DigitalCameraReview.com
2006 Digital Camera Buyer's Guide from DigitalCameraReview.com
by Ben Stafford -  11/13/2006

The holidays are rapidly approaching and there are a lot of digital cameras out there to choose from. Most manufacturers announced new cameras in August and September that are becoming available just in time. This new crop of cameras brought updates to previous models as well as some new ones, so we're going to give you a leg up on some good camera picks for this season.

To make it easy, we've decided to organize the cameras primarily by price, but have added a couple of other categories for those of you who know the specific type of camera you're looking for. The best part about the digital camera market is that regardless of your skill with a camera or your budget, there is a camera out there for you.

If you have any questions about a camera, please don't hesitate to post a question on our forums (see our Buying Suggestions forum). The digital camera market is broad, and we know how helpful it is to have someone who is knowledgeable about the products.

Here are some quick buying tips (certainly not an exhaustive list):

  1. More megapixels does not mean more quality. The megapixel count only really matters for print size. If you never print anything larger than a 4x6, 5 megapixel resolution is more than enough. However, more megapixels do let you crop more and still have enough data for a nice sized print
  2. Most cameras have some sort of "image stabilization" or "blur reduction", but you need to know the difference in the mechanisms used to achieve this. Pretty much every camera on the market has an "electronic" method that increases the sensitivity of the sensor to increase shutter speed. Increasing sensitivity causes more digital noise in the image and a loss of quality. Another electronic method uses some digital processing to fix blur in an image. There are many cameras now that offer a type of optical image stabilization which adjusts the lens or sensor to reduce blur. This "mechanical" method does not degrade image quality - so this is a good thing.
  3. Along the same lines as image stabilization, know the difference between optical and digital zoom. Optical zoom is achieved mechanically with the lens. Digital zoom is achieved in the software and is, more or less, the same as zooming into the picture in your photo editing program. Digital zoom does not always maintain image quality.

Good luck finding a camera and have a great holiday season!

[ Under $200] [ $200-300] [ $300-400] [ $400-600] [ Entry Level Digital SLRs] [Ultra Slim/ Ultra Compact] [Ultra/Super Zoom] [Waterproof/Weatherproof] [ Wireless Enabled]

Under $200

Canon Powershot A530/A540 - The Canon A series is named that way for the AA batteries that power them. Despite that, these cameras take very good pictures. The A530 is a 5 megapixel camera with 1.8 inch LCD and 4x optical zoom. The A540 is a 6 megapixel camera with a 2.5 inch LCD, 4x optical zoom, and manual exposure modes.
Canon Powershot A530 reviews | Canon Powershot A530 pricing
Canon Powershot A540 reviews | Canon Powershot A540 pricing

Nikon Coolpix L2/L3/L6 - Sorry, another multiple model listing. Essentially, pick the one that best fits your needs and budget. These cameras are very easy to use and have a good feature set for users who don't need manual exposure modes. The Coolpix L2 features 6 megapixels, 3x optical zoom, and 2 inch screen. The Coolpix L3 does 5.1 megapixels, has a 3x optical zoom and 2 inch screen. Finally, the newer Coolpix L6 features 6 megapixels, a 2.5 inch LCD, 3x optical zoom, and 1000 shots on a set of lithium batteries.
Nikon Coolpix L2 reviews | Nikon Coolpix L2 pricing
Nikon Coolpix L3 reviews | Nikon Coolpix L3 pricing
Nikon Coolpix L6 reviews | Nikon Coolpix L6 pricing

Olympus FE-190 - Olympus' FE line is their entry level line. The FE-190 is a very slim camera that looks more expensive than it is. There are no high-end features, as you would expect, but the camera is getting some good reviews. It captures 6 megapixel images, a 2.5 inch LCD, and a 3x optical zoom. It is powered by a lithium-ion rechargeable battery.
Olympus FE-190 reviews | Olympus FE-190 pricing


$200-300

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W70 - The 7.2 megapixel W70 is an very compact, attractive camera. A nice 2.5 inch LCD and great battery life (I got well over 300 shots during my review) round out the package. The camera also operates quickly with quick focus times and minimal shutter lag. Image quality is excellent.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W70 reviews | Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W70 pricing

Canon Powershot SD600 - By far, the most popular camera on our site, the SD600 fits right into some unspoken "sweet spot" of price and features. The ultra-compact SD600 shoots at 6 megapixels, has a 2.5 inch LCD, and 3x optical zoom. If you want more screen, check out the 3 inch screen on the SD630.
Canon Powershot SD600 reviews | Canon Powershot SD600 pricing

