Okay, let's get real. A lot of us are just not going to be ready, willing or able to plunk down $500 on a digital camera this holiday season, no matter how much we adore our gift recipients. So for the rest of us, here's a list of my favorite digital cameras for under $200.
Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS I've always been a big fan of Canon's Digital Elph point-and-shoots and though this isn't my favorite of the Canon models, it's hard to beat the SD1100 IS's image quality at this price. It's an 8.3-megapixel model and serves up a 3x optical zoom lens (38-114mm equivalent f/2.8-4.9), optical image stabilization (as with all the Canons that include IS in their names), face detection, an optical viewfinder, and a 2.5-inch LCD.
The SD 1100 IS can detect up to nine faces in a scene and use them to set exposure and focus. It uses face detection to remove red-eye automatically as you’re shooting and to calculate white balance for better skin tones. It can even let you choose a specific face in a scene to track as it moves around the scene you’re shooting. Canon’s Motion Detection Technology also uses face detection to determine if your subject is moving and adjusts settings to prevent motion blur.
Top that with relatively fast performance and minimal shutter lag (not to mention five metallic colors to choose from) and you've got a super deal that anyone would be pleased to find under the tree. [Read the review] [Check prices]Sony Cyber-shot W120 Beauty is in the eye of whoever is buying, but while I like the Canon Elph looks enough, the Sony Cyber-shot W120 wins my vote for most stylish of the sub $200 point-and-shoots. Like the Canon, it comes in a variety of metallic colors (black, silver, blue, and pink here), and is nice and compact, weighing in at just 5.4 ounces.
And it's not just a pretty face: the W120 offers up good picture quality, quick performance and a well-rounded feature set. At 7.2-megapixels, it has the lowest resolution of the cameras I've picked, but that's still plenty for most casual users. I like the relatively wide 32-128mm equivalent, f/2.8-5.8 lens, and its 4x optical zoom is longer than most similar cameras (including the Canon).
In addition to optical image stabilization and face detection, the Sony also includes an Adult and Child Priority face detection mode as well as its Smile Shutter mode, which automatically detects when your subject is smiling and releases the shutter. [Read the review] [Check prices]FujiFilm FinePix S1000fd For folks who want a small camera but like SLR-style bodies, manual exposure controls, and a wide focal-length range, you don't have to plunk down the cold, hard cash to get one of the new compact, interchangeable-lens micro Four-Thirds cameras. You can opt for a megazoom model like the Fujifilm FinePix S1000fd instead.
There are lots of other megazooms (including fine models from Canon and Panasonic), but you won't find many in the sub-$200 price range. The 10-megapixel S1000fd sports a 12x optical zoom lens (33-396mm equivalent,f/2.8-5.0), an electronic viewfinder (EVF) like most megazooms, a relatively large 2.7-inch LCD, and sensitivity up to ISO 3,200 (at a reduced 5-megapixel resolution).Panasonic FS5 I'm not a big zoom person myself, and actually prefer cameras with wider-angle lenses. Though its a growing trend to go wide in compact cameras, at lower price points you're hard pressed to get much wider than the Panasonic FS5's 30-120 mm equivalent, f/3.3-5.8 lens (and the 4x optical zoom is no slouch).
The 10.1-megapixel camera includes a 2.5-inch LCD, but no optical viewfinder and offers optical image stabilization, face detection, as well as Panasonic's Intelligent ISO (which keeps shutter speeds high in low light) and Intelligent Scene Selector (which analyzes your scene and automatically chooses one of the preset scene modes).Kodak Easyshare V1073 I liked the looks of this camera back when it came out at CES at the beginning of the year. It was well priced then, considering the extensive feature set, and it's an even better deal now. You're not going to get the image quality of, say, a Canon point-and-shoot, but you'll be hard pressed to find a more extensive feature set for the money.
For example, the 10-megapixel V1073 delivers the ability to shoot 720p HD video at 30 frames per second and can output stills in both 720p and 1080i HD formats (which you can view on your TV via a separately available EasyShare HDTV dock). In addition to face detection and optical image stabilization, there's also a smart capture mode which analyzes your scene conditions to automatically set exposure, focus, and ISO.
In fact, one of the things I like the best about Kodak offerings is that they make it pretty easy to take a decent photo. I even liked the style and design of this camera as well as the 3-inch LCD (the largest of the group). [Read the review] [Check prices]