buying your first digital point and shoot camera

I have really enjoyed my point and shoot digital camera and now that Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat, I’m pleased to put a penny in the old man’s hat give you a simple guide for buying your first point and shoot digital camera.

I’ll start with some bold, quick statements that are based on my opinion, research, and experience. I’ll then make another list below with defenses to my suggestions. But I want to make a quick and easy guide first. So here goes…

  1. BRAND: Only consider cameras from Sony, Cannon, or Nikon. Ignore all other brands.
  2. MEGAPIXEL: Decide how big you want to print your photos. If you can live with 6×10 photo, get a 5 Meg camera. A 6 Meg camera will print a 7×10. Full chart is below.
  3. ZOOM: Buy a camera with the most amount of OPTICAL zoom you can afford. Ignore DIGITAL zoom. 3x Optical is most common.

That’s it. That’s the list. Following that should help make it easier for you to make a more educated purchase.

Now to defend and go into this a bit more…

  1. BRAND: Well, I don’t have any experience with anything that isn’t a Cannon, Sony, or Nikon. Mine is Nikon and I love it. I have always heard these are the top three. Everyone I talk to or read from seem to like these the best. Other brands are often cheaper, but I just don’t know. I’d rather stick with a solid company.
  2. MEGAPIXEL: This is probably the item that confuses most people. Should you get more or less? Megapixels are dots of information. The more you have, the bigger your photo. Here’s a rough estimate chart of how big photos are at each megapixel:

    1 Meg = 2×3 print = 1280×960 px
    2 Meg = 4×5 print = 1600×1200 px
    3 Meg = 5×7 print = 2048×1536 px
    4 Meg = 6×7 print = 2272×1704 px
    5 Meg = 6×10 print = 3008×1960 px
    6 Meg = 7×10 print = 3088×2056 px
    7 Meg = 8×10 print = 3072×2304 px
    8 Meg = 8×11 print = 3264×2448 px
    9 Meg = 9×11 print = 3488×2616 px
    10 Meg = 9×13 print = 3872×2592 px
    11 Meg = 9×13 print = 4064×2704 px
    12 Meg = 9×14 print = 4290×2800 px
    13 Meg = 10×15 print = 4368×2912 px
    14 Meg = 11×15 print = 4536×3024 px
    15 Meg = 11×16 print = 4750×3150 px
    16 Meg = 11×16 print = 4920×3264 px

    * all conversions are estimates and assume a printer set to 300dpi (dots per inch) or 300ppi (pixels per inch).

    Most people look at photos either on their computer or print them. If they are on your own computer (not online), then you only need about 1 or 2 Meg because your monitor is probably at least 1200 pixels wide. If you email them, they can be even smaller.

    But most people are concerned about printing photos. This is why I say just decide how big you want to print them. For example, weigh the cost of a 5 Meg camera vs a 6 Meg. It might be $50 more for the extra meg. Is that worth going from a 6×10 to a 7×10 print? Only you can decide how much that is worth to you.

  3. ZOOM: Well, I said it earlier. The more zoom you can get, the better. It means you can take a quality photo from further away. But digital zoom is worthless. Don’t let anyone sell you on it. And if they say it has x-zoom, find out what portion of that is optical!
  4. BATTERY and MEMORY: I purposefully left these off the quick list because, let’s face it, if you find a camera that is a good price for the amount of zoom and megapixel you want, the type of memory stick and battery won’t matter much. However, if it comes down to it, ask yourself if you’ll travel much with it. If so, my advice is get a point and shoot that uses regular AA batteries (rechargeable). They don’t last as long as others, but they are cheap and easy to find pretty much anywhere in the world.
  5. FEEL: This is often overlooked; how does the camera feel in your hands? Let’s face it, if you don’t like the size and feel of it, you will be less motivated to use it. Go to your local stores and just pick up and hold the cameras.

Hopefully this is enough for you to run on. If this has been helpful to you, or you want to comment on my thoughts, please feel free.

BTW, ff you want to change your printer resolution or megapixels and want to know how big you can print, check this calculator (it’s in Spanish, but even Greengos can figure this one out). If you know the pixel dimensions but want to know the file and print size then try this site.

Can you digg it?

UPDATE: Found this little Megapixel test so caveat emptor.

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  • Now that camera is mine and Rob has his new one that he hasn’t posted about yet.

  • Good post. I have a Nikon Coolpix 5000 that I love — easy to use, great pics. I’d still like to get a DSLR some day — but a Nikon. I also have a relatively new Nikon SLR and lenses that I’d want to use on my DSLR.

    Now — what’s this about a new camera?

  • Thanks for the info. I will be shopping for a digital camera for my college freshman daughter. I am thinking I will go with cheap! 😀 She has a habit of losing things.


  • rob

    @Linda : I think it’s possible to get something both good and cheap by following the three guides above. Watch for good deals in the next couple weeks. I saw on Amazon a Cannon I think for $130 that was 5MP and 3x Optical Zoom.

  • rob
  • Jim

    Very concise helpful guide. Great no-nonsense advice.

  • Hey Rob, great advice. Now, can you do a post that explains why my Canon Power Shot S1 is takes so blooming long to focus? And how to overcome that problem??? By the time I’ve managed to get it to focus on an object it’s out of the picture frame, or the facial expression has completely changed. It drives me crazy.

  • rob

    @Andrea : Hummm, I dunno. My guess is that you’re on an auto-focus setting and so it’s doing all the work. Maybe try a manual setting and adjust the focus yourself? I’m not sure. I’m guessing. I’m trying to learn about some of this myself.

  • If you’re going to print a photo for archiving, you should set your printer on the highest setting (360, 720, 1440 dpi). This has nothing to do with the pixels coming out of the camera.

    If you want to view on a monitor, you should save the picture with 72ppi; if you want to print it out, you should save it around 200ppi – any more is overkill.

    The extra megapixels will allow you to digitally zoom in more without pixelating the image.

    All this to say, that a 5mb camera will easily print a 12″ x 9″ picture if the shot is good.

    A little photoshop trick is to increase the picture size by 8 – 10% over and over until you get the size you want. This barely degrades the picture. It’s like magic.

  • When you find the camera you want, consider searching through (yeah I am a little biased, my nephew started working there, but it seems like a good deal to me!)


  • I hate to muddy the waters, but I must mention that I love my Kodak DX7440. For an inexpensive point and shoot, it has very quick focus and shutter, auto orientation detection (no need to rotate pictures on the computer), and just takes great pictures.

  • mike

    great guide but the brands comment is a little bit off, while all the brands you mentioned are great there are some others i would seriously consider
    kodak is a great brand that wont hurt your pocketbook too to much, olympus is a higher end brand that is wonderfull to work with and will give you joy just from using it but it is higher end and will hit you hard in the bank account. all of my experiences with these brands have been great and i love my kodak camera that i am using at the moment!