Canon Powershot A630 - The A630 is one of those Canon A models that has the flip-out, rotating LCD (along with the A640). The A630/A640 are the successors to the A610/A620 and if you don't mind a slightly larger compact camera, these cameras are excellent and have a full list of features. The A630 shoots at 8 megapixels with a 4x optical zoom and 2.5 inch LCD.
Canon Powershot A630 reviews | Canon Powershot A630 pricing

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1 - This was one of the first compact ultra-zoom cameras on the market. While it has a lower megapixel count (5MP) then many others on this list, the stabilized 10x optical zoom in a camera this size is very attractive. Fast focus times and operation also add to the appeal.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1 reviews | Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1 pricing

Fujifilm Finepix F30 - This camera has some of the best performance in low light conditions - and it's still compact. The F30 can shoot at a higher ISO - with lower noise - than pretty much every compact digital camera out there. It's a 6.3 megapixel camera with a 3x optical zoom and 2.5 inch LCD. It also has manual exposure modes for more flexibility.
Fujifilm Finepix F30 reviews | Fujifilm Finepix F30 pricing


$300-400

Canon Powershot A710 IS - The A710 IS is the first A series camera to get image stabilization. The A710 captures 7.1 megapixel images with a 6x optical zoom lens. The 2.5 inch LCD gives you a good way to see your images before and after you take them.
Canon Powershot A710 IS reviews | Canon Powershot A710 IS pricing

Canon Powershot S3 IS - One of the "top of the class" in the ultra-zoom category, the S3 IS is the successor to the S2 IS. It captures images at 6 megapixels with a nice stabilized 12x optical zoom lens. A flip-out, rotating 2 inch LCD makes it easy to shoot at funny angles. If you want to save a little money, the S2 IS is still on the market and has less resolution and a smaller LCD.
Canon Powershot S3 IS reviews | Canon Powershot S3 IS pricing

Kodak Easyshare V610 - The V610 deserves a mention since it's the smallest 10x optical zoom camera that you can find currently. Using their Retina dual lens system, Kodak uses two lenses to cover a large range of focal lengths with a camera that is less that one inch thick. The V610 takes 6 megapixel images, has a 2.8 inch LCD, and is able to transfer pictures over Bluetooth.
Kodak Easyshare V610 reviews | Kodak Easyshare V610 pricing

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T10 - The T10 is one of the latest in Sony's stylish ultra-compact T line. The best part about the T10 is that it includes their stabilizing Super SteadyShot system to reduce blur at slower shutter speeds. The 7.2 megapixel T10 also has a 3x optical zoom and 2.5 inch LCD. You can also find it in some fun colors, including pink.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T10 reviews | Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T10 pricing


$400-600

Canon Powershot G7 - Recently announced, the G7 is the top of the line Canon before you get to the digital SLRs. Fully featured, with the entire bevy of shooting modes, the G7 also features the new DIGIC III processor and a nice stabilized, 6x optical zoom lens. It also shoots at 10 megapixels and you can see your images on the 2.5 inch LCD. A VGA (1024x768) movie mode is also worth mentioning.
Canon Powershot G7 reviews | Canon Powershot G7 pricing

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 - This successor to the popular FZ30 is the top of the line ultra-zoom from Panasonic. It features 10 megapixel resolution, a stabilized 12x optical zoom and 2 inch LCD. Panasonic cameras provide quick focusing and quick operation along with their nice image stabilization system.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 reviews | Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 pricing


Entry Level Digital SLRs

If you're ready to check out the next level of digital photography, there are plenty of affordable digital SLR cameras out there to choose from.

Nikon D50 - The D50 has been around for about a year, but it's still popular. The recently announced D40 will probably replace the sales of the D50, but not for the immediate future. The D50 is a 6.1 megapixel camera with a 2 inch LCD. It features 2.5 frames per second shooting and stores images on SD media.
Nikon D50 reviews -- Nikon D50 pricing

Nikon D40 - I wanted to mention this newly announced camera as it's squarely targeted at the entry level digital SLR user. However, there are no full reviews of the camera yet and it's not expected in stores until December. It's a compact 6.1 megapixel digital SLR with a 2.5 inch LCD and many user interface features that should appeal to first time digital SLR users. Once there are reviews and pricing, you can find them at the links below.
Nikon D40 reviews | Nikon D40 pricing

Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi - This successor to the Digital Rebel XT offers 10.1 megapixel resolution and a 2.5 inch LCD screen. A self cleaning sensor and 3 frames per second shooting are also highlights of the camera.
Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi reviews | Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi pricing

Pentax K100D - I wanted to include the Pentax because it has an anti-shake/image stabilization system, and the price is right as well. The K100D features a CCD-shift image stabilization mechanism to reduce blur at slow shutter speeds, 6 megapixel resolution, a 2.5 inch LCD, and can accept virtually all "K" mount lenses.
Pentax K100D reviews | Pentax K100D pricing


