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Digital Cameras Buying Guide »

So, how do digital cameras work?

Instead of processing pictures onto film, digital cameras transfer them onto a light-sensitive chip known as a Charged Couple Device (CCD) and store them in the camera's memory as thousands of minute, coloured dots called pixels (short for 'picture elements').

Its easy to see why digital cameras have grown in popularity. You still point and shoot in the normal way, but there's no need to buy a film or to wait for it to be processed - you just download the images onto a computer, send direct to a printer or email them instantly to friends.

And it's easy to get creative! Digital pictures can be edited so you can adjust colours, reduce 'red eye', crop the picture or add artistic effects. You can even use the images to create calendars, greeting cards and enlargements.


(expressed as Megapixels, or MP)

Resolution is one of the most important ratings of a digital camera - the higher the resolution, the sharper the image. Below is an approximate guide to maximum print size by resolution, based on prints at 150ppi acceptable photo quality (pixels per printed inch):

Pixels Megapixels Max print size
2464 x 1632 4 MP 16.42" x 10.88"
3008 x 2000 6 MP 20.05" x 13.34"
3264 x 2448 8 MP 21.76" x 16.32"
3872 x 2592 10 MP 25.81" x 17.28"
4290 x 2800 12 MP 28.60" x 18.67"


A digital camera's internal memory can usually only store a few pictures at any one time - its maximum image rating will tell you how many images it can hold at the lowest possible resolution (usually 640 x 480). For example a typical 5MP camera with 64MB of internal memory could hold about 24 high resolution JPEG images. If you are going on holiday you might not have access to a computer and you might wish to take a number of movie clips which take up more memory.

For this reason, and the fact that memory cards are becoming cheaper, a two gigabyte (GB), or 2000MB of memory, is now a popular choice. SD cards are the most popular with some camera’s now compatible with SDHC Cards (Secure Digital High Capacity) that have capacities of 4GB+.


Lenses on most entry-level and mid-priced digital cameras are smaller than on their traditional counterparts. For an idea of a camera's range, check the '35mm equivalent' lens rating.

• Anything shorter than 50mm is considered wide-angle - for landscapes and shots where you want to include as much as possible.

• Lenses longer than 50mm will give you a telephoto picture, suitable for close-ups and zooming in on distant objects.

Features to consider

Battery life: All cameras are supplied with a mains power supply - but because functions such as zoom, flash and computer downloads are a major drain on batteries, it is worth considering a model with a lithium or nicad rechargeable battery and keeping an extra battery with you if you anticipate taking lots of shots.

Optical zoom: If you will be taking a lot of long-range telephoto pictures, optical zoom magnifies the image using a traditional multi-focal length lens. Combined with digital zoom, this allows you to take more detailed pictures of distant objects. For example, if the magnification level is measured as 3x optical zoom, and the camera's minimum focal length is 50m, then it has the ability to zoom up to 150m.

Digital zoom: This works by enlarging the central 50% of the image. Digital zoom allows you to zoom in on a specific part of your picture during playback, however, resolution quality may be affected by higher increases in zoom.

Image stabilisation: An unsteady handgrip will blur the still image - especially in dim conditions or if you have zoomed in a lot. If you don't have a tripod, many top-end digital haves have Image Stabilisation which steadies the picture so the shake is largely eliminated. This involves the optical lens or digital sensor moving ever so slightly to compensate for hand movements.

Continuous shooting / Burst modes: This lets you take multiple rapid-fire shots with one touch of the exposure button - a useful feature when photographing motion, such as sporting events.

Face detection: When taking pictures of friends or family this setting will automatically detect your loved-ones faces, ensuring the focus is firmly on their smiles and not on the scenery behind them!

Digital SLR cameras

A growing phenomenon amongst photography enthusiasts, the digital SLR marries together the modern features of digital camera technology with the shooting flexibility of traditional SLR cameras. Compact digital cameras are designed for maximum portability so they are made to be small and light - the digital SLRs design places top priority on shooting ease and flexibility.

Advantages of D-SLR cameras;

Autofocus (AF): A digital SLR is designed to shoot quickly and obtain top-quality shots. Autofocus on a digital SLR camera employs a special, high-performance motor and built-in microcomputer for high-speed focusing. The camera can thereby focus faster than you can turn the focusing ring.
Viewfinder: Through the viewfinder you can see the scene as it will be photographed, so you can clearly see what the camera sees. In the centre area, there are AF points that focus automatically. You can also select any one of the AF points to focus at that point. At the viewfinder bottom, shooting information is displayed. Through the viewfinder, you can see the subjects detail, colours, facial expressions, etc. with more clarity than on many compact cameras LCD monitor.
Interchangeable lenses: The digital SLR can use various lenses to take wide-angle, telephoto, or close-up shots, to shoot a wide variety of subjects. The shorter the focal length (measured in mm), the wider the view will be - the longer the focal length, the more telescopic the picture.
Speed: You can shoot multiple shots per second, an advantage for capturing fast-moving subjects.

Direct printing

Some digital cameras will allow you connect directly to a compatible printer so there is no need for a PC. You can select the pictures you want to print on the LCD screen and simply press print.

Whilst some printers have slots for memory cards so you can slot the memory card from your camera directly into your printer and print the pictures. Look out for cameras which are PictBridge compatible - this is a standardized technology that lets you print images from the memory card in a digital camera directly to a printer regardless of brand.

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