I recently received this question: “I’m leaving on a trip and need a digital camera.  Do you have any advice?”  It turns out that I do.First, determine your budget.  Many point and shoot cameras on the market today have very similar features, but it is easy to get carried away with fancy features and sales pitches.  Having a budget will limit your search and keep you on track.

Now that you have a budget, you can begin looking at features.  I recommend that you focus on three: optical zoom, resolution, and camera shake (sometimes called stabilization or VR).  If you have children consider HD video as well.

Optical zoom refers to the ability of the lens to bring part of the scene or subject closer.  Without getting too technical, a 5x lens will allow you to zoom in more than a 3x lens.  The higher the number before the x, the more magnification you will get.  You should look for the highest available optical zoom factor that is within your budget.

Resolution is another important specification.  When looking for a camera, I recommend that you look at 8 megapixel (often abbreviated MP) or higher.  The resolution lets you know how many pixels are on the sensor which captures the image.  The higher the resolution means more pixels.  You never know whether you will get a great shot and want to print it 8 x 10 or larger.  Those extra pixels (usually) mean better detail and sharper images.

If your budget allows, consider including the “camera shake” or “VR” as a feature.  This feature tries to compensate for slight camera movement such has shaking hands.  It really comes in handy at high zoom situations or if you are using digital zoom.  In most cases your photos will come out clearer.

There are other factors you should consider when purchasing a camera, such as size, ease of use, etc., but with these features, just about any camera you purchase will yield quality photographs.