Digital cameras buying guide

Thinking about buying a digital camera? Here's what to look for.
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02.Testing terms

Here are some of the terms you'll find in the test results table of the Digital cameras report.

Image quality: an evaluation of the camera’s resolution (sharpness), colour reproduction, vignetting (loss of brightness at the photo’s edges), distortion (curving straight lines) and focusing speed and accuracy. We take around 80 images with each camera in both fully automatic and manual mode.

Ease of use: a five-person evaluation of each camera’s manual, viewfinder, monitor, data transfer and shutter delay. Ease of inserting and removing its memory card and changing its settings, controls and batteries was also tested.

Versatility: an evaluation of the camera’s lens, memory, sensitivity adjustment (ISO), white balance, shutter, exposure options, viewfinder/monitor size and adjustment, image deletion, flash type and red eye reduction, focus, battery options and performance, audio and video connections, image stabilisation, continuous shooting, tripod socket, shutter delay and the time it took for the camera to be ready to take a photo.

Viewfinder/Monitor score: A measure of the difference between the height and width displayed in the viewfinder/monitor and what is recorded on the final image, and an appraisal of the image quality for both.

Battery life: A measure of how many photos you’re likely to be able to take with freshly charged or new batteries. Cameras with a score of 100% managed over 250 of the following cycles before the first ‘battery low’ warning: turn on in record mode, zoom full range and back, take photo, image viewed for five seconds in playback mode then deleted, camera set to record mode and the cycle begun again. Every fourth image is taken with the flash turned on.

Flash: Tested at one, three and five metres to check the exposure is even across the image.

Movie quality: cameras that are able to record video were used to make four ‘highest quality’ movies and then scored on resolution of detail, fluency of playback , picture noise and pixilation caused by compression.

Weight is in grams and includes batteries, memory cards and neck strap if supplied.

Size includes all protruding parts when the camera is switched off.

Selection sizes: in the criteria on the first page of the Digital camera model selector are by volume as follows:

  • Pocket = up to 200 cm3
  • Small = 200 to 300 cm3
  • Medium = 300 to 900 cm3
  • Large = over 900 cm3

Resolution the effective resolution, using a standard that is generally accepted to provide a reasonable indication of the maximum number of pixels the camera uses to create an image. This is based on an image taken at the cameras highest quality and size setting.

Zoom range (mm) is a 35mm equivalent figure. Optical zoom only, because digital zoom simply crops the image (reducing the number of pixels) and always results in reduced image quality.

Speeds: All speeds are in seconds.

Closest focus: is the measure in centimetres that the camera can focus on, in Macro mode (or normal mode if there's no Macro).

Continuous shooting mode: lets you take multiple photos while the shutter button is held down. The number of shots in any sequence is in brackets. No number means the camera will keep taking images until the storage card is full.

Number of images that can be stored on delivered memory card: is based on the following cards for cameras where no card is supplied and there is no internal memory.


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