If you’re shopping for a new digital camera, what features should you look for? These days, the number of megapixels isn’t that important – even 8MP cameras can take photos you can blow up to poster size without losing detail. Instead, you should think about the following:
• Camera size: do you want an easy-to-use, pocket-sized model, or a more advanced ‘bridge’ model that has features to rival a full-blown digital SLR camera?
• Zoom: if you’re choosing a camera for its zoom, always check the optical zoom rather than the digital one. Optical lets you blow up a distant object without losing image detail.
• Stabilisation: the higher the zoom, the steadier your hand needs to be. You can avoid ‘shaky hand syndrome’ by choosing a camera with built-in stabilisation. Again, optical or mechanical zoom – rather than digital – is best.
• Screen size: the larger the LCD screen, the easier it is to both set-up and review your shots, which means you get better pictures.
• Batteries: some cameras use standard AA batteries, which might sound like the easiest option but they’ll cost more in the long term. Rechargeable AAs are no match for a Lithium rechargeable battery. It will last much longer between charges so you won’t be caught short just as you’re about to take a once-in-a-lifetime snap.
The Nikon Coolpix S9100 stashes away in your pocket when not in use
Best compact camera: Nikon Coolpix S9100 Digital Compact Camera has it all: 12.1 megapixels, 18x optical zoom with stabilisation technology, plus a wide-angle 25mm lens for close-up shots. It’s even capable of shooting full 1080p HD video, but you can still slip it in your pocket with ease.
Best bridge camera: Panasonic DMC-FZ48EB-K Compact Digital Camera combines top-end functions (full manual, shutter and aperture priority settings and white balance adjustment) with a great spec. Its 25mm F2.8 12.1 megapixel lens is ideal for wide-angle close-ups, plus there’s a 24x optical zoom, optical image stabilisation and full HD video support.
Like digital cameras, there’s a huge range of digital camcorders on the market. Here are some of the things to think about before you go ahead and part with your cash:
• Size: do you want a pocket-sized camcorder or are you happy to carry a bag for the extra functions of a handheld?
• Storage type and capacity: HDD camcorders can store much more footage than other models, but they’re bulkier. You can also pick models that work with memory cards, DVD or even traditional MiniDV tapes, but storage is much more restricted here – only camcorders with HDD or memory cards support HD . As a rough guide, you should expect to get about 8-10 minutes of full HD footage for every 1GB of storage space.
• Zoom: like digital cameras, optical zoom is always superior to digital, but most pocket camcorders don’t offer any form of optical zoom. The increased resolution of HD cameras does have one drawback: optical zooms are much smaller (around 16x) on HD models than Standard Definition models.
• Stabilisation: look for a camcorder that can keep your footage steady when you’re filming at higher levels of magnification.
• Viewfinder : not all camcorders feature an optical viewfinder in addition to the digital LCD screen. It’s down to personal preference but some shots are easier with a viewfinder , as you can hold the camcorder up to your eye for greater stability.
Handheld camcorders are the best choice if you’re serious about shooting video
Best pocket camcorder: Kodak PlaySport Zx5 full HD Pocket Camcorder offers full HD video recording in a shockproof, waterproof and dustproof case – perfect for anyone with kids or high-octane hobbies. It records to SD and SDHC cards, so you’ll never be short of storage space.
Best handheld camcorder: Canon Legria HF M307 full HD Camcorder is a lightweight, full HD handheld that features a decent 15x optical zoom, image stabiliser and it also records to SD /SDHC or SDXC cards for maximum versatility.
If you want to chat with friends and family over the internet, or indulge in a little banter during online gaming sessions, you’re going to need a headset . These either plug into a spare USB port, or the headphones and mic sockets on the front of your PC. They fit comfortably over one or both ears, and there’s a boom mic for placing in front of your mouth. Wireless options are also available for those who don’t want to tangle themselves up in cables every time they chat.
The Logitech H110 Stereo Headset offers good quality at a low price
Best wireless headset : Creative HS-1200 Digital Wireless Gaming Headset lets you pace up to 20 metres away from your PC as you chat. It’s optimised for gaming (the headphones deliver incredible bass and 3D surround sound) but it’s also perfect for catching up on gossip or taking all-important work calls.
A webcam allows you to see the person you’re chatting to over the internet on your PC. Webcams are built into Advent laptops and netbooks but if you have a desktop PC or want a clearer image, think about using a USB webcam instead. As well as improved picture quality, it’s more versatile as you can put the webcam exactly where you want it.
While it’s tempting to choose the highest possible resolution for your webcam (full HD ), it’s worth noting that a higher resolution will put a greater strain on your internet connection. All webcams offer the option for different resolutions so pick a lower setting if you’re on a slow – or mobile – broadband connection.
Make sure your internet connection is fast enough to handle HD video calls
Best SD webcam : Microsoft LifeCam HD -3000 offers up to 720p HD video, but it works better at lower resolutions, making it perfect for slower broadband connections. It also comes with a built-in mic, so you can leave the unflattering headset to one side.
Best HD webcam : Logitech HD Pro Webcam C910 is renowned for offering crisp and vivid video (up to 720p HD for video calls, full 1080p HD for video capture) as well as excellent sound quality through its built-in mic.