Point-and-Shoots With Great Image Quality

From pocket-sized snapshot cameras to big-zoom behemoths, here are five point-and-shoot cameras that scored extremely well in the PC World Test Center's imaging evaluations.

PC World Test Center: Where Megapixels Don't Matter

Picking the camera with the most megapixels means you'll get the best image quality, right? Wrong! As you'll see in this slide show, megapixel counts are often meaningless when it comes to choosing a point-and-shoot camera that takes the best-looking photos. The cameras featured here range from a whopping 14.7 megapixels to a modest 6-megapixel resolution.

In the PC World Test Center, we test all cameras' imaging quality by running 8-by-10 prints of images taken with them through a series of jury-judged comparative tests. Our panel of judges rate each camera's color accuracy, exposure and flash quality, distortion levels, sharpness, and overall image quality as compared with the competition. To get the complete story on how we test digital cameras, watch our video.

And now, for overall image quality, here are five of the best point-and-shoot cameras that we've tested in the past year or so.

Compact Point-and-Shoot: Canon PowerShot SD990 IS

Here's one case where megapixels do mean something. The 14.7-megapixel Canon PowerShot SD990 IS netted the best image quality of any point-and-shoot we've tested in the past two years (but what all those megapixels really mean is that you'll be able to blow up or crop the camera's outstanding images without losing resolution).

The $400 SD990 IS netted a score of Superior in the PC World Test Center jury evaluations, thanks to its producing some of the best results for color accuracy, lack of distortion, and exposure quality we've ever seen from a point-and-shoot. However, our reviewer didn't like the camera's plasticky build, non-wide-angle lens, and finicky control dial.

Budget Point-and-Shoot: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS25

Our pick for excellent image quality on a tight budget, the 12-megapixel Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS25 clocks in at $250 and offers a wide-angle 5X optical-zoom Leica lens that reaches from 29mm to 145mm.

In PC World Test Center jury evaluations, the Lumix DMC-FS25 earned one of the best image-quality scores in our group of about a dozen $200-range cameras. Color accuracy, exposure quality with the flash turned on, and image sharpness were all notable strong suits, earning it an overall image quality score of Very Good.

Pocket Megazoom: Canon PowerShot SX200 IS

Armed with a big, bad 12X optical zoom lens (28mm wide-angle to 336mm telephoto), the $350 PowerShot SX200 IS backs up that zooming capability with optical image stabilization and amazing image quality.

Of the point-and-shoot cameras we've tested so far in 2009, it was among the best performers in overall image quality, earning particularly high marks for lack of distortion, for exposure quality, and for color accuracy. In flash-exposure quality, it outscored every pocketable point-and-shoot we've seen this year.

Megazoom: Olympus SP-570 UZ

The 10-megapixel, 20X optical-zoom Olympus SP-570 UZ came out in 2008, but its image quality has held up nicely in these rapidly changing technological times. We're currently testing its successor, 2009's Olympus SP-590 UZ, so stay tuned for a review of that 26X optical-zoom camera in the coming weeks. (Jump here for more on one of the SP-570's special features.)

In PC World Test Center evaluations, the SP-570 UZ--which costs about $450--earned an imaging score of Very Good, with notably high marks in sharpness, color accuracy, and color correction. However, it had more noise visible at high ISO levels than comparable competing cameras.

High-Speed Shooting: Casio Exilim Pro EX-F1

Despite its modest 6-megapixel resolution, the $1000 Casio Exilim Pro EX-F1, also released in 2008, had some of the best image quality we've seen from a megazoom camera. What's more, the EX-F1 has a high-speed burst shooting mode that captures up to 60 images per second at full resolution. Although it's pricey, it's still a great camera for sports and fast-action shots. Casio added similar high-speed shooting modes to two of its pocket-size cameras this year, the Exilim EX-FC100 and the Exilim EX-FS10.

In our PC World Test Center jury evaluations, the EX-F1 outclassed many megazooms carrying higher megapixel counts with an overall imaging score of Very Good. Its strong suits were its high-ISO performance, color correction, lack of distortion, and overall image quality.

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