The good news is that there are many good cameras available. The bad news is that there are so many models out there, often with overlapping features, which makes it very difficult for anyone to choose a camera. Our nomad favorites page contains a list of cameras that we like which you might find helpful. This buying guide is a check-list of features and qualities we look for in compact cameras.

• Megapixels
8 to 10 megapixels is ideal. Higher pixel count sounds good but actually reduces image quality and just uses up more valuable storage space. Manufacturers know this: currently, most high-end compact cameras sport 'only' 10 megapixels.
• Optical Image Stabilization
This is a very useful and important feature. It helps to reduce camera shake when shooting in low light or shooting at the telephoto end of a zoom lens. CCD or Sensor Shift Image Stabilization helps but it is not as effective. Some inexpensive cameras have what is confusingly called Digital Image Stabilization, which actually reduces image quality because it just bumps up the ISO value.
• Overall Responsiveness

A camera should feel responsive overall: quick and accurate focus, short shutter lag, very short delay after a shot is made, playback and image browsing should also be quick.

• Good Menu User Interface

While good external controls and buttons are important, we find a good user menu interface is even more so. It's hard to get used to a bad one.

• Good LCD Display
One of the reasons we like compact digital cameras is the live view LCD display. It makes photography more fun and improves it in general. Most modern LCD displays are very good even in bright outdoor conditions. We find 2.5" to be adequate. Bigger ones are even better but cost more.
• Video
All compact cameras have video recording capability. Many recent cameras have HD 720 capture mode and a few have HD 1080 mode. A small number of cameras support optical zooming while shooting video which is really nice (but this is standard in all video camcorders)
• Value For The Money
The good news is that camera prices have been going down.
• Output Port
With HD TVs becoming standard, we like cameras that have standard HDMI output port. Unfortunately, there are few of these. Some have Mini HDMI port which requires a mini cable but is still HDMI. Image viewing and playback on big HD TVs is impressive. We have seen beautiful photography displayed on them in exhibitions.
• Raw Files
Some high-end cameras can capture raw image files: they are 'digital negatives' which can be custom-processed later to squeeze out even more optimized images. Raw files can be large and can dramatically slow down lesser cameras. We are normally happy with the standard image files and rarely use raw files.

• Image Format -

  Aspect Ratio

On most compact cameras, the default image format or aspect ratio for pictures is 4:3. Fortunately, most of them also support other formats: 3:2 (traditional 35mm film format), 16:9 wide screen (HDTV format). A very few also provide 1:1 square format. citinomad's favorite format is 16:9 wide screen but we also love the more formal 1:1 square format.
• Optical View Finder
Some photographers still like having the traditional optical view finder. We don't use it and think it just takes up precious body space on small compact cameras.
• Batteries

Used by most cameras, rechargeable Lithium-Ion batteries are convenient and give good performance in general. However, spare Lithium-Ion batteries are very expensive. We travel a lot and can appreciate standard AA batteries too (we use pre-charged rechargeable AA batteries)

• Memory Cards
Stock them up! Memory cards are so inexpensive nowadays, it's inexcusable to run out while on a trip. Many cameras use SD/SDHC cards. Traditionally, SONY cameras use Memory Stick cards but the ones in the latest generation support both types of card. Most laptops and netbooks can read all kinds of cards so it's not a problem.
• Underwater Case
Underwater casing is great for taking a camera underwater. CANON makes dedicated underwater cases for many of their cameras.

Currently, we really like compact cameras from these three makers: Panasonic, Sony and Canon. It's hard to go wrong with their cameras.


We feel Panasonic currently sets the standard with excellent cameras that are also good value. Lumix is the model name of Panasonic cameras. All Lumix have excellent lens and the essential Optical Image Stabilization feature. 


We like the recent line of Sony's Cyber-shot cameras that have innovative and unique features such as Sweep Panoramas, Hand-held Twilight and Party-shot. The Ultra-Slim touch screen models are beautifully styled and built.


We have been a long time user of Canon's PowerShot cameras which have been consistently capable, well designed, well engineered and easy to use. Many models have dedicated underwater cases showing Canon's serious commitment to supporting photography of all kinds.