Holiday Gift Guide 2009: The best all-around pocket digital cameras

Here are my five choices for the best all-around ultracompact cameras on the market this holiday season for an avid photographer in your life.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

There are a plethora of point-and-shoot cameras out there, and it's difficult to sift through all the possibilities. Here are my five choices for the best all-around ultracompact cameras (though, not in any particular order) on the market this holiday season for the avid photographer in your life. These were based on the quality of photos and features in relation to the camera's sticker price. Plus, they fit well in any stocking.


Canon PowerShot SD940 IS Hailed by CNET as "one of the best ultracompacts available," this 12-megapixel camera packs a 2.7-inch LCD screen, 4x optical zoom and a wide-angle 28mm-equivalent lens. While there are only three shooting modes (Smart Auto, Program/Scene, and Movie), video mode does allow for recording of up to 720p HD resolution, but you can't use the optical zoom while recording. The only major qualms about this camera were some hints of purple fringing and noise in photos above ISO 800.

Available in black, silver, blue and brown, these smooth, very lightweight cameras work well in a variety of situations and be carried almost anywhere.

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Nikon CoolPix L20For its low price (on average, about $100), the Coolpix L20 packs a lot of power in a camera that's usually not seen in other models in the same price range. The Nikon camera is reputed to take far better pictures than cameras twice the price, with a 3.6x optical zoom lens and 10-megapixel resolution. It's also powered by a pair of AA-batteries, so this can either be very useful for someone on-the-go without the opportunity or time to recharge, or annoying to someone who doesn't want buy batteries. There isn't much manual control on this camera, but it does have a few nifty features including blink warning and panorama mode. Bottom line: It's user-friendly, good quality, cute and it won't break your budget.

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Fujifilm FinePix F200EXRCNET has previously reviewed this camera as "an excellent compact camera with shooting features for just about every type of user." The 12-megapixel FinePix F200EXR produces excellent photos, while the videos are pretty standard. The photographer has 15 scene modes to choose from as well as five color effects (Standard, Vivid, Soft, Black & White, Sepia). It's built with a 5x optical zoom lens, and ISO ranges from 100 to 3,200. Most notably, the ultracompact camera features Fujifilm's signature Super CCD EXR sensor, designed for improving dynamic range and low-light performance.

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Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3Panasonic tries its best to achieve both high-quality photos and HD video in one ultracompact device with the Lumix DMC-ZS3. For the most part, reviewers have said, they've almost achieved that goal. Digital Trends calls the DMC-ZS3 "a solid camera" that adds "high-quality movies to the mix." Built with a Leica wide-angle 12x zoom lens, 3-inch LCD screen and the ability to capture 720p resolution video, the 10.1-megapixel camera is a powerful pocket camera. It allows for six different color modes and over a dozen preset shooting programs, including high sensitivity, underwater and even "pet."

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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W290For once, there's a Sony camera that isn't just looks. The 12.1-megapixel Cyber-shot DSC-W290 can shoot up to ISO 3200, has a Carl Zeiss 5x optical zoom lens (Although you can't use it in video mode. Pity.) and 3-inch LCD screen. It also features an astounding number of special effects and shooting programs, including twilight portrait, gourmet, fish-eye and radial blur. (Don't worry; there's the usual ones like fireworks, beach, etc.) It can also capture 720p HD-quality video in JPEG and MPEG-4 formats.

And of course, Sony likes to rack up on style points, and it doesn't disappoint with this sleek but squarish model, available in a variety of colors: blue, black, silver and bronze.

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