Top 10 compact digital cameras of 2010

Top 10 compact digital cameras of 2010

Summary: With spring models finally rolling out and no big trade shows on the horizon until the fall, now is a good time to take stock of what your digital camera dollar will buy. Check out our list of the Top 10 compact digital cameras on the market today.

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TOPICS: Hardware, Mobility
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With the pace and volume of new compact digital camera announcements increasing exponentially, it's hard to get a handle on what to buy at any given point in time. The newest point-and-shooters on store shelves haven't been reviewed by all the experts, but highly rated older models are tough to find as manufacturers try to move consumers along the upgrade path. As we approach the middle of 2010, though, we have a moment to catch our breath. Spring models announced earlier in the year are finally rolling out and with no big trade shows on the horizon until the fall, it's a good time to take stock of what your digital camera dollar will buy today.

To help you make some sense out of the madness, here's my list of the top 10 digital cameras currently on the market, in roughly descending price order. Suggested list prices range from $400 for the first three cameras (on this page) to $110 for the least expensive (on page 4), though you'll likely find lower street prices for many of these cameras. [Check back soon for my list of the top 10 digital SLR cameras.]


Image Gallery: Check out photos of the Top 10 compact digital cameras of 2010. Samsung DualView TL225

1. Canon PowerShot S90 Something of a cross between the Canon PowerShot G series of enthusiast compact cameras and Canon's ever-popular Digital Elph line of sleeker, more pocketable point-and-shoot cameras, the PowerShot S90 has been a tremendous success since Canon introduced it last year. By combining a larger sensor (comparable to those of the Canon G11 or competing Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3) with a bright, wide lens (28-105mm equivalent, f/2.0-4.9), the S90 delivers great image quality and flexibility, along with higher-end features such as manual controls and raw image support. Packaged in a slim, Elph-like body measuring 3.94x2.30x1.22 inches and weighing in at just over 6 ounces, the S90 is much sleeker and more compact than other cameras with such a robust feature set. The icing on the cake is the very useful Control Ring around the base of the lens that provides quick and intuitive access to a plethora of manual settings.

[See a photo gallery of the S90 and a gallery of sample photos shot with the S90.]

[Read the review] [Check prices]

2. Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 As an avid traveler, I'm a big fan of the compact megazoom. Panasonic pioneered the category back in 2006 with the launch of the Lumix DMC-TZ1, but it was the DMC-ZS3 that won me over to the category completely, with its extra-wide 12x zoom lens (25-300mm equivalent) and gorgeous 460,000-dot, 3-inch LCD.  Panasonic was smart enough not to mess with a good thing when it introduced the successor to the ZS3, the Lumix DMC-ZS7, earlier this year.  Although the ZS7 does bump resolution up from 10.1 megapixels to 12.1 megapixels (which in my opinion is unnecessary and possibly undesireable) it retains the ZS3's extra-wide 12x zoom lens and bright, sharp LCD. In fact, the only major differences are improved autofocus speed and image stabilization, and the addition of full manual controls and a built-in GPS receiver. The GPS feature lets you quickly and easily geotag photos and identifies over 500,000 landmarks (with area information for 173 countries or regions).

[See a gallery of sample photos shot with the ZS7.]

[Read the review] [Check prices]

3. Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS2 Like the ZS7, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS2 is a follow-up to an excellent camera from last year, in this case the Lumix DMC-TS1, Panasonic's well-received entry into the waterproof point-and-shoot market. Again, Panasonic has updated the camera without messing with success. The TS2 is now waterproof to a depth of 33 feet (up from 10 feet), shockproof against a drop of up to 6.6 feet (up from 5 feet), and adds freezeproofing down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit (both cameras are also dustproof). The TS2 also benefits from the same improved autofocus technology as the ZS7, which makes for noticeably quicker performance. Though the TS2 dubiously bumps resolution up to 14.1 megapixels, it retains most of the other admirable specs, such as the wide 28mm to 128mm equivalent lens and the ability to record AVCHD Lite HD video.

