Top 10 compact digital cameras of 2010

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.
Written by Janice Chen, Inactive

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.]

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2. Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7As 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.]

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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.

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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.]

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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.]

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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.

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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 photosshot with the WX1.]

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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.]

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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.

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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.]

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

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