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Christmas Gift Guide
Cameras

Which camera for family snapshots?

I would like to buy a digital camera for family pictures and holiday snaps of my children. What make and model would you suggest?

I would like to buy a digital camera. I consider myself a snapshot photographer and it would be my first of this type. I'm just looking to take normal family pictures and holiday snaps of my children etc to email to other family members. What make and model would you suggest I buy?

Steve

You won't go far wrong with any of the cameras in our recent round-up of six-megapixel compacts. How do you choose between them, though?

For snapshots, a small camera that's always in your bag or pocket is better than a larger one that often gets left behind. This is especially true if your children are young, because you'll probably be weighed down with buckets and spades (or footballs and games consoles, if they're a little older). If you can't manage the camera as well, you'll miss some great shots.

Six megapixels is pretty normal for a compact now, although you'll find some with higher resolutions. Many people think more megapixels means better pictures, but it's a game of diminishing returns. Six is plenty for holiday snapshots, and if you want to save some money for ice creams you could settle for a five-megapixel model. Your family won't see any difference in standard 150x100mm (6x4-inch) prints.

If possible, choose a camera that takes SD memory cards. This is the most common format, so the cards tend to be cheaper and more widely available than alternative formats such as xD Picture Card and Memory Stick (for more on memory cards, see our Digital Camera Buying Guide). There are many printers, laptops and handhelds that take SD cards, so it's easy to print or transfer your images. You can even put them into some modern televisions and DVD players, making it easy to see your photos on the big screen. One caveat: if you're a Sony fan and you already have several devices that use Memory Sticks, you might want a Sony camera, for much the same reason -- it's easier to move files around when all your devices use the same memory card.

Since it's your first digital camera, you'll want one that's easy to use. There are two schools of thought here. Some cameras offer many different scene modes -- for landscapes, beach scenes, night shots, food, pets and so on -- and you choose the appropriate mode for the shot you're framing. Pentax and Casio are fans of this approach. Other manufacturers, including Canon and Sony, offer fewer scene modes and concentrate on providing quick access to basic settings such as flash and focus modes. It's a matter of personal preference, but we think the second approach is better. Switching modes slows you down, and sooner or later you'll come home from the mountains and find you've taken all your photographs on the food setting.

So, with all that said, we'd recommend the Canon Digital IXUS 800 IS, IXUS 65 or IXUS 60, depending how much you want to spend (to save even more, look at the IXUS 55 or IXUS 50). If you're already committed to the Sony brand, look at the Cyber-shot DSC-T30 or DSC-T9.