Digital Camera Buyer’s Guide: Summer 2008

by Reads (108)

Waiting until the last minute to pick out your Mother’s Day gift again this year? No worries: we’ve got you covered with a special “Mother’s Day Edition” of our Summer 2008 Digital Camera Buyer’s Guide that features our favorite compact camera picks for every kind of photographer and every budget – and just in time for this weekend’s holiday (you did remember that Mother’s Day is this weekend, right?). From ultracompact to ultrazoom, a record number of new point-and-shoot cameras this year means more appealing choices than ever, making it easy to find a camera that’s a perfect fit for mom, or for that college or high-school graduate you’re shopping for.

For help in picking the latest Buyer’s Guide, I turned to DCR’s camera suggestion experts – the dedicated photography enthusiasts who moderate our forums. Well known to regular readers by their screen names (AndyfromVa, CalebSchmerge, and USAPatriot), our mods regularly dispense camera buying advice in the “What Camera Should I Buy?” forum, and have graciously offered their insight in putting this guide together from their collective knowledge and experience.

We know that just because you love your mom, that doesn’t mean you have unlimited funds to spend on a Mother’s Day gift. Hence, we’ve broken our picks down by price. Within each price class, we’ve further divided our favorites by user type: whether mom is serious about photography, serious about style, or just wants a good all-around picture taker, there’s an option for each in every price range.

Under $200

All Around Pick: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS3The diminutive 8.1 megapixel FS3 defines what a compact camera should be – “small but not too small, and very thin” as AndyfromVA put it, making it ideally sized for a pocket or a purse.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS3

Andy was also taken with the inexpensive FS3’s premium FX-level styling and build quality (“You don’t want to give mom something that looks like you bought it at the local drug store.”). Of course, great looks aren’t particularly pertinent to the camera’s picture taking abilities, and thankfully, the FS3 is an indoor/outdoor champ in this regard as well, with some of the best high ISO performance we’ve seen at this price. Clear, logical menus make it easy to use and easy to explore for non-techs. Ultimately, the FS3 was one of Andy’s top picks, one of our most well-reviewed and highly recommended cameras, and with a street price well under $200, a phenomenal deal to boot. | Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS3 Reviews and Pricing

Photo Enthusiast Pick: Canon Powershot A570 IS – “Wait a minute! The A570 is last year’s model!” Before you get indignant, we’re not trying to sleight the A570’s replacement, the Canon PowerShot A590 IS. With the A590 offering light upgrades at most, though, what earns the older but still widely available A570 a spot on our list above all else is its amazing price-to-performance ratio for a camera with manual exposure control.

Canon PowerShot A570 IS

Another favorite of AndyfromVA and our forum community generally, the 7.1 megapixel A570’s P/A/S/M modes and image stabilization on a sub-$150 camera are simply astounding, with the camera’s photographic flexibility making it “very convenient for a mom with some knowledge of photography” as Andy notes. One of the last remaining true optical viewfinders on a compact camera, a nice 4x lens, easy-to-manage AA power, and an easy-to-hold grip and simple control arrangement all come together as a cohesive whole for shooters wanting to get great snapshots and explore more advanced techniques with a single low-cost camera. | Canon PowerShot A570 IS Reviews and Pricing

Style Conscious Pick: Nikon Coolpix S210 – If you’ve seen the new Coolpix ad campaign with Ashton Kutcher’s camera in the starring role, you’re probably aware that Nikon’s working hard to target a younger, trendier audience than its “serious photographer” corporate image usually plays to. With the S210, they’ve rolled out a camera that just might be svelte enough to keep pace with this image makeover.

Nikon Coolpix S210

Cameras simply don’t get much smaller than the S210, and the fact that it’s a powerful little shot maker on top of all of this brings it to the top of my list for style-minded shooters. The S210 lacks optical image stabilization, but its sharp lens, decent high-sensitivity performance, and hybrid Electronic Vibration Reduction system work hard to make up for it. Although the 8.1 megapixel camera is tiny, a humane control layout doesn’t feel especially cramped. Its 3x zoom range is only average for the class, but for $150 there’s not much to argue about in the way of styling or image quality with this super-slim, go-anywhere camera. | Nikon Coolpix S210 Reviews and Pricing

$200 to $300

All Around Pick: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W150 – I haven’t quite wrapped things up with our review of the newest Sony W model, but my initial impressions shooting with the W150 have earned the Cyber-shot a place on our list as a great snapshot camera.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W150