[Read the review] [Check prices]

Go to numbers 4 through 6: Top cameras for $300 »

4. Samsung DualView TL225 When I first saw this camera last year, I thought its inclusion of front-side 1.5-inch LCD (in addition to the big wide-aspect touchscreen on the back) was gimmicky but clever, and most importantly, well-implemented.  I still don't see it as a must-have option, but the Samsung DualView TL225 deserves to be on this list with or without the additional screen. Take the aforementioned wide touchscreen, for instance. Not only is it nice and big at 3.5-inches, but with a 1,152,000-dot resolution, it's truly a pleasure to look at. Additionally, the camera takes full advantage of the touchscreen, allowing you to access an intuitive menu system through point-and-swipe gestures as well as tilting motions powered by an internal accelerometer to make menu selections. Another nice touch (no pun intended) is that you can set the camera to provide haptic vibration feedback when the touchscreen registers your choices.

[See a photo gallery of the TL225 and a gallery of sample photos shot with the TL225.]

[Read the review] [Check prices]

5. Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX1 Sony has already come out with a follow-up to the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX1, but while the DSC-TX7 is a fine update (I especially like the TX7's wider lens), at its current price of $400 there are frankly better options for the money. The TX1, on the other hand, has benefited from an $80 price drop. While it's still no bargain, this popular ultracompact shooter is a better value than most.  I'm usually not a big fan of the super-slim ultracompact cameras, because they typically sacrifice image quality for size and sex appeal. But the TX1 delivers surprisingly decent shots, even in low light (thanks to its use of Sony's superior backside-illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensor). Plus, features like its nearly effort-free Sweep Panorama mode and intuitive touch-screen menu system are so well implemented that it's hard not to love this camera.

[See a photo gallery of the TX1 and a gallery of sample photos shot with the TX1.]

[Read the review] [Check prices]

6. Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR3 2009 was a good year for Panasonic--the Lumix DMC-ZR3 is yet another update to a strong contender from last year. Unlike the ZS7 and TS2 above, however, the ZR3 is merely an incremental update to last year's innovative DMC-ZR1. In fact, I might even opt for the ZR1 over the ZR3 if you can find it at a good discount, but since the price difference between the two cameras is slight (and the ZR1 is getting harder to find), I decided to include the ZR3 here. Like its predecessor, the ZR3 packs an impressive 25-200mm equivalent, f/3.3-5.9 8x zoom lens into a tiny package that's barely an inch thick by using a specially designed 0.3mm thin aspherical lens. And while the bump from 12 megapixels up to 14 megapixels is nothing to write home about, I do like the new video features, including the ability to record HD video in AVCHD Lite format as well as Motion JPEG HD-quality video, and the inclusion of a dedicated video record button and a mini-HDMI port.

[Read the review] [Check prices]

Go to numbers 7 and 8: Top cameras for $280 to $250 »

7. Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1 Like the DSC-TX1, a nice price drop has helped make the Cyber-shot DSC-WX1 a competitive offering in a lower price range. When it first came out last fall, the WX1 was lauded for delivering relatively good low-light performance in a very compact package by using the same backside-illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensor as its ultracompact sibling, the TX1. Though it's not as sleek in design as the higher-priced TX1 -- and includes a 2.7-inch standard LCD as opposed to the TX1's 3-inch touchscreen -- the WX1 features a brighter, wider, and longer lens (24-120mm equivalent, f/2.4-5.9) as well as the easy-to-use Sweep Panorama mode and 720p HD video recording.

[See a photo gallery of the WX1 and a gallery of sample photos shot with the WX1.]

[Read the review] [Check prices]

8. Canon PowerShot SD940 IS While I don't love the newer generations of Digital Elphs as much as my longtime favorite, the dearly departed PowerShot SD880 IS and its predecessor the SD870 IS, the price on the PowerShot SD940 IS is right and Canon has managed to cram a ton of great features into a tiny package. Like my old standby, the SD940 uses a wide-angle 28-12mm equivalent (f/2.8-5.9) 4x zoom lens, but has managed to drop the size of the camera down to just 3.5x2.2x0.8 inches and a touch over 4 ounces. Both still image and HD video quality is admirable and there's even a mini-HDMI output.

[See a photo gallery of the SD940 IS and a gallery of sample photos shot with the SD940 IS.]

