Advanced Compact Digital Cameras Offer A Great Value For The Money
By Jon Sienkiewicz
The price of entry-level digital SLRs has dropped so low that one could be tempted to overlook advanced compact digital cameras. That would be a mistake. Cameras in this category supply nearly all of the sophisticated SLR-like features and controls that are found on D-SLRs. Image quality is as good or better, all else being equal, and zoom cameras offer several advantages over D-SLRs.
Compact cameras provide more performance per ounce than any other type. The camera body portion is small and light, and despite their extended zoom ranges, the lenses are fast and compact. A typical 7x zoom camera is easier to carry than a D-SLR equipped with an equivalent lens. To achieve the same 7x range, you’d have to attach an 18-125mm zoom lens to your D-SLR. Yes, such lenses are available, but they’re big and heavy—and expensive.
Technological Developments While a lot of attention has been placed on the bigger digital SLRs, the advanced compact camera has some technological marvels that even the digital SLR can’t match. The world wants longer zoom lenses, for example, but these can be big, heavy and expensive on a digital SLR. Camera manufacturers have been able to develop long focal-length zooms for the compact digital camera with high-quality lens features, yet at a low cost and in a very small size. That’s because these cameras have small sensors and don’t require big lenses to act like long telephotos for an SLR. In addition, they don’t need all of the special wiring and motors of their bigger brethren since these lenses are attached.
But long zooms are hard to hold still, and even slight camera movement can make the recorded image appear unsharp. Now manufacturers are adding image-stabilization technology to advanced compact digital cameras as a countermeasure, and it has become a popular feature.
What else is happening with all-in-one cameras? They don’t have true SLR viewing directly through the lens, but do see what the sensor sees electronically via an EVF (electronic viewfinder) or LCD monitor. Much development is going into making the EVF better. Higher resolutions, brighter monitors (used for the EVF) and faster frame rates (how fast the image updates) greatly improve the EVF image. With an EVF or other LCD monitor, you can preview the subject or compose the image on the LCD, which can’t be done with an SLR. The EVF and LCD also make it easier to shoot in both bright and extremely dark conditions (the sensor shows actual exposure and doesn’t be-come dim with dim light).
LCD monitors continue to get larger, making them much easier to use for reviewing and evaluating your photos. LCDs consume more energy, though, and since no one wants to sacrifice battery performance, manufacturers have developed better, longer-lasting power sources along with enhancing overall camera operating efficiency. Battery life has almost become a non-issue. At the same time, many camera makers have been able to reduce the size and weight of the battery (and thereby the camera) without diminishing output—that’s quite a technological feat!
Megapixels still continue to increase. They’re well beyond the size needed for standard printing, which means even these compact cameras can deliver very large, high-quality prints from their files. Demand for more and more megapixels forces camera makers to add bigger buffers, however, and find ways to handle large files more efficiently. This can be a challenge in the small cameras described here, but the camera designers have risen to the challenge. Internal signal processing has improved and will continue to do so. MPEG-4 video compression is being implemented more often now, and mini-movies are true VGA quality—finally useful.