What Is a Point and Shoot Camera?

Want to snap pics without thinking? A compact camera is all you need

A woman taking pictures with a point and shoot camera.
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A point and shoot camera is a pocket-sized, mostly auto-focus camera that is designed for simplicity. Point and shoot cameras may be called P&S cameras or compact cameras, due to their small size.

Like all other camera types, they have their pros and cons.

  • Affordable; many available for under $100.

  • Automated functionality; quickly and easily capture a photo without fussing over settings.

  • Range of advanced settings.

  • No optical viewfinders and much smaller optical zoom capabilities.

  • Few allow controls for depth of field.

  • Not great for motion capture.

Features That Make Point and Shoot Cameras Attractive

One of the most attractive features of a point and shoot camera is its automated functionality—the ability to quickly and easily point the camera at a subject and snap a picture. The camera does all the work from adjusting the exposure level to focusing the camera and deciding if a flash is necessary. That makes them a great choice for someone that just wants to grab a quick picture without having to think through the settings that will ensure the picture is perfect.

A man using a small point and shoot camera.
 Jean-Philippe Tournut/Moment/Getty Images

Most point and shoot cameras have advanced to the point where they may include some semi-manual controls. For example, Scene Modes are a popular way to ensure you’re going to get the best possible photo under certain conditions, like shooting landscape photography, close-up images of flowers and greenery, or portraits of friends and family.

The ability to connect to a wireless network via Wi-Fi or to another device via Bluetooth is another feature that’s been added to many point and shoot cameras. Users can automatically send images to their smartphone, computer, social media, or cloud storage without thinking about it. Editing directly from the camera’s LCD screen and printing directly from the camera are also features that amateur photographers find useful.

Additional features that most point and shoot cameras have include:

  • Compact size, which makes carrying a point and shoot camera easier in almost all situations.
  • GPS for tagging the location where a picture is taken.
  • Image stabilization to ensure that every picture is crystal clear.
  • Face detection that almost guarantees every face in a picture is in focus.
  • Smile detection that will alert you when someone in the frame isn’t smiling.
  • Digital zoom capabilities that allow you to focus on subjects far in the distance or get great close-up pictures.
  • 4K HD video capabilities so you can shoot home movies or still images from the same device.
  • Social media uploads directly from the camera so you don’t have to wait to share your pictures.
  • Remote viewfinder that lets you choose (and focus) your shots directly from a smartphone or table.

The Disadvantages of Point and Shoot

While point and shoot cameras are great for photographers who just want to snap a quick picture, they probably aren’t the right choice for anyone that wants more control over the pictures they take. For example, few point and shoot cameras allow the photographer to control depth of field. Everything in the frame is in focus or nothing is.

Most point and shoot cameras also have great digital displays and zoom capabilities, but no optical viewfinder and much smaller optical zoom capabilities. For photographers that are interested in zooming into an element of a picture, this can be disheartening because digital zoom uses software capabilities to "fill in" pixels in an image which can lead to a slightly blurred, unfocused image when you enlarge it. Optical zoom, on the other hand, is accomplished using the camera hardware, so the image captured is the actual image and will look much better when enlarged.

A point and shoot camera.
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Point and shoot cameras are also usually a poor choice for anyone who wants to capture action images. For example, if your main goal with a camera is to take amazing pictures of your budding soccer star, you may be disappointed with a point and shoot camera. Most don’t allow for manual control of shutter speeds, so when you snap the picture, it can’t "take" fast enough to capture a crisp, clear image. What you end up with instead is some degree of blur, which can be useful in artistic photography, but not if you want to snap a clear picture of your athlete kicking the winning goal.

Point and Shoot Pricing

At one time, pricing was where point and shoot cameras really won the day. It’s still not uncommon to pick up a point and shoot camera for under $100. However, there are also point and shoot cameras on the market that could cost nearly as much as an entry-level bridge camera or DSLR camera.

Given that, how do you choose which camera is best? The question is really a matter of control. Do you want to be able to snap a few quick shots here and there with some degree of certainty that the shot will come out clear and in focus? If yes, then a point and shoot will probably do everything you need it to do.

If you’re interested in more control, want optical zoom capabilities, or are planning to shoot action shots frequently, then a bridge camera or a DSLR is a better option.

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