[Read the review] [Check prices]

Go to numbers 9 and 10: Top cameras for under $130 »

9. Nikon Coolpix L22 The entry-level Nikon Coolpix L22 is a budget friendly 12-megapixel shooter with a 37-134mm equivalent 3.6x optical zoom lens.  Despite its $130 price tag, the L22 offers up a large 3.0-inch LCD as well as three-way image stabilization and ISO 1600 capability.  There’s an Easy Auto mode with an automatic scene selector (with only six scene modes), and the camera is also powered by AA batteries, which is convenient in a pinch, though I'd recommend investing in a set of NiMH or Lithium rechargeables after the included alkalines run out.

[Read the review] [Check prices]

10. Canon PowerShot A490 Just because your budget is tight doesn't mean you can't get a camera that will take excellent photos. The Canon PowerShot A490 lists for just $110 (and you can find street prices of under $100), achieving the low price by limiting some features -- for example, it uses only a 5-point autofocus system, includes fewer scene modes (13) than its higher-end brethren, and its 2.5-inch 115,000-dot LCD is smaller and lower-resolution than most of today's current cameras (including the Nikon L22's 3.0-inch, 230,000-dot screen). And like the L22, it uses AA batteries. But, as you can see from the gallery of sample photos linked below, the A490 doesn't scrimp on image quality.  In fact, the A490 probably delivers the best image quality you'll find in a comparably priced camera, so if you're not as concerned with bells and whistles (and fancy colors since the A490 only comes in silver), this is one of the best values you're going to find.

[See a gallery of sample photos shot with the A490.]

[Read the review] [Check prices]

Return to numbers 1 through 3: Top cameras for $400 »

Topics: Hardware, Mobility

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15 comments
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  • RE: Top 10 compact digital cameras of 2010

    After reading your post I have made up my mind to buy a Canon Powershot S90 for myself. The star quality of this camera is the useful Control Ring that makes it unique in its category.<a href="http://www.articlesbase.com/business-articles/free-business-cards-online-where-to-get-free-business-cards-2337616.html">Free Business Cards</a>
    elijahbel
  • I wouldn't buy ANY of these...

    Call me a fuddy-duddy, but I don't care for camera's without an ocular view-port. I don't like my camera's with only an LCD screen...
    TechrepLath
    • RE: Top 10 compact digital cameras of 2010

      @Tim Lathouwers
      You and me both. I used to miss a lot of pictures in bright sunlight because I couldn't see them on my LCD. Now, I hardly ever use the LCD on my Canon A640.
      mlsmith3@...
    • RE: Top 10 compact digital cameras of 2010

      @Tim Lathouwers While I do like a viewfinder, an optical viewfinder is pretty much out of the question on these modern P&S cameras. Take my Panasonic TZ5, now a few years old... that's delivering a 10x zoom. You never had 10x zooms back in the rangefinder days.. they make sense on SLRs and camcorders -- gotta see through the lens.

      And while the viewfinder's a fair must-have for me on a "serious" camera or camcorder, I have this TZ5 in my pocket, for those times a camcorder or full SLR rig is not practical. Compromise is an inherent property of this sort of camera.. even if it's your only one, you're looking to maximize the functionality of that one camera while minimizing cost and size. You have to go larger just to find room for an electronic viewfinder.

      As well, I think the days of "viewfinder-only" cameras are long gone. Back in the 70s and 80s, you expected only viewfinder, maybe with an optional "sportsfinder" available on a high-end Canon or Nikon. Having added camcorders to my vast array of cameras back in the early 90s, I learned the value of the external screen, too. Some folks, growing up on this, never even miss the viewfinder. I do wish they'd consider the option of transflective LCDs or some other tech for daylight visibility (with a camcorder, it's pretty easy to add a hood if you need it, but not too practical on a tiny P&S).

