the image. However, cell phones and the slimmer, compact point-and-shoot cameras both lack space for larger image sensors, so the compact point-and-shoot cameras often use 1/2.3 inch CCD image sensors to improve image quality with higher numbers of photoreceptors and, thus, more pixels.
On CMOS image sensors, each photoreceptor has a separate connection to the image processing software, so some of the space that contains photoreceptors on a CCD image sensor is used for connections to the image processor on a CMOS image sensor. The image processor in cameras that use CMOS image sensors compares the parts of the images it receives from adjacent photoreceptors and uses that information to fill in the parts of the image that fell on the connecting circuitry. Technology continues to improve this capability, so the difference between the two image sensors is less and less noticeable. In addition, CMOS image sensors process images more quickly with this arrangement.
The Focusing System
The best focusing systems will use a dual hybrid system that allows the camera to track movement, called a phase detection system, and a contrast detection system that keeps refining the focus until it eliminates overlap between pixels and each one contains a clear, distinct part of the image. If your camera has face detection or smile detection and can lock the focus on your subject and track the subject’s movements, then your camera has both systems.
Image stabilization systems compensate for camera movement that can be caused by the internal workings of the camera or by your movements as you are taking a picture. Optical image stabilization systems are contained within the camera lens and stabilize the image before and as the photograph is taken. Digital image stabilization systems attempt to correct for camera movement when processing the image after the photo is taken. The correction provided by optical image stabilization systems is better than that provided by digital image stabilization systems, so, choose optical over digital. Some cameras offer both, which is fine.
Versatility is another point to consider. You will likely want to capture everything from landscapes and cityscapes to your kids playing sports to long distant shots of birds and wild animals. In point-and-shoot cameras, versatility is enhanced by a variety of scene modes that cover a range of lighting situations as well as zoom lenses and super zoom lenses that increase the range of subjects upon which you can focus.
In autofocus mode, the camera will use its light meter to determine the best scene mode, and it may then further adjust the general settings for that type of scene to fit the specific photographic conditions.
For example, the settings used for beach scenes compensate for the reflection of the sun upon water and are useful for any setting where water is reflecting the sun, such as on a boat on a lake.
The settings for snow scenes not only compensate for the reflection of the sun on snow but also for the whiteness of the snow so that the camera adjusts both the shadows and highlights within the image so that it picks up subtle gradations within each.
Settings for sunrises and sunsets adjust the settings so that the camera records the light yellows that may be present as light yellows rather than white.
Low light and nighttime settings adjust the settings so that the camera lets in more light from the scene. The shutter speed will be slower and the aperture setting, or lens opening, wider. In these settings, it’s wise to use a tripod to reduce camera movement.
Zoom and Super Zoom Lenses
Some point-and-shoot cameras come with a wide angle lens, which works well for selfies, group selfies, group portraits, landscapes, cityscapes, and so on. If you want to take a close-up shot of a flower or of a distant object within a landscape, though, you won’t be able to do it with that type of lens.
Some cameras use digital zoom to attempt to compensate for the inability to focus the lens or for a zoom lens with a limited range. Digital zoom simply crops and enlarges an area of the image as you would do with photo editing software. If your camera lacks resolution, cropping and enlarging too much creates a blurred, grainy image.
A camera with an optical zoom lens that actually focuses tightly on distant subjects is a better choice. Ars Technica and PC.com recommend superzoom lenses with wide-angle focal lengths of at least 24mm or 28mm for group portraits, landscapes, and architectural photography and telephoto focal lengths of at least 200mm or 400mm for wildlife and action photography, but many superzoom lenses surpass that range.
Look for a point-and-shoot camera that shoots video with sound in full HD at a resolution of 1080p and at a resolution of 720p. You will need the higher resolution if you want to show your video on a big screen HDTV, and it also has become the standard resolution for YouTube. You will probably want smaller, lower resolution files to share in emails, though.
When you want to shoot video, it’s handy to have a button on the camera specifically for starting and stopping video recordings.
Other Features to Consider
When choosing between a camera with a viewfinder and one without, consider that if the camera doesn’t have a viewfinder, you will need to use the LED screen to compose your image. LED screens can be hard to see in bright sunlight or under glaring lights, while a viewfinder is unaffected by either situation.
On the other hand, if you need to hold your camera over your head, to your side, or down low to compose your shot or capture an image, a camera with an LED screen that flips out from the camera and that can be rotated to different angles allows you to see your image and compose it regardless of how or where you need to hold your camera.
If you shoot a lot of images indoors, be aware that these are considered low light images for the camera even if the light seems bright enough for your eyes. Being able to adjust your camera’s ISO or film speed settings can improve its ability to take images in low light. Most point-and-shoot cameras have settings that compare to film speeds from 100 (bright sunlight) to 800 (indoors and low light) but having a wider range from 50 to 1600 or higher is better.
Another adjustment that can improve image quality is the ability to adjust the camera for different types of lighting – bright sunlight, cloudy days, or indoor fluorescent or incandescent lighting.
A camera that allows you to set the camera’s light meter for spot metering, center-weighted metering, or matrix metering can improve the lighting of your subjects. Use spot metering for tightly focused, long-distance shots so that the camera takes its meter readings from directly around your subject rather than the background or foreground where the lighting may be different. Use center-weighted metering for portraits or subjects where you want the camera to adjust the lighting for your main subject but to also provide some lighting for the background so that it is in focus as well. Use matrix metering when you want an entire scene from foreground to background, such as a landscape, to be well-lighted.
Having a timer that delays the shutter gives everyone a chance to get into the picture, but a time delay that can be set to delay the shutter until the camera recognizes that someone has smiled or that an additional face has entered the image is an even better feature.
The autofocus systems on point-and-shoot cameras expect the main subject to be in the center of the image by default. Being able to change the camera’s focus by simply selecting the area of the image where you want to position your main subject in the composition of your image is better than having to move the camera to center your subject, hold the shutter halfway down to lock the focus on the subject, and then continuing to hold the shutter halfway down until you have turned the camera back to recompose the image as you want it to be.
Burst mode shoots a number of pictures in rapid succession and is useful for getting good pictures of active kids and pets. You simply select the best ones out of the series.
A camera with its own Wi-Fi connection lets you upload pictures to social media directly from the camera, and an NFC or near field communication capability lets you share images by simply tapping two NFC devices together at the NFC connection point.
PictBridge printer compatibility lets you print pictures wirelessly directly from your camera on any PictBridge enabled printer.
If you have large hands and you are considering a slim, compact camera, go to a store where you can handle the camera and try out its controls.
Going to a store to try the handling of a camera is a good idea even if you don’t have large hands. It gives you the chance to test the positioning of the controls on different cameras and discover which is most comfortable for you.
The point of purchasing a point-and-shoot camera is to have a camera that is light enough to carry with you and easy to use so that you can capture images on the spur of the moment without having to adjust settings. You may not ever want to adjust the settings, even to try different scene modes. You can keep a point-and-shoot camera in autofocus mode and, in most settings, if you have optical image stabilization and a hybrid dual focus system, your images will be acceptably clear, well-focused, and well-lighted. However, if you have the option of adjusting a few settings like the metering, the scene modes, the ISO settings, and others, you can improve your images when the photographic conditions make it difficult for your camera to find the best settings automatically. The choice to use or not use the options to adjust the settings is yours, but it’s better to have the options so that they are there if you ever want to use them.
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