Digital Camera Buyer’s Guide: Back to School 2009

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The end of summer is in view, and now is the time to stock up on much-needed supplies for the upcoming school year. But it’s also a great time to cash in on some great prices for this summer’s hottest electronics. Our Back to School Buyer’s Guide gives you the scoop on our most highly rated models of the season. From fall sports to school plays to college life, you’ll be ready to capture it all with one of these solid digicam choices.

Back to school

Not finding the camera you’re looking for on this list? Our “What Camera Should I Buy?” forum is the place to ask questions and consider the pros and cons of the latest models.

Under $200 | $200-$300 | $300-$500 | Over $500

arrow Under $200

Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS

Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS


Sleek, stylish, and easy on the wallet, the SD1200 is the latest update to Canon’s perpetually popular entry-level ELPH models. Basic specs like a 3x optical zoom and 2.5 inch LCD won’t win any innovation awards, but as a pocket camera for capturing shots of friends and family, the SD1200 delivers Canon SD quality and style affordably.

Nikon Coolpix S230

Nikon Coolpix S230


If you can’t stand the thought of a touch screen camera, the S230 probably isn’t for you. If you’re looking for the latest in trendy interfaces, though, the S230 might just be our favorite touch screen model to date, with a logical, lucid interface and pleasing picture quality.
Pentax Optio P70

Pentax Optio P70


A snappy full-auto shooter, the pocket-sized P70 is one of the slimmest cameras in this price bracket. A wide-angle 4x lens grabs sharp captures in conjunction with the Pentax’s 12 megapixel sensor. A lack of advanced controls may turn off photo enthusiasts, but for point-and-shoot simplicity, the P70 excels.

arrow $200-$300

Olympus Stylus Tough-6000

Olympus Stylus Tough-6000


The 10 megapixel Olympus Stylus Tough-6000 might be the perfect summer camera, serving up shock and water resistance plus image quality that’s plenty good for the photo album or small prints in most situations. If you’re looking for a camera that won’t mind tumbling around in a backpack or purse and is equally at home on a hiking trip or whitewater adventure, the Tough-6000 fits the bill.
Nikon Coolpix S620

Nikon Coolpix S620


The Nikon Coolpix S620 provides a balance of dependably good pictures with little user input and dead simple ease of use. It’s also smaller, lighter and cheaper than many of its competitors, making this 12 megapixel/4x wide-angle zoom camera look more and more like a best bargain among premium ultracompacts.

arrow Understanding Micro Four Thirds

Micro Four Thirds

Olympus’s recent launch of the E-P1 brought the Micro Four Thirds interchangeable-lens system – a joint venture between Olympus and Panasonic/Leica – back into the news. Joining Panasonic’s Lumix G1 and GH1, the E-P1 adds yet another member to the Micro Four Thirds club. But what exactly is this new format, and how does it differ from the majority of digital interchangeable-lens cameras (a.k.a. DSLRs) already on the market?

The fundamental difference between current DSLRs and Micro Four Thirds cameras lies in the fact that DSLRs use a mirror which reflects the image that enters through the camera’s lens up through an optical viewfinder. Although it uses the same Four Thirds format sensors found in Olympus and Panasonic’s DSLRs (and thus, promises DSLR-rivaling image quality), Micro Four Thirds does away with this mirror and optical viewfinder altogether: the image passes directly from the lens to a sensor, allowing for a “live view” preview on the rear LCD (or electronic viewfinder) at all times. Without a mirror and viewfinder, the shooting experience on Micro Four Thirds cameras is closer to that of digital point-and-shoots – but with traditional DSLR advantages like interchangeable lenses and large-sensor image quality.

To learn more about Micro Four Thirds and read up on the latest devices in this emerging format, head on over to our Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 Review and Olympus Pen E-P1 First Thoughts.

Canon PowerShot SD780 IS

Canon PowerShot SD780 IS


The tiny Canon SD780 didn’t knock our socks off in any one area, but managed to earn an Editor’s Choice recognition earlier this year with a combination of fantastic styling, excellent build quality, a great set of user-friendly features, and legendary Canon image quality. All around, it’s a luxury ultracompact at a slightly less-than-luxury price.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX37

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX37


The Panasonic FX37 offers a long list of specs, but its super-sharp 25-125mm Leica zoom lens is the only one that many shooters will need to know about. The inclusion of pocket-friendly 720p HD video is just icing on the cake.

arrow $300-$500

Canon PowerShot SX200 IS

Canon PowerShot SX200 IS


The compact, 12x zoom Canon PowerShot SX200 IS is the photographic equivalent of duct tape: not always the ideal tool for the job, but applicable in a whole lot of picture-taking situations just the same. Compact and versatile, the SX200 is one of the best all-arounders out there.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3


Update to Panasonic’s very popular TZ cameras, the ZS3 provides a huge 12x (25-300mm) zoom range in a camera that’s small enough to fit in a purse or large pocket. A fantastic 3.0 inch LCD and some truly excellent 720p video capture capabilities catapulted the ZS3 on to our Editor’s Choice list.
Olympus SP-590 UZ

Olympus SP-590 UZ


Olympus has raised the ante in the ultrazoom big lens sweepstakes with the introduction of the Olympus SP-590 UZ and its 26x zoom that covers a 26-676mm focal length. If having a lot of zoom reach means a lot to you, this the latest SP is worth checking out.
Fujifilm FinePix F200EXR

Fujifilm FinePix F200EXR


The FinePix F200EXR is the first compact camera equipped with Fujifilm’s latest sensor technology. The Super CCD EXR sensor is designed to capture high-quality images in low-light shooting situations, and provide more dynamic range everywhere else. Features include three different capture modes, a large 3.0 inch LCD, and a 5x Fujinon zoom lens.

arrow Over $500

Canon Rebel T1i

Canon Rebel T1i


Equally perfect for photographers moving up from point-and-shoots and advanced shooters looking to explore HD video capture using an interchangeable-lens camera, the Rebel T1i earned our Editor’s Choice honors for its speedy performance, sharp images, stunning video, and – at well under $1000 – the great value it represents.

Olympus E-620

Olympus E-620


If you love Olympus’s stellar E-30 DSLR but aren’t so wild about its $1000-plus price tag, the E-620 is an excellent alternative. Offering the latest Olympus processing technologies, including the E-30’s nifty Art Filters and multi-exposure functions, the E-620 is a great alternative to dominant Canon and Nikon options in this price range.

Nikon D5000

Nikon D5000


The video-ready rival to Canon’s T1i, the D5000 is like a “D90 Lite.” Built around a 12.3 megapixel sensor and an innovative swiveling LCD, the D5000 features Nikon’s latest advances in processing and metering, producing a quick camera that takes some truly fantastic stills in addition to solid video.

arrow Looking for more?

Moms, Dads, and Grads

Whether you’re shopping for your student or just looking to land a great deal, back to school season is a great time to check out what’s next in tech. Let the editors of the TechnologyGuide.com network help you pick the right camera, smartphone, printer, desktop, or notebook, with our Back to School Buyer’s Guide.

To see our top tech picks in all categories visit our main buyer’s guide page on TechnologyGuide.com.

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