      Lag time has been improving steadily on these. I used to shoot film with an EOS RT... one of the fastest cameras ever, with a shutter lag of 0.008sec. My first serious digital was a Canon Pro90IS.... you really had to learn the rhythm of it, because the shutter lag was nuts. Typical SLRs run around 0.100sec-0.140sec... so 0.200 in a P&S is not horrible.
      Hazydave
    • Absolutely agree

      @Tim Lathouwers
      I vowed to not buy a digital camera without a viewfinder--and then my wife won one! A $150 Olympus at the time, and it does take surprising good snapshots, but I cannot comfortably frame and focus holding a 2.5" LCD out in front of me. I really like low light, creative shots, but I feel the need to brace the camera against my face, and my arm/body against something steady--the LCD doesn't do it for me. I realize that most modern cameras with viewfinders have digital, not optical, finders but it is still better for me to focus when I can effectively block from view everything but what I see in the finder. YMMV.
      frabjous
  • RE: Top 10 compact digital cameras of 2010

    @elijahbel

    SPAM much??
    ColdFusion_z
  • RE: Top 10 compact digital cameras of 2010

    Ditto TL:
    Viewfinder is ESSENTIAL - without it it's just a toy.

    Also, eliminate lag time - .2 seconds is still too long.
    I don't need face or smile recognition or GPS.
    I do need manual control, faster lenses,
    A VIEWFINDER- preferably with a small CRT.
    Also a tripod mount and flash socket for
    an external strobe. A decent image stabilization
    system is nice to have.
    Get those right without having to spend a grand on
    a decent DSLR and you'll get my attention.
    Regats
  • RE: Top 10 compact digital cameras of 2010

    All cameras need a decent viewfinder. An LCD image is not a good choice for a camera that costs over $50. I'm very disappointed that point and shoot cameras are so flaky about this. I'm looking forward to the SLR reviews.
    ITOdeed
  • Compact Digital with an optical viewfinder

    The Canon PowerShot A1100IS 12.1 MP Digital Camera with 4x Optical Image Stabilized Zoom and 2.5-inch LCD (Silver) offers the best of both worlds in my opinion. It has both an LCD screen for close-up work and an optical viewfinder. Rechargeable AA batteries (not included) give good life and fast recycle times. Street price can be as low as $130, so you don't need to pay an arm and a leg and have a bulky SLR to take great digital photos.
    lewisedge
    • RE: Top 10 compact digital cameras of 2010

      @lewisedge Where did you buy the A1100IS from. My current vendor choices says it discontinued and cannon's website doesn't offer it direct anymore.
      tovy.thomas@...
  • RE: Top 10 compact digital cameras of 2010

    BUMMER!! No viewfinders. I wouldn't buy 1 either. It's difficult to see LCD screens at my age. Plus you lose a little joy from actual having to take a photo.
    isuzu803
  • RE: Top 10 compact digital cameras of 2010

    Janice Chen has lost any credibility with this report. Her opinions are contrary to almost every serious reviewer of digital cameras. From personal experience, her high rating of the Sony DSC-TX1 shows she doesn't have a clue. I have owned 8 Sony digital cameras over the years, and this model was so horrific that it is the first camera I have ever returned. The video wasn't bad, but the picture quality was reminiscent of an old Kodak Brownie. It's almost impossible to get decent quality out of a camera that uses a fixed lens with mirrors. EVERY review I've read of the Samsungs praised the ingenuity of the "dual view" and unanimously panned the picture taking quaility of the camera. Perhaps Janice needs to see an eye doctor.
    Gary1225
    • RE: Top 10 compact digital cameras of 2010

      @Gary1225 This report is not incredible. This report is just not for you or enthusiasts like you. This report is for the clueless. There are a lot of people out there who like to take photo but don't take it seriously. These are the kind of people who don't care about the horrible image quality of Samsung TL225/ST550 or Sony DSC-TX1. They just want cheap, fun, light-weight cameras.
      visoot
  • RE: Top 10 compact digital cameras of 2010

    I am no camera bug, just like to take pictures -- like in Nevada and other sunny places. Tried using only LCD and two things happen, either sun washes LCD or angle yourself and get reflections. Also head rest gives better stabilization than stabilization. LCD is great (essential) but big LCD is dumb because can't edit photo without the high resolution of computer screen.
    GOD@...
  • sachin dixit

    Hi,<br>This is really a great thing about the cameras and i think cameras are the biggest requirement now a days. Here i have seen so many cameras and truly speaking that all those were really awesome. <br>Anyways keep it up and keep continue with your valuable thoughts.
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    sachinsero