Packed out with the huge features list we’ve come to expect from Sony, the all-metal W150 looks great, feels even better in hand, and takes vibrant print-ready shots at lightning speed. An 8.1 megapixel sensor coupled to a 5x wide-angle zoom give the W150 plenty of raw shooting power, and a long-life battery means the photographic fun can carry on all day long. Gadget lovers and fans of Sony’s characteristic, futuristic style will love the W150 for its techno-wizardry. The fact that all of this hype-heavy high technology adds up to hassle-free great pictures is good enough for the rest of us to embrace the new Cyber-shot. | Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W150 Reviews and Pricing

Photo Enthusiast Pick: Kodak EasyShare Z812 IS – Looking for a way to get mom started on that photography hobby without breaking the bank? While Kodak’s forays into digital photography have been notoriously hit or miss, the Kodak EasyShare Z812 IS offers a budget-minded option for photo enthusiasts seeking a high-power ultrazoom.

Kodak easyshare Z812 IS

AndyfromVA’s top selection for gift givers on a budget shopping for a serious camera, the 8.2 megapixel, 12x zoom Z812 does a lot more than its price would suggest. “It has a great feel to it,” Andy writes, “especially the right hand grip,” making the reasonably compact Z812 easier to manage for smaller hands. Shots are classic Kodak, with lots of saturation and pleasing contrast, and while the Z812 comes equipped with a full slate of manual controls for serious shooters, Andy notes that “it has only a few controls on the back and won’t intimidate moms (or anyone else, for that matter) who are relatively inexperienced with digital cameras.” | Kodak EasyShare Z812 IS Reviews and Pricing

Style Conscious Pick: Fujifilm Finepix Z100fd – Though some have derided the styling touches as simply goofy, I stand by my claim that it simply doesn’t get much more novel than the Z100fd’s diagonally sliding lens cover and illuminated “Z” logo.

Fujifilm FinePix Z100fd

While the styling is great in my opinion – at once trendy and mature – the 8 megapixel Z100fd proves that it’s more than just a pretty face. Image quality with the Z100fd’s internally contained 5x zoom lens was better than expected, and the camera is capable of handling the range of typical snapshot situations without fuss or drama. With high-style, premium-build ultracompacts usually running well beyond the $200 price floor for this group, the Fuji defies this logic with a street price hovering right around $200 at the moment. All of this makes the Z100fd a great, reasonably priced gift for hip moms or style-conscious graduates. | Fujifilm FinePix Z100fd Reviews and Pricing

Over $300

All Around Pick: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 – Questions of whether the TZ5 could have better aside, it’s still a very good camera that does something few others can claim with its huge 10x Leica zoom in a nearly pocket-sized package.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5

The latest offering in Panasonic’s venerable TZ lineup proved exciting enough to earn it a spot on the list of not one, but two of our moderators. Both CalebSchmerge and USAPatriot praised the camera for its stylish looks, impressive screen, and, of course, its simply fantastic lens. The fact that the latest TZ “records 720p video to boot” has USAPatriot’s attention as well, and should appeal to tech-savvy moms looking for a capable camera/camcorder combo device. Panasonic bills the TZ5 as the ultimate traveler’s camera, and given how much it does well, we’re inclined to agree: wherever you go, the TZ5 is up to the challenge of bringing home great pictures. As Caleb put it, “What more could mom ask for?” | Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 Reviews and Pricing

Photo Enthusiast Pick: Canon Powershot S5 IS – The S5 has been around the buyer’s guide block a few times, showing up most recently on our 2007 holiday picks, but what put the 8 megapixel powerhouse at the top of the list in the first place has served well to keep it there during its comparatively long run: great image quality, good speed, an impressive 12x stabilized zoom lens, and some little touches – the rotating LCD is a favorite around here – that continue to set the S5 apart.

Canon PowerShot S5 IS

USAPatriot sums up this long-running top choice nicely: “The Canon S5 IS packs big zoom in a relatively small package with many features and plenty of manual control for those who like to have a say in what their camera does.” It may not be the newest or flashiest ultrazoom out there, but a proven track record and a great price that only keeps getting better keep this one on our radar for another go-round. | Canon PowerShot S5 IS Reviews and Pricing

Style Conscious Pick: Canon PowerShot SD890 IS – Though we’re still putting the finishing touches on the full review of the successor to Canon’s versatile SD850, the sleek, stylish SD890’s appearance among our top picks is a testament to what a logical improvement the new camera is.

Canon PowerShot SD890 IS

Based on preliminary tests that all uphold the high standard set by its predecessor, Caleb felt that with “generally good performance its hard to go wrong with this camera.” Through in 10 megapixel performance, a 5x stabilized zoom, a great screen, and a look that’s classy with a mild retro vibe and it looks like Canon’s brought us an SD that finally looks as good as it performs. | Canon PowerShot SD890 IS Reviews and Pricing

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