Ultra Slim / Ultra Compact Cameras

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T50 - In addition to the T10 mentioned above in the $300-$400 range, the T50 is also pretty cool. The T50 features a 3 inch touchscreen LCD. This way, they can get away with fewer controls on the camera allowing for a very sleek look. The T50 shoots at 7.2 megapixels, has a 3x optical zoom, and Sony's Super SteadyShot system.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T50 reviews | Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T50 pricing

Casio Exilim EX-S770 - Casio has always done a nice job with slim cameras with their "Card" cameras. The S770 takes good pictures, has a nice wide LCD, and great battery life. It shoots at 7.2 megapixels, has a 3x optical zoom and 2.8 inch LCD.
Casio Exilim EX-S770 reviews | Casio Exilim EX-S770 pricing

Nikon Coolpix S9 - The S9 deserves mention because it's a high quality digital camera with one of the most affordable prices in the ultra-compact segment. The S9 is a 6.1 megapixel camera with 3x optical zoom lens and 2.5 inch LCD.
Nikon Coolpix S9 reviews | Nikon Coolpix S9 pricing

Canon Powershot SD800 IS - A member of Canon's ultra-compact SD line, it's the successor to the SD700 IS. However, the SD800 IS features a wider angle lens (28mm equivalent) and the new DIGIC III processor. Besides that, it shoots at 7.1 megapixels, has a stabilized 3.8x optical zoom and a 2.5 inch LCD.
Canon Powershot SD800 IS reviews | Canon Powershot SD800 IS pricing


Ultra / Super Zoom Cameras

Canon Powershot S3 IS - One of the "top of the class" in the ultra-zoom category, the S3 IS is the successor to the S2 IS. It captures images at 6 megapixels with a nice stabilized 12x optical zoom lens. A flip-out, rotating 2 inch LCD makes it easy to shoot at funny angles. If you want to save a little money, the S2 IS is still on the market and has less resolution and a smaller LCD.
Canon Powershot S3 IS reviews | Canon Powershot S3 IS pricing

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 - This successor to the popular FZ30 is the top of the line ultra-zoom from Panasonic. It features 10 megapixel resolution, a stabilized 12x optical zoom and 2 inch LCD. Panasonics provide quick focusing and quick operation along with their nice image stabilization system.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 reviews | Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 pricing

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7 - If you don't need all the 10 megapixel resolution of the FZ50, the FZ7 makes a lot more budget sense. It has 6 megapixel resolution, a stabilized 12x optical zoom, and 2.5 inch LCD.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7 reviews | Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7 pricing

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H5 - The Sony is another successful model in this market segment. The H5 offers 7.2 megapixel resolution, a stabilized 12x optical zoom lens, 3 inch LCD, and a full feature set.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H5 reviews | Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H5 pricing


Waterproof / Weatherproof

Pentax Optio W20 - The Optio W20 is the latest in a long line of waterproof cameras from Pentax The camera is a JIS Class 8 device, which lets you submerge the camera up to 5 feet for 30 minutes. You get 7 megapixels, a 3x optical zoom , a 2.5 inch LCD and settings for shooting underwater.
Pentax Optio W20 reviews | Pentax Optio W20 pricing

Olympus Stylus 750 - While the entire Stylus line is weatherproof/water resistant, the Stylus 750 deserves to be singled out since it offers a CCD-shift image stabilization system. The Stylus 750 takes 7.1 megapixel pictures, has a 5x optical zoom and 2.5 inch LCD. If the Stylus 750 isn't the perfect fit, the rest of the Stylus line has variations of specs and prices.
Olympus Stylus 750 reviews | Olympus Stylus 750 pricing

Olympus Stylus 720 SW - This camera is the only fully waterproof camera in the Stylus line. As a bonus, it is also shockproof. It takes 7.1 megapixel images, has a 3x optical zoom and 2.5 inch LCD. It also has a slim, "industrial" look to it which is kind of fun.
Olympus Stylus 720 SW reviews | Olympus Stylus 720 SW pricing


Wireless Enabled Cameras

Nikon Coolpix S7c - In addition to WiFi capability, the Coolpix S7c also has nice looks and image stabilization. When you buy the camera, you also get a one year T-Mobile subscription so that you can use their hotspots. The S7c has a 7.1 megapixel sensor, a 3 inch LCD, and 3x optical zoom.
Nikon Coolpix S7c reviews | Nikon Coolpix S7c pricing

Kodak Easyshare V610 - The V610 deserves a mention since it's the smallest 10x optical zoom camera that you can find currently. Using their Retina Dual Lens system, Kodak uses two lenses to cover a large range of focal lengths with a camera that is less that one inch thick. The V610 takes 6 megapixel images, has a 2.8 inch LCD, and is able to transfer pictures over Bluetooth.
Kodak Easyshare V610 reviews | Kodak Easyshare V610 pricing