The Best Compact and Ultracompact Cameras $250 Can Buy
Which digital cameras provide the best bang for your buck? That's an important question in these tight times; and to help answer it, we've rounded up some of the best compact and ultracompact cameras that $250 can buy, according to the numbers from our PC World Test Center lab evaluations and our own hands-on field testing.
Even in the bargain class, these cameras cover a lot of ground, from slick and fashionable (Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS, Pentax Optio A40, and Nikon Coolpix S210) to teen-focused and YouTube-friendly (Casio Exilim EX-Z150) to bulky best-in-show (Canon PowerShot A590 IS). If you're looking for a low-cost point-and-shoot to do all of your snapping--or for a secondary, pocketable camera to complement your big, bad digital SLR--one of these sub-$250 models should be at the top of your wish list.
Canon PowerShot A590 IS
Despite its bargain-bin price, Canon's PowerShot A590 IS has a lot of features: 8-megapixel resolution, 4X optical zoom, optical image stabilization, face detection (which recognizes faces in the frame and optimizes the autofocus accordingly), and a smallish-but-serviceable 2.5-inch LCD screen. And conveniently it runs on two AA batteries.
Rock-bottom price notwithstanding, the A590 IS scored significantly higher in our image-quality assessments than point-and-shoots that have higher megapixel counts and cost more than twice as much.
Casio Exilim EX-Z150
The slim, 8-megapixel Casio Exilim EX-Z150 aims for the sweet spot uniting slick looks and solid functionality. It also has an impressive 3-inch LCD on the back. Our chief complaint is that the camera takes its time focusing and suffers from a bit of shutter delay.
To its credit, the EX-Z150 earned a high score for overall image quality during the PC World Test Center's lab tests. Color accuracy and exposure quality were this camera's strongest suits; it earned middling marks for sharpness and distortion level. Still, this camera holds its own and looks awesome doing it--not a bad choice for people looking to look good without spending a fortune.
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Pentax Optio A40
At 2.5 inches diagonally, this camera's screen is smaller than the ones on some competing models, but we found that it worked just fine indoors and out. Getting into and around the menus is fairly simple, too, even without consulting Pentax's detailed manual.
Unlike many other digital cameras that are priced under $300, the Optio A40 delivered outstanding image quality. Photos looked sharp and did a nice job of avoiding halos and artifacts. Don't expect miracles, though: Like most digital cameras, the A40 is not completely immune to noise.
Shots occasionally came out hit-or-miss in dimly lit indoor situations and in quick street snaps, but this Pentax's output consistently beat the results from several competing point-and-shoot cameras. The Optio A40 performed especially well in bright sunlight.
Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS
Canon's new PowerShot SD1100 IS looks great and is comfortable to use. Its robust features--which include the company's fast DIGIC III processor, a maximum aperture of f2.8, and outstanding image quality--allow it to compete with cameras that cost significantly more.
The model is perfect for slipping into a pocket, and it's downright fun to use. The SD1100's buttons are positioned logically on the case, and its menu items--except for some esoteric settings--are easy to find. Video is standard, and movie-clip lengths are limited only by your memory card's size.
In our lab tests, the SD1100 scored higher on overall image quality than practically all of its competitors.
Nikon Coolpix S210
The 8-megapixel Nikon Coolpix S210 isn't short on good looks, and in our tests it was extremely easy to use, even without reading the manual. Reaching some settings, such as video and scene modes, did take a few button presses, however.
As for scene modes, the Coolpix S210 has an array of the usual suspects: portraits, landscape, party, sports, macro, and fireworks. The most noteworthy addition is a handy panorama assist mode. Nikon's Electronic VR Image Stabilization compensates somewhat for this camera's susceptibility to shake and blur; but the setting produced rather poor results. Because the camera doesn't offer optical image stabilization, the results looked as though the camera had simply applied a sharpening filter to the images and ham-handedly oversharpened them.
Still, with its cool time-lapse features, slim frame, and commendable ease of use, the Coolpix S210 could be just the ticket for someone seeking an entry-level, all-purpose camera.
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