In the compact camera market, 6 megapixels is the new black. It's the safest bet for camera manufacturers, guaranteeing their compacts will measure up to the competition without looking overdressed -- at least during 2006.
Canon leads this market, producing many of the top-scoring compacts. The Digital IXUS 800 IS sits at the top of the range, combining an image-stabilised 4x optical zoom lens with a solid and stylish body. If you want a camera that'll enable you to grow as a photographer, consider the Canon PowerShot A700. It's slightly chunkier, but offers full manual controls, enabling you to fine-tune your photographs by selecting the shutter speed and aperture. We also like this camera for travelling, because it runs off standard AA batteries that can easily be replaced.
If pocket space is at a premium, consider the superslim Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T9 (or its successor, the 7-megapixel Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T30). The combination of the sleek black or stainless steel body with a generous 64mm (2.5-inch) LCD means you'll be keen to get it out, show it off and take lots of photographs. Finally, if you're looking for a camera that will work well in low light, the Fujifilm FinePix F30 offers ISO settings of 1,600 and 3,200. These let you shoot indoor portraits without resorting to flash.
If you can't quite find the budget for one of these cameras, see whether there's a 5.0-megapixel version available instead. For snapshots, a 6-megapixel sensor provides very few advantages over last year's black, the 5-megapixel sensor. For example, if you print at 300dpi (dots per inch), the resolution required to produce a 'photo-quality' print, a 6.0-megapixel image gives a 238 by 179mm print. A 5.0-megapixel image gives a 219 by 165mm print, so you're losing just 19mm on the long side and 14mm on the short side.