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The long shot of it

Not too long ago, purchasing a camera was relatively simple. For good results with minimum fuss, you went for a point-and-shoot digital camera. If you were more into the art of photography and wanted to play around with different lenses and controls, you went ahead and purchased a DSLR. Today, however, buying a camera is a complex affair. Basic point-and-shoot cameras and DSLRs are still around, of course, but now, there are others who borrow features from this twosome. Then, there are some more that come with entirely new feature sets. To add to this, smartphone cameras keep improving — every handset manufacturer now touts his smartphone’s camera as one having ‘DSLR-like quality’.

So, which camera should you opt for if you are in the mood to take some pictures? Here is what you could keep in mind while making the big decision:

Point-and-shoot
These are the foot soldiers of the camera market. Not amongst the most desired but easily the most popular because of their relatively low prices, ease of use and, often, portability. Most of these cameras come with a few basic shooting modes that can be accessed with the flip of a button. The picture quality is not often in the league of those shot professionally, mindful handling can give you some great shots. This is for those who don’t hunger for stacks of features and controls.

Pros: Simple to use, affordable
Cons: Limited controls, often limited optical zoom
Perfect for: Those who just want a no-fuss, no-frills shooting experience, without spending a bomb.
Our vote: Sony Cyber-shot DSC WX-150, Nikon Coolpix S6300 (in pic).

Prosumer: Superzoom
Most of these are cameras come with DSLR-like controls and builds, but without the ability to swap lenses. Superzooms, as their names indicate, come with lenses endowed with massive zooms, saving you the need to carry extra lenses. The zoom is often expressed in terms of 10x, 16x and so on. Of course, you cannot swap lenses as you can on a DSLR but if you are the type who wants to take a picture of an insect on a rose across the road, this is pretty much the camera for you. Just be prepared for a bit of instability to creep in as that zoom extends.

Pros: Big zooms, DSLR-like controls
Cons: Tends to be bulky, stability issues at high zoom levels
Perfect for: Those who love to shoot from a distance, but do not want the fuss of carrying extra lenses along.
Our vote: Canon PowerShot SX50 HS (in pic), Nikon Coolpix 510

Prosumer: Compact
These are the antithesis of superzooms, and deliver stunning results over smaller areas. They also provide the user with a good amount of control over the picture’s settings. They might have smaller zooms but have large and very good quality sensors. Of course, the absence of a zoom also results in lesser bulk, making these cameras very easy to carry. Mind you, many of them tend to cost as much as an entry-level DSLR — those sensors do not come cheap.

Pros: Excellent picture quality, portability
Cons: DSLR-level prices, often limited zoom
Perfect for: Those who tend to take pictures on impulse and want high-quality results
Our vote: Sony DSC-RX100 (in pic), Fujifilm XF-1

DSLR
For most people, these remain THE cameras to possess. And with good reason. DSLRs are known for superb image quality and speedy functioning and above all, the ability to control just about every feature of the picture-taking process, from lenses, to the aperture to the exposure. Yes, they tend to be bulky and expensive but when it comes to quality, it is no surprise that even competitors use them as benchmarks to showcase their own performance.

Pros: Superb picture quality, extremely useful for customisation.
Cons: Bulky, expensive
Perfect for: Those who want near total control over what they are shooting.
Our vote: Nikon D3200 (in pic), Canon EOS 650D

Mirrorless cameras
A relatively new category to have joined the camera race, mirrorless cameras attempt to bridge the gap between prosumer compacts and DSLRs by borrowing the form factor of the former and adding the lens swappability of the latter. It is an expensive marriage and one that comes with some compromises (most notably the absence of a proper viewfinder). They are, however, rapidly emerging as a decent alternative to those who want a lot of the DSLR’s controls and quality without
its bulk.

Pros: DSLR-like performance, portability
Cons: Limited lens selection, expensive
Perfect for: Those seeking DSLR-like quality in a relatively portable form factor
Our vote: Sony Alpha NEX-6 (in pic), Canon EOS M

Smart cameras
It has been threatening to arrive for a while, but 2012 saw the smart camera finally make its mainstream debut. Both Nikon and Samsung released cameras that ran on Android, could use Internet apps, allowed users to upload images online and surf or use for checking emails too. Although the connectivity is welcome, neither camera has scored heavily in the image quality department. Many conventional photographers have also found Android’s touchscreen interface a tad difficult to use.

Pros: Smartphone-like connectivity, apps and OS
Cons: Not the easiest to use, expensive
Perfect for: Smartphone addicts who want similar controls on their cameras.
Our vote: Samung Galaxy Camera (in pic).

Smartphones
Many photographers bridle at the very notion of a phone’s camera being even mentioned in the same sentence as a ‘proper’ camera. You, however, can’t deny that the smartphone has emerged as many people’s camera of choice simply because of its convenience and accessibility. They are definitely getting better thanks to improved lens softwares and even decent low-light shooting. Then, there is the added benefit of always being connected and having no end of apps to tweak images with. Just be ready to keep a charger handy.

Pros: Convenient, always connected
Cons: Relatively inferior image quality, poor battery life
Perfect for: Those who love to shoot and share pictures rather than print them. 
Our vote: Apple iPhone 5 (in pic), Nokia Lumia 920 

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