Expert Recommendation

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Best Digital Camera Overall Under $400
Expert (53 Recommendations and 31 Compliments)
Send a ComplimentComplimented (Change)
December 22, 2009 Updated: December 23, 2009
Overview

It seems that in the battle to create a great camera in a compact point and shoot size, the optical viewfinder is falling by the wayside. Such is the case with the Canon S90. But on a more positive note, real progress has been made with the S90, the realization that more is not better has caused Canon to choose 10 megapixels as a good place to settle. Then they opened up the aperture a little more and added low noise so you could shoot in low light situation with more ease. And those features are just a couple of the positive changes that make the S90 my Best in Class choice for overall Digital cameras under $400.

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My Best In Class Pick
Canon PowerShot S90 IS

In the ever-challenging world of satisfying the wants of photographers, Canon has developed a compact digital camera geared towards useful features rather than more megapixels.

And it seems what photographers want is more control and the ability to shoot in low light without a lot of noise. To that end, Canon has combined a high sensitivity 10.0 Megapixel image sensor with Canon’s enhanced DIGIC 4 image processor to create their dual anti noise system, combining a wider dynamic range with a higher ISO.

The S90 also has a 28-105mm F2.0-4.9 stabilized lens, a 3.0” PureColor II LCD screen and a control ring on the lens that allows the photographer to make a variety of changes quickly. Changes like zooming in to check composition, ISO (in 1/3 stop increments), shutter, aperture, focus and exposure compensation. The one thing it doesn’t have is an optical viewfinder, an omission that is a bad trend in my opinion.

In addition to the photographers favorites, Aperture priority AE, Shutter priority AE, Program AE, Manual and Custom modes, the S90 also has Smart Auto with Scene Detection Technology that allows up to 22 different scene types for those who prefer to let the camera do the work while they enjoy the results. Either way, everyone can join in on the fun of owning the best compact point and shoot available today.

Comparison with Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3

Although these two cameras have a lot of the same great features like a wide aperture and manual settings, The S90 has a little more zoom and weighs quite a bit less. Plus, Canon is the leader in quality imaging products and they carry on that tradition with the S90.

Comparison with Sony Cybershot DSC-WX1

Smaller and more lightweight than the S90, the WX1 is a very pocketable point and shoot camera. But if versatility is what you’re after, the WX1 doesn’t have manual settings. So the bottom line on these two cameras are creative controls (S90) versus a quick and easy shot getter with HD video (WX1).

Pros
  • +
    Wide aperture
  • +
    Control ring
  • +
    Digic IV
  • +
    Manual controls
Cons
  • -
    No HD video
  • -
    No viewfinder
Canon PowerShot S90 IS is the Best Digital Camera Overall Under $400
Where to buy
Canon PowerShot S90 IS
  • Best Price: $420
    Amazon See It »
Recommended with
  • Kingston 4 GB SDHC Class 4 Flash Memory Card SD4/4GB
    $8.99 @ Amazon.com
Specifications
  • Zoom: 3.8x
  • Wide-Angle Lens: 28mm (25% wider)
  • Resolution: 10.0MP
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (1 review)
  • Rated Excellent by CNET.com

Comparing My Best In Class Pick with Other Good Choices

Product
Best badge
Canon PowerShot S90 IS
2
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3
3
Sony Cybershot DSC-WX1
Customer Rating
Price $420.01 $402.09 $366.60
Camera Format Compact Compact Ultra Compact
Weight (with batteries) 6.9 oz 9.3 oz 5.2 oz
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Effective Sensor Resolution
10.0 megapixels 10.1 megapixels 10.2 megapixels
Video Available Yes Yes Yes
Optical Zoom 3.8x 2.5x 5.0x
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Image Stabilization Available
Yes Yes Yes
?
Max Aperture (wide-angle)
f/2.0 f/2.0 f/2.4
Aperture Priority Mode Available Yes Yes No
Shutter Priority Mode Available Yes Yes No
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LCD Screen Size
3.0 in. 3.0 in. 2.7 in.
Battery Type Proprietary Lithium Ion Rechargeable Proprietary Lithium Ion Rechargeable Proprietary Lithium Ion Rechargeable
Max ISO Setting 3200 6400 3200
Size (W x H x D) 3.9 x 2.3 x 1.2 in. 4.3 x 2.3 x 1.1 in. 3.6 x 2.0 x 0.8 in.
HD Video Available No Yes Yes
2
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3

Whether you’re looking for a companion camera to your DSLR, or you simply want a compact point and shoot for all of your photography needs, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 is an excellent camera designed to get the job done.

