A point-and-shoot camera, also called a compact camera, is a still camera designed primarily for simple operation. Most of them use autofocus or focus free lenses for focusing and automatic systems for exposure as well.
Point-and-shoots are by far the best selling type of camera. They are popular with people who don’t consider themselves photographers but want an easy to use camera for vacations, parties, reunions and other events.
Most point-and-shoots have flash units built in. Although flash can be hard to use, it’s the only convenient way to take pictures in most indoor settings. Many cameras have the flash set on top of a long arm, often doubling as a lens cover, to reduce red-eye effect.
Point-and-shoot cameras are distinguished from single-lens reflex cameras (SLRs) in several respects: The image that the photographer sees through the viewfinder of a point-and-shoot camera is not the same image that passes through the primary lens of the camera (that is, the lens that projects the image onto the film or, in the case of digital cameras, the image sensor). Rather, the image seen in the viewfinder of a point-and-shoot camera passes through a separate lens. SLRs, on the other hand, have only one lens, and a mirror diverts the image from the lens into the viewfinder; that mirror then retracts when the picture is taken so that the image can be recorded on the film or sensor. It is because of this method of diverting the image into the viewfinder that pictures cannot be previewed on the LCD screens of most digital SLRs, although some manufacturers have found a way around this limitation. With SLR cameras, it is important that the image in the viewfinder be the same image recorded by the film or sensor, so that the effect of the add-on lenses and filters can be seen by the photographer (filters are devices that cover the lens and create optical effects). Point-and-shoot cameras generally don't have lenses that can be changed, and they typically do not accept filters.
The term "point-and-shoot" is also used for some camcorders, particularly inexpensive digital models based on MiniDV or DVD media, to describe fully automatic operation (autofocus, automatic gain control and white balance, etc) with minimal operator interaction except for zoom control and recording buttons.
The lowest-end point-and-shoots are similar to disposable cameras, but can be reloaded. These cameras have focus-free lenses, with fixed apertures. They may have a light meter. Most have a wheel or lever for advancing the film and cocking the shutter, and a crank for returning the film to the canister for unloading. Because of the fixed apertures, models with flash have no way of controlling the exposure from the flash. Therefore flash pictures have to be taken with the subject within a narrow range of distance from the camera.
Higher-end models use automatic focus and have variable apertures. They all have light meters. They use electric motors to advance and rewind the film. They are much more versatile than the low-end models.
High-end models are likely to have zoom lenses, better focus and exposure systems, larger apertures and sharper lenses. They may have a special lamps or pre-flash systems designed to reduce red eye in flash pictures of people.
Not including digital backs, the first digital cameras were of this type, with DSLRs coming later. The sensor used in these types of cameras tends to be smaller than their SLR counterparts. The non-interchangeable lenses used in point-and-shoots allow the coverage of the lens to be matched to the size of the sensor, an advantage given the non-standardization of digital sensor sizes.