You don't have to spend a fortune on a camera to get good pictures. There are plenty of decent, cheap snappers around, and, as long as you have a clear idea of what you need your camera for and you're prepared to make a couple of compromises here and there, you can come away with a bargain.
Picture quality can be an issue at the bottom end of the market, but, as long as you stick to big-name brands, you might be surprised at the results. The lenses and sensors may be cheaper in a budget camera than a more expensive compact, but it's unlikely you'll see much difference. There are plenty of cheap cameras with good lenses, and expensive cameras with poor ones.
Megapixels continue to be a main selling point for digital cameras, but they really don't matter much any more. The sensors in cheap cameras are usually the same size as those in more expensive models, and that's what counts. The practical difference between a 10- and 14-megapixel resolution is small.
Getting the latest technology is less important than finding a camera that suits your needs. If it's going to be used by the whole family, you want one that's chunky, straightforward and rugged. Super-slim cameras look good, and there are some inexpensive models around, but they're not particularly easy to hold, so kids and older folk might struggle.
You won't get the same kind of zoom ranges as those you get on more expensive cameras, but do look out for a camera with a wide-angle zoom. You'll find this more useful for taking pictures in narrow streets or confined spaces, for example.
Many low-cost cameras use AA batteries rather than rechargeable lithium-ion cells, and this isn't necessarily a disadvantage. Check the specs -- the better models can eke 200 shots or more out of a set of disposable AAs. The advantages of AAs are that they're easily replaced and they tend not to lose power as much when the camera's not being used. Both of those attributes are perfect for a camera that might only be used for occasions and outings.
Cameras usually come with some internal memory, as well as a memory-card slot. At one time, memory was quite expensive, and internal memory was a selling point. Now, however, high-capacity memory cards are cheap, so don't choose a camera on this basis alone. Internal memory can be handy for emergencies, but that's all.
Finally, always look out for big cost savings on models that have been out for a while. Prices always drop over a camera's lifetime -- sometimes to almost half the original asking price. This usually means the camera's about to be superseded by a new model, but the rate of technological change has slowed, and it's quite likely that the new version won't be that much more advanced than the old one.
Cheap cameras may not match the features or outright quality of premium models, but they can still produce great pictures, and there are plenty of good-quality bargains out there to prove it. Here are some of our favourite cheap snappers.