Outfitted with a fast F2.0-F2.8 24-60mm Leica DC Vario-Summicron lens, a 10.1mp CCD imaging sensor and an ISO range of 80 - 6400, the LX3 will have no problem capturing your low light situations. And with either 24 scene modes for quick snapping, or manual, aperture priority and shutter priority modes, you can let your experience and creativity flow with confidence.

Built to carry anywhere, the LX3 has a solid body with easy to manage buttons and a bright 3.0” LCD with 460,000 dots of resolution, perfect for viewing and sharing your photos or videos. The one thing missing though, is the optical viewfinder. If this is really important to your picture taking experience, an optional viewfinder is available and can be attached to the hot shoe located on top of the camera.

And to make sure you get the shot you’ve been waiting for, the LX3 has autofocus tracking to keep up with moving subjects, face detection that is capable of registering up to 15 faces and Intelligent Multiple metering, with Center-Weighted and Spot metering modes. Add HD video to the mix and this camera packs a big punch in a little package. Definitely a top pick at a low price.

Comparison with Sony Cybershot DSC-WX1

These are two very comparable cameras, but for a low light workhorse that has manual controls, I prefer the LX3 to the WX1.

Pros
  • +
    Hot shoe
  • +
    HD video
  • +
    Built for low light situations
Cons
  • -
    No viewfinder
  • -
    Not much zoom
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 is one of the Best Digital Cameras Overall Under $400
Where to buy
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3
  • Best Price: $402
    Amazon See It »
Recommended with
  • Panasonic DMW-VF1 External Optical Viewfinder
    $134.11 @ Amazon.com
Specifications
  • Zoom: 2.5x
  • Wide-Angle Lens: 24mm (46% wider)
  • Resolution: 10.1MP
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (4 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com
3
Sony Cybershot DSC-WX1

Built to handle low light situations, but smart enough to produce great images under any circumstances, the ultra compact Sony Cybershot DSC-WX1 could easily be your only digital camera.

Working together as a pair, the Exmor R imager with up to 3200 ISO capabilities and the Sony G lens with a wide 24-120, f/2.4 max aperture, are sure to capture the most challenging lighting situations with ease. And if you need to go a little further for that intimate candlelight shot or interesting night scene, the WX1 uses a twilight or anti-motion blur multi-shot to go the extra distance thanks to Sony’s Bionz processor.

Built to fit in your pants pocket but missing an optical viewfinder, the WX1 has a 2.7” LCD screen for composing your pictures, Smile Shutter™ technology that automatically captures your subjects smile, dynamic range optimization for improved exposure and contrast, intelligent Auto Focus and HD video, all the features photographers have been looking for to make the picture taking experience a satisfying one.

Pros
  • +
    Built for low light situations
  • +
    5x zoom
  • +
    Lightweight
  • +
    HD video
Cons
  • -
    No manual settings
  • -
    No viewfinder
Sony Cybershot DSC-WX1 is one of the Best Digital Cameras Overall Under $400
Where to buy
Sony Cybershot DSC-WX1
Recommended with
  • Sony NP-FG1 InfoLITHIUM Type G Rechargeable Li-Ion Battery Pack for Sony W & H Series Digital Cameras
    $35.30 @ Amazon.com
Specifications
  • Zoom: 5.0x
  • Wide-Angle Lens: 24mm (46% wider)
  • Resolution: 10.2MP
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (2 reviews)
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Excellent by CNET.com

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