Expert Recommendation

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Best Ultra Compact Digital Camera Overall Under $300
Expert (97 Recommendations and 21 Compliments)
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December 21, 2008
Overview

With extraordinary high-ISO capability for low-light photos and a versatile 28-140mm (5x) zoom range that can cover most everyday scenes, all fit into a compact 0.9 in. thin size that can be pocketed and taken just about anywhere, the F100fd is one of those rare “complete package” cameras that can handle just about anything thrown its way.

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My Best In Class Pick
Fujifilm FinePix F100fd

The Fuji F100fd is the top camera in Fuji’s flagship F-series, featuring a versatile 28-140mm (5x) zoom lens, image-stabilization, and great high-ISO performance, all fitting into a compact 0.9” size.

With a 28mm wide-angle, the F100fd easily covers things like large landscapes or landmarks often encountered on travel. The 140mm telephoto end has a longer range than most ultracompact cameras and provides great versatility for most everyday photography, though it doesn’t really zoom in far enough to get good close-ups of things like far-away action or wildlife.

The F100fd’s biggest claim to fame, however, is its unique SuperCCD sensor that enables it to take great noise-free photos in low-light situations. The F100fd also has an image-stabilized sensor to compensate for camera shake blur.

Shutterlag and autofocus speed are about average on the F100fd - tracking fast subjects or precisely timing shots won’t be a breeze, especially in low-light conditions, but is still doable. The F100fd can take photos at 1.7 frames per second, but only for 3 photos at a time, which can be somewhat useful for taking quick bursts of fast action moments. The F100fd can otherwise take photos continuously at 0.5 frames per second, which really isn’t fast enough to be useful.

Comparison with Canon PowerShot SD880 IS

The F100fd and SD880 are both similarly-equipped cameras, featuring 28mm wide-angle lenses and good high-ISO quality in compact 0.9” sizes. The F100fd edges out the SD880 in a number of areas however - its 140mm telephoto provides a bit more versatility, and its high-ISO quality is significantly better than the SD880.

Comparison with Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX37

Both the F100fd and FX37 are solid ultracompacts, playing to different strengths. The F100fd is the overall best choice due to its good versatility and much better low-light performance. However, the FX37’s 25mm wide-angle lens comes in much handier than the F100fd’s 140mm telephoto end, which makes it a more ideal camera for things like travel, if you’re mostly taking photos in good lighting.

Pros
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    Best-in-class high-ISO
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    Image stabilization
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    28mm wide-angle
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    Moderately long 140mm telephoto
Cons
  • -
    Burst mode only for 3 frames at a time
Fujifilm FinePix F100fd is the Best Ultra Compact Digital Camera Overall Under $300
Where to buy
Fujifilm FinePix F100fd
  • Best Price: $299
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Zoom: 5.0x
  • Wide-Angle Lens: 28mm (25% wider)
  • Resolution: 12.0MP
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (2 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com

Comparing My Best In Class Pick with Other Good Choices

Product
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Fujifilm FinePix F100fd
2
Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
3
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX37
Customer Rating
Price $299.95 $549.00 $249.96
Size (W x H x D) 3.8 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 3.7 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 3.7 x 2.0 x 0.9 in.
Weight (without batteries) 6.0 oz 5.5 oz 4.4 oz
Max Shooting Speed (burst) 1.7 frames/sec 1.4 frames/sec 2.5 frames/sec
Max Consecutive Burst Frames 3 frames Unlimited 5 frames
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Min Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
28 mm 28 mm 25 mm
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Max Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
140 mm 112 mm 125 mm
Optical Zoom 5.0x 4.0x 5.0x
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Image Stabilization Available
Yes Yes Yes
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Max Aperture (wide-angle)
f/3.3 f/2.8 f/2.8
?
Max Aperture (tele-photo)
f/5.1 f/5.8 f/5.9
Battery Life 230 shots 310 shots 310 shots
High ISO quality Superb Good Average
Shutter lag Average Average Average
Travel Rating Good Good Superb
Fast Action Rating Poor Poor Unusable
People/Pets Portrait Rating Good Good Average
Low-light Rating Superb Good Average
2
Canon PowerShot SD880 IS

While Canon’s SD line of ultracompacts run the gamut from no-frills budget camera to high-resolution megapixel monsters, the SD880 is the only camera in the series to feature a versatile 28mm wide-angle. This feature alone makes the SD880 the most capable overall camera in the range, allowing it to cover the sweeping landscapes and cramped building interiors that other cameras with only 36mm wide-angle lenses simply can’t capture. The SD880 has a 112mm lens on the telephoto end, which is about average for an ultracompact and lets it cover most everyday photography, though it doesn’t zoom nearly close enough for things like sports or wildlife.

In terms of high-ISO performance, the SD880 is a bit above average. The SD880 lens also features image stabilization, which helps to correct blur due to camera shake. Low-light images will still be somewhat grainy, but definitely usable and better than a your typical camera.

Speed-wise, the SD880 is about average - autofocus and shutter lag times are run-of-the-mill, and the SD880 can take photos continuously at 1.4 frames per second - not particularly fast, but still somewhat useful for taking a long burst and choosing photos afterwards.

Comparison with Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX37

The SD880 simply beats out the FX37 in image quality, particularly in low-light situations. If you don’t plan on taking too many low-light photos, however, the feature-laden FX37 is a capable alternative that offers tools such as 720p HD video, a fast 2.5fps burst mode, and a much more versatile 25-125mm zoom range (especially that useful 25mm wide-angle).

Pros
  • +
    Above-average high-ISO
  • +
    Image stabilization
  • +
    28mm wide-angle
Canon PowerShot SD880 IS is one of the Best Ultra Compact Digital Cameras Overall Under $300
Where to buy
Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
Specifications
  • Zoom: 4.0x
  • Wide-Angle Lens: 28mm (25% wider)
  • Resolution: 10.0MP
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (3 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Excellent by CNET.com
3
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX37

Following in the long tradition of Panasonic cameras, the FX37 packs one of the most unique featuresets among ultracompacts, including a fast burst rate, 720p HD video recording. The headliner, however, is its 5x zoom image-stabilized lens which spans from 25-125mm. The 25mm wide-angle captures significantly more of the scene than even 28mm wide-angle cameras, which is great for things like large landscapes or building interiors. While its not exactly a long-range sports lens, the 125mm telephoto also provides good versatility for a lot of everyday scenes.

Low-light performance is somewhat of a weak point for the FX37. While it does feature an image-stabilized lens to combat camera shake, high-ISO is somewhat below-average, resulting in blotchy/noisy images in low-light situations.

In terms of autofocus and shutter lag, the FX37 is about average. It does feature an extremely quick 2.5fps burst mode, however, allowing you to take a series of shots and choose the best or most accurately timed photo afterwards.

Pros
  • +
    Image stabilization
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    Extremely wide 25mm wide-angle
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    Moderately long 125mm telephoto
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    Fast 2.5fps burst mode
  • +
    720p video recording
Cons
  • -
    Below-average high-ISO
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX37 is one of the Best Ultra Compact Digital Cameras Overall Under $300
Where to buy
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX37
  • Best Price: $249
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Zoom: 5.0x
  • Wide-Angle Lens: 25mm (40% wider)
  • Resolution: 10.1MP
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (1 review)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com

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