Back to school season is upon us once again. Still looking for a camera to help capture all of the memories that the year ahead holds? Let us help you pick one that will keep up with your fast-paced academic year.
First, let’s review some of the terminology. If it’s been a few years since your last digital camera purchase, you might be noticing some new terms as you take a look at the current offerings. In the past few years, interchangeable lens cameras have taken center stage. New, smaller Micro Four Thirds or Compact System Cameras (CSC) offer high-quality optics and (in most cases) large sensors without all of the bulk of a DSLR – that’s an interchangeable lens camera with a mirror box and optical viewfinder, something the CSC trades out to keep a compact footprint. The traditional DSLR still has its place of course. They’re faster than ever, with great video capture features right down the line from pro to entry-level.
If it’s a fixed-lens camera you’re after, point-and-shoots and ultrazooms are loaded with more features than ever. Wireless file uploading, GPS tracking, 1080p HD video and high-resolution touch screens are easy to find. And the even better news? Image sensors are becoming better at gathering light with the influx of Backside Illuminated CMOS chips entering the market. Couple that with a trend favoring faster lenses (bigger maximum apertures, identified by a low f/stop number like f/2.8 or f/1.4) and you won’t have much trouble scoring a highly capable fixed-lens camera.
We’ve broken down our list into fixed and interchangeable lens cameras, highlighting the best options at a variety of price points in each category.
The Nikon Coolpix is an ultrazoom heavyweight with a 42x optical zoom lens. It also features a built-in electronic viewfinder (handy for composing shots at the long end of that zoom range) and an articulated 3.0-inch, hi-res LCD.
The Optio WG-2 is a rugged camera that’s waterproof to 40 feet, shockproof to a 5 foot fall, and crushproof to 220 pounds and freezeproof down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit. With a 5x optical zoom, it’s a durable everyday camera ready for just about anything.
The Panasonic ZS20 is ready for travel with a 20x optical zoom lens, HD video and burst shooting at up to 5 fps. It’s not the cheapest option in the compact ultrazoom category, but it’s the latest in a line of top-notch travel zoom cameras from Panasonic.
Sony’s Cyber-shot HX200V is another feature-packed ultrazoom with a 30x optical zoom lens, in-camera GPS tracking and an 18.2 megapixel CMOS sensor. It offers a fixed 920k-dot 3.0-inch LCD and a built-in electronic viewfinder.
With a 3.0-inch articulating display and a 12 megapixel sensor, the E-PL3 Micro Four Thirds camera is a great affordable option. It shoots 1080 HD video and offers compatibility with a full range of MFT lenses from Olympus and Panasonic.
The Rebel T3 is a great first DSLR. It’s priced very affordably now, especially with the announcement of the forthcoming Rebel T4i. The T3 features a 12.2 megapixel CMOS sensor, 2.7-inch LCD and a nine-point AF system.
Nikon’s D7000 isn’t as small or as affordable as the mirrorless options in this category, but for the serious budding photographer it’s second to none. It produced great looking images even at high ISO settings and offers a 16.2 megapixel DX-format sensor.
Sony’s latest entry-level mirrorless camera boasts a 16.1 megapixel APS-C sensor and a 3.0-inch LCD that’s capable of flipping up by 180 degrees. Like most other Sony offerings it features full 1080 HD video recording capability.