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A Digital Camera Primer -- Point-and-Shoots

Well, History Geek took the DeLorean and went to watch the battle of Cannae -- yeah, I know. No one but History Geek and military historians know or care about that battle -- and managed to rip the gas tank on the way back. So, while the geeks are pooling their ignorance to repair the time machine, I'm going to help some of you out with a few tips and tricks on figuring out which digital camera is best for you. Digital cameras generally fall into one of two large groups: point-and-shoots and DSLRs. Point-and-shoots are generally less expensive and easier to handle but come with less options and features than a DSLR. With a point-and-shoot, you have less fine-grained control over the aperture, the shutter speed, and the focus. For many, this is a benefit. Point-and-shoots also usually have a fairly decent image processor and auto-mode. They're great for photographers who just want to snap a few quick pictures on a family vacation, a special occasion, or other big moments in life but who are not interested in learning the intricacies of photography or their cameras' various control modes. While not giving as much control or as many features as a DSLR, point-and-shoots are a head and shoulders above the cameras on most smartphones. With a point-and-shoot, images are much cleaner, camera shake is less of a headache, and the processor can quickly and easily filter out normal motion blur. Additionally, the flash on most point-and-shoots can be enabled or disabled at will whereas said flash is virtually non-existent on a smart phone. So, what are some of the features on various point-and-shoots? Really, it depends on the camera. For example, the Nikon COOLPIX S30 is a very basic, but very durable, point-and-shoot. The Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-W620 and the Canon Powershot ELPH 110 are less durable but come with more features. All three are able to take good-quality photos (the Nikon can take them underwater) and can capture video. All three come with true optical zoom. Now, let's break them down and look at them one-by-one. The Nikon COOLPIX S30 is waterproof and shockproof, making it a great camera for those with active lives or small children. It can take being dropped in the pool or knocked off a shelf and still keep taking great photos. It's got larger buttons and dials, a user-friendly menu, and a few options to edit your pictures without having to download them to your computer. It can also capture movies at 720p in HD. This COOLPIX includes a portrait mode that detects smiles and snaps the photo for you, an internal stabilizer to minimize camera-shake, and a zoom that lets you get within 2 inches of your subject for close-up work without actually having to get physically close. It's got a 10.1 MP sensor, letting you take high-quality photos that can easily be printed out later on. In addition to that, there's no need to fret over leaving the batteries at home -- this camera runs off of 2x AA batteries where the other two have their own powerpacks. Next in line is the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-W620. It's not as durable as the COOLPIX -- you can't drop this camera in the pool or off a shelf without needing to repair it afterwards. However, it's much more feature-packed coming with an intelligent auto-mode that, drawing upon its library, recognizes the kind of scene you're taking a photo of and applies filters correctly to help you capture it in a more polished manner than normal auto-modes. It has the same kind of smile technology as the COOLPIX but also includes a Face Detection mode for group portraits. This Cyber-Shot also takes panoramic pictures -- something that the COOLPIX cannot do easily. And, with 14.1 MP onboard, those panoramas will look stunning. Last but not least is the Canon Powershot ELPH 110. It comes with the ability to take higher-resolution HD video (1080p vs 720p) and many of the features found on the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-W620. In addition to those, however, it offers both high-speed burst video and super-slow-motion. This Powershot can also take all of the short movie clips captured during the day and combine them into one video. Like the Cyber-Shot, it can detect smiles but it can also detect blinking, meaning that you won't have to worry about your subject having his/her eyes closed at that critical moment. Lastly, at 16.1 MP, the lens and sensor on this camera can take larger, higher-resolution images than the other two. So, there you have it -- three point-and-shoots that may be better for your need (not to mention your budget) than even an entry-level DSLR. That's not to say that a DSLR is a bad investment -- we'll go over just why they're good and what they're best suited for in a future post. For now, I'm going to go spy on the "OMG Space Is Cool" club. They've been suspiciously quiet lately which makes me suspect that they're up to something. -- da Bird
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