From waterproof to 3D, there are a lot of innovative and improved defining features integrated onto a plethora of digital cameras that have been released this year. The holiday season is stressful enough while trying to sort through countless catalogs, e-mails about store sales and people being annoyingly coy about what they really want.
To help reduce the shopping stress just a little bit, here's our guide to the best point-and-shoot cameras available this winter, broken down into five categories.
Ranging from budget-friendly to splurge-worthy items, any one of these five pocket-sized digital cameras should make a fine present (or extra special stocking stuffer) this holiday season.
1. BUDGET-FRIENDLY: NIKON COOLPIX S3000
If you're looking for a cheap point-and-shoot that takes decent quality photos (or at least something better than the average smartphone), then Nikon's Coolpix S3000 shouldn't be ignored. There are some faults, like poor quality in low-light and indoor situations. But it is an ultra-compact, lightweight pocket camera that is simple and easy to operate. Photographers of any skill level (or none at all) should be able to pick this one up without a hitch.
It's also available in five hues (green, black, blue, purple and silver), so there is something for every personality type with this model.
2. 3D: SONY CYBER-SHOT DSC-WX5
3D has proven to be one of the largest (if not the premier) trend of 2010. That didn't fly by the digital camera market, with a number of different entries from Fujifilm's (rather expensive) FinePix Real 3D W3 to two other Sony models, the TX9 and T99. But the Cyber-shot DSC-WX5 made the cut for this list because it was the most balanced and best value of the three with a 12.2-megapixel Exmor R CMOS Sensor, 2.8-inch LCD screen, 5x optical zoom Sony G lens and full 1080i HD video recording mode.
3D enters the picture (pardon the pun) with the unique 3D Sweep Panorama mode that captures photos with right–eye and left–eye images to form the 16:9 frame. With an MSRP of $299, this one ships in either black or silver for the moment.
3. RUGGED: PENTAX OPTIO W90
Waterproof cameras have certainly improved over the course of the last 12 months, bringing a lot of other rough and tough stats with them. Pentax's Optio W90 certainly looks ready for adventure based on that rubber and brushed aluminum exterior alone. But the 12.1-megapixel shooter is waterproof for depths as low as 20 feet, shockproof for drops from up to 4 feet, dustproof, and ready to work in any temperature found within the 14-104°F range.
But this pocket-sized camera also has a number of other useful specs, including 5x optical zoom, a 2.7-inch LCD, 720p HD video recording ability and HDMI connectivity.
The Optio W90 is available in green and black, and it was recently outfitted in orange too.
4. STYLE: KODAK EASYSHARE M590
Performance on a camera is undoubtedly important and vital to its success, but with point-and-shoots, style matters too. If it weren't for the Kodak's release of the EasyShare M590 in September, the ultra-sleek Slice, also from Kodak, might have made the cut on this one. But the M590 is a better deal, and a brushed aluminum finish almost always exudes a modern vibe with a touch of elegance.
The M590 also has a design element to boast about: it is the "world's thinnest" camera with 5x optical zoom. Dimensions stand at 3.8- × 2.3- × 0.6-inches. Within that petite frame, photographers can make use of the Schneider-Kreuznach Variogon lens with 5x optical zoom, 2.7-inch bright LCD screen, 720p HD video recording and a dedicated red "Share" button to upload photos to multiple online sources (i.e. Facebook, YouTube, etc.) all at once.
Style is relatively affordable with this Kodak camera with the MSRP set at $199.95. Buyers have four lovely shades to choose from: silver, red, purple and blue.
5. ALL AROUND WINNER: PANASONIC LUMIX FX700
If you want to give a pocket camera a gift this winter, and you want the best all around point-and-shoot there is (at the moment), I'd recommend the Panasonic Lumix FX700. This was a difficult decision, and while it almost went to the Canon PowerShot S95, reviews for that one weren't as stellar given there weren't as many improvements as consumers hoped for from the PowerShot S90.
But back to the winner, the Lumix FX700 is powered by a Venus Engine FHD processor and sports a 14.1-megapixel high-speed MOS sensor, a 24mm ultra-wide angle Leica DC Vario-Summicron lens with 5x optical zoom, a 3.0-inch TFT LCD touchscreen and support for recording full HD 1080p resolution video in AVCHD. That video can also be transferred to an HDTV thanks to the mini-HDMI port on the camera.
There is some room for manual control, but remember that this is a point-and-shoot camera, so there are a number of automatic and "Intelligent" controls to help improve scenes, exposure and ISO control.
The MSRP is steep for a compact camera: $399. Double check the price link below (i.e. it's available for $339 at Amazon right now). Also be sure to hunt for some Black Friday and holiday sales on this one, which is available in a quartet of classy shades: black, gray, champagne gold and silver.