Expert Recommendation

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Best Compact Digital Camera Overall Under $200
Expert (97 Recommendations and 21 Compliments)
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December 16, 2008
Overview

The Panasonic TZ4 is that rare hybrid of cameras - it’s got a compact size, cheap price, yet packs in just about every feature under the sun that a typical photographer might use, no matter what the situation.

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My Best In Class Pick
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ4

Back in early 2006, Panasonic pioneered the compact ultrazoom category of cameras with its then-revolutionary TZ1, a 10x zoom camera that fit in just a 1.6 in. thick size. While competitors such as Canon and Sony have caught up and introduced their own variants in the category, Panasonic’s current TZ4 (and the slightly more expensive TZ5, which features a larger LCD screen) still leads the pack with an extensive feature list that makes it both one of the most versatile and highest-performing cameras in its class.

With a 28-280mm (10x) zoom lens, the TZ4 can cover just about any situation. It has the reach to zoom in for close-ups on faraway subjects, such as in sports or wildlife photography. And on the other end, it’s also got the 28mm wide-angle that will let you take in all of a scenic landscape or the large landmarks often encountered on travel. There just isn’t any other camera on the market either as cheap as the TZ4 or as small as the TZ4 that offers this wide-ranging versatility.

For speed situations, the TZ4 is also one of the fastest-performing cameras around. Shutter lag and autofocus are both above-average, making it a bit easier to precisely time shots as well as track around moving subjects, which is important for unpredictable subjects like kids or pets or sports players. The TZ4 can also shoot at a speedy 3 frames per second, allowing you to fire off a burst of shots and then choose the best one later, which can significantly improve your keeper rate.

The TZ4 does have a weak point though, and that’s low-light performance. The TZ4 does feature an image-stabilized lens to help combat camera shake blur, but its high-ISO quality is just below-average, producing noisy/blotchy images if you want to freeze moving subjects in low-light situations.

At 1.4 in. thin, the TZ4 is a pocketable camera that can be taken just about anywhere.

Comparison with Canon PowerShot SX110 IS

Panasonic’s TZ4 and Canon’s SX110 are both cameras in the same compact ultrazoom class - both fit in versatile 10x zooms into fairly compact and easy-to-carry bodies. Feature-wise, the TZ4 offers up a lot more, with a bit faster speed and responsiveness, as well as much more versatility in its 28mm wide-angle lens, all in a significantly smaller package. The SX110, however, performs significantly better in low-light situations, featuring both a larger aperture and better high-ISO performance.

Comparison with Canon PowerShot A2000 IS

Featurewise, the TZ4 significantly outclasses the A2000, offering a far more versatile 10x zoom range and 28mm wide-angle, as well as quicker shutter lag response and autofocus and burst performance for fast action situations or pictures of quick-moving children or pets. The A2000 is a slightly better low-light performer, however.

Pros
  • +
    28mm wide-angle
  • +
    10x zoom
  • +
    1.4 in. thick
  • +
    3fps burst mode
Cons
  • -
    Below-average high-ISO
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ4 is the Best Compact Digital Camera Overall Under $200
Where to buy
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ4
Specifications
  • Zoom: 10.0x
  • Wide-Angle Lens: 28mm (25% wider)
  • Resolution: 8.1MP
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Comparing My Best In Class Pick with Other Good Choices

Product
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ4
2
Canon PowerShot SX110 IS
3
Canon PowerShot A2000 IS
Customer Rating
Price $549.99 $325.00
Size (W x H x D) 4.1 x 2.3 x 1.4 in. 4.4 x 2.8 x 1.8 in. 4.0 x 2.5 x 1.3 in.
Weight (without batteries) 7.3 oz 8.6 oz 6.5 oz
Max Shooting Speed (burst) 3 frames/sec 1.3 frames/sec 1.3 frames/sec
Max Consecutive Burst Frames 4 frames Unlimited Unlimited
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Min Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
28 mm 36 mm 36 mm
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Max Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
280 mm 360 mm 216 mm
Optical Zoom 10.0x 10.0x 6.0x
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Image Stabilization Available
Yes Yes Yes
?
Max Aperture (wide-angle)
f/3.3 f/2.8 f/3.2
?
Max Aperture (tele-photo)
f/4.9 f/4.3 f/5.9
Battery Life 300 shots 400 shots 500 shots
High ISO quality Poor Average Average
Shutter lag Good Average Average
Travel Rating Superb Good Average
Fast Action Rating Good Good Poor
People/Pets Portrait Rating Average Good Good
Low-light Rating Average Good Good
2
Canon PowerShot SX110 IS

The Canon SX110 is Canon’s entry in the compact ultrazoom market. The SX110 features a 10x 36-360mm zoom lens that can cover most everyday situations. It’s got the long-range zoom to capture close-ups of faraway fast action subjects or building details that you might encounter on travel, and it easily covers the midrange zoom that’s ideal for portraits as well. The SX110’s 36mm wide-angle doesn’t stretch that wide, however, so it’s not the ideal camera for capturing sweeping panoramas or large landmarks from a cramped city street corner.

Speed-wise, the SX110 has about average shutter lag and autofocus, so precisely timing shots or tracking fast subjects may be difficult. The SX110 shoots at 1.2 frames per second, which isn’t really fast enough to cover moments of action with a burst of shots.

Low-light ability on the SX110 is above-average. The SX110’s image-stabilized lens helps to reduce camera shake, and high-ISO quality is decent - good enough to freeze motion in low-light situations without producing unusably noisy photos.

At 1.8 in., the SX110 isn’t quite thin but should still be easy enough to carry around in just about any bag or large pocket.

Comparison with Canon PowerShot A2000 IS

The A2000 is like a miniaturized version of the SX110 IS - while featuring similar image quality and speed, the SX110 provides a much larger zoom range and is also a better low-light performer due to its larger aperture lens. Unless you really want to save a few dollars or want the compactness of the A2000.

Pros
  • +
    10x zoom
  • +
    Above-average high-ISO
Canon PowerShot SX110 IS is one of the Best Compact Digital Cameras Overall Under $200
Where to buy
Canon PowerShot SX110 IS
Specifications
  • Zoom: 10.0x
  • Wide-Angle Lens: No
  • Resolution: 9.0MP
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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
Canon PowerShot A2000 IS

Canon’s A2000 IS is part of Canon’s budget A-series of compact cameras. At 1.3 in. thin, the A2000 is certainly compact enough to take just about anywhere. It also packs a moderate 36-216mm (6x) zoom, which doesn’t really cover the telephoto extremes needed for the best fast action, nor the wide-angle extremes needed to cover wide landscapes or large landmarks, but does work fine for general everyday photography, including most travel scenery and portraits.

The A2000 has about average shutter lag and autofocus. It can take photos continuously at 1.3 fps - not really fast enough to be of much use.

The A2000 is above-average in low-light ability, however. Featuring both an image-stabilized lens and good high-ISO quality, the A2000 is one of the better budget compacts for freezing motion and reducing blur.

Pros
  • +
    Above-average high-ISO
  • +
    1.3 in. thick
Canon PowerShot A2000 IS is one of the Best Compact Digital Cameras Overall Under $200
Where to buy
Canon PowerShot A2000 IS
Specifications
  • Zoom: 6.0x
  • Wide-Angle Lens: No
  • Resolution: 10.0MP
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (2 reviews)
  • Rated Good by CNET.com

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