Best Cameras for Different Needs

From pocket cameras to pricey DSLRs, find the model that's picture-perfect for you.

Which Camera Is Your Perfect Fit?

"One size fits all" doesn’t apply to cameras, but the ideal device for your photography needs is out there. In this slideshow we look at 14 models that rate as top choices for specific criteria, from price to portability to child-friendliness.

Best Pocket Megazoom

If you want an excellent blend of zoom range, shooting modes, and image/video quality, the 20X-­ optical-zoom (25mm to 500mm) Canon PowerShot SX260 HS delivers on all fronts—and fits in your pocket. At $350, the SX260 HS offers a 10-frames-per-second burst mode, manual controls, and options for low-light shots. It has some weak spots, however: no RAW mode, middling battery life, and a maximum aperture of F3.5.

Best Premium Pocket Camera

Camera makers have struggled for a long time to create the ultimate pocket camera, but Sony may have succeeded with the Cyber-shot DSC-RX100. This high-end point-and-shoot camera comes with specs to match: a much bigger sensor than most cameras in its class, a fast F1.8 lens, manual controls for stills and video, and versatile shooting modes. At $650, its price tag is comparable to those of entry-level DSLRs.

Best Sub-$300 Premium Pocket Camera

The premium point-and-shoot class offers affordable alternatives to the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100. The $280 Nikon Coolpix P310 has a bright F1.8 lens, full manual controls, an array of low-light shooting modes, a 16-megapixel sensor, and a very compact body. It lacks the RX100's sensor size and video options, but it offers impressive specs for the money.

Best Continuous-Shooting Mode

A speedy continuous-shooting mode is handy for taking photos of fast-moving subjects­—athletes, babies, pets, street scenes—­because it gives you multiple chances to nab the perfect shot. The speedy Sony Alpha SLT-A77 ($1400, body only) shoots at a clip of 12 frames per second at the camera's full resolution of 24.3 megapixels. The SLT-A77's "translucent mirror" technology drives a phase-detection autofocus system that keeps moving objects in focus, but also leaves the camera without a traditional DSLR-style optical viewfinder.

Best Rugged Camera

Most rugged cameras concentrate solely on be­­ing able to take a clobbering. Typically, their unimpressive core specs roughly match those of basic point-and-shoots. But not this one. The flagship camera in Olympus's Tough lineup, the Olympus Tough TG-1 iHS ($400) sports an F2.0 lens, a 10-frames-per-second burst mode at full resolution (and a 60-fps burst mode at 3 megapixels), 1080p video capture, and low-light shooting modes. The camera is no slouch on durability, either, thanks to a waterproof rating of 40 feet and a crushproof rating of 220 pounds.

Best Model for a Young Child

Little kids love taking pictures. They also love dropping things and smearing melted chocolate everywhere, so you may not trust them with your DSLR or smartphone. The Nikon Coolpix S30 ($120) is built with children in mind, but it's more like a normal camera than what you'd get from Fisher-Price. It is waterproof and drop-proof, has an array of shooting modes and creative filters, and captures 720p video. But after they use it, make sure your kids understand that not all cameras are waterproof.

Best Disguised Rugged Features

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20 ($330) looks and feels like an everyday ultracompact point-and-shoot camera; but its 0.7-inch-deep, stylish frame is waterproof to 16 feet underwater, freezeproof, shockproof against drops of as much as 5 feet, and dustproof. The 16-megapixel, touchscreen-operated TX20 has a 4X-optical-zoom lens and a range of in-camera features for handling low-light shooting.

Best GPS Features

Many cameras include built-in GPS and geotagging capabilities these days, but most of them adopt a bare-bones implementation. The 10X-optical-zoom Casio Exilim EX-H20G ($300) offers the best in-camera GPS features available, including mapping and a points-of-interest database with real-world location names (not just longitude/latitude coordinates), as well as superb battery life (600 shots per charge) that makes the various extra features all the more usable. It's not a bad camera, either, delivering very good image quality and fun in-camera features.

Best Instruments

You can easily find a new camera with GPS features, but you'll have to look to the ruggedized Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS4 ($400) if you want a camera with a built-in barometer, altimeter, depth indicator (for underwater shots), and electronic compass. The TS4 is sturdy, too, with a waterproof rating of 40 feet and a drop-proof rating of 6.6 feet to complement its stabilized 4.6X-optical-zoom lens (28mm to 128mm) and 12-megapixel sensor.

Best Camera for $200

The 14X-optical-zoom Canon PowerShot SX230 HS is available these days for around $200. That's an excellent price for a versatile camera that features manual exposure controls, built-in GPS, 1080p video recording, fast-capture modes for stills (8 frames per second) and video (240 fps), and very good image quality, according to PCWorld Labs tests.

Best Camera for $400

Panasonic has just announced the successor to the Lumix DMC-LX5 (the F1.8-aperture Lumix DMC-LX7), which means that you can probably find the older LX5 for less than $400. If you like being able to fine-tune your photos and video while you shoot them, you'll find that the LX5 has few peers at its size or price, with manual exposure controls for both stills and video. Its lens's maximum aperture of F2.0 is great for low-light shots, and it comes with Panasonic's lightning-fast autofocus system.

Best Camera for $600

We've seen this excellent DSLR on Amazon at prices of $600 for the body only and $650 as a kit with a standard 18-55mm lens. Along with a tilt-and-swivel 3-inch LCD viewfinder, the Nikon D5100 offers a 16-megapixel APS-C sensor, 1080p video capture at 30 frames per second and 24 fps, excellent image and video quality, and some of the most outstanding low-light performance we've seen from a camera of its ilk.

Best Camera for $800

If you can't afford Sony’s fast-shooting Alpha SLT-A77, consider opting for its Alpha SLT-A57 instead. The Alpha A57 features similarly blazing speed and quick autofocus action for less than half the price when purchased as a kit (just $800). This lower-cost sibling shares the A77's translucent-mirror technology; however, its lower-resolution sensor (16 megapixels, versus the A77's 24.3 megapixels) knocks the camera's image resolution down to 8 megapixels while capturing 12 photos per second at its highest-speed burst mode. For video capture, it's a standout camera, with the ability to shoot 1080p video at a brisk 60 frames per second.

Best Camera for $1000

At $1000 for the body only, the Canon EOS 60D isn't cheap, but it carries the same 18-megapixel APS-C sensor as its higher-end sibling, the EOS 7D (which costs $700 more), and its fine performance reflects the presence of that component. When we ran the 60D through its paces in the PCWorld Labs, it earned scores of Superior or Very Good in every imaging category. In addition, it shoots excellent 1080p video, making it a great pick for photographers and videographers alike.