Expert Recommendation

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Best Ultra Compact Digital Camera Overall Under $150
Expert (97 Recommendations and 21 Compliments)
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December 21, 2008
Overview

At the extreme budget end of the ultracompact range, there isn’t quite a perfect option available, but Sony’s W150 comes close, with a featureset that includes a versatile 30-150mm (5x) zoom range that covers most everyday shooting situations, and even fast shutter lag/autofocus performance and continuous shooting rates that are typically reserved for much higher-end sports cameras. Image quality and low-light ability isn’t quite best-in-class, but you won’t find a more capable jack-of-all-trades camera in this range.

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My Best In Class Pick
Sony Cybershot DSC-W150

While the Sony W150 sits in the middle of Sony’s more affordable W-line of ultracompacts, it’s one of the most feature-packed cameras in the ranging. Its 30-150mm (5x) zoom lens isn’t quite as wide and doesn’t zoom quite as far in as higher-end cameras, it’s one of the largest zoom ranges at the price range, and makes the W150 a very capable camera for both taking in large scenes like landscapes or building interiors and even zooming in for close-ups of medium-range subjects like indoor sports, for instance.

Low-light quality is a bit below average - the W150 does feature an image stabilization system, but it high-ISO quality is below-average.

Despite being a budget camera, the W150 actually has very good shutter lag and autofocus performance - you shouldn’t have too much of a problem precisely timing shots or keeping track of fast-moving subjects. The W150 also takes photos at a fairly quick 2 frames per second, for an unlimited number of shots - useful for taking quick bursts of photos at moments of peak action, and then picking out the best photo afterward.

Comparison with Canon PowerShot SD770 IS

The SD770 and W150 essentially present a contrast between quality and capability. With a 30mm wide-angle and 5x zoom range, quick shutter lag and autofocus, and a quick 2fps continuous shooting mode, the W150 comes equipped with the tools to handle a wide range of shooting situations, from travel photography to sports. The SD770 ultimately has the better image quality, however, especially in low-light situations where the W150 produces blotchier/noisier results.

Comparison with Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS5

Like the W150, the FS5 features a 30mm wide-angle lens that makes it one of the more versatile cameras around. The W150 beats out the FS5 with a bit longer telephoto range, and performs better for fast action situations in general with its quicker autofocus, shutter lag, and continuous shooting rate.

Pros
  • +
    Image stabilization
  • +
    Wide 30mm wide-angle
  • +
    Moderately long 150mm telephoto
  • +
    Fast shutter lag,autofocus
  • +
    Fast 2fps continuous shooting
Cons
  • -
    Below-average high-ISO
Sony Cybershot DSC-W150 is the Best Ultra Compact Digital Camera Overall Under $150
Where to buy
Sony Cybershot DSC-W150
Specifications
  • Zoom: 5.0x
  • Wide-Angle Lens: 30mm (17% wider)
  • Resolution: 8.1MP
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Website Reviews (1 review)
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com

Comparing My Best In Class Pick with Other Good Choices

Product
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Sony Cybershot DSC-W150
2
Canon PowerShot SD770 IS
3
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS5
Customer Rating
Price $244.00
Size (W x H x D) 3.7 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 3.4 x 2.1 x 0.8 in. 3.7 x 2.1 x 0.9 in.
Weight (without batteries) 5.0 oz 4.6 oz 4.2 oz
Max Shooting Speed (burst) 2.0 frames/sec 1.5 frames/sec 2.5 frames/sec
Max Consecutive Burst Frames Unlimited Unlimited 5 frames
?
Min Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
30 mm 35 mm 30 mm
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Max Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
150 mm 105 mm 120 mm
Optical Zoom 5.0x 3.0x 4.0x
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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/3.3
?
Max Aperture (tele-photo)
f/5.2 f/4.9 f/5.8
Battery Life 400 shots 300 shots 300 shots
High ISO quality Average Good Average
Shutter lag Good Average Average
Travel Rating Good Poor Average
Fast Action Rating Average Poor Unusable
People/Pets Portrait Rating Good Average Poor
Low-light Rating Average Good Average
2
Canon PowerShot SD770 IS

At this end of the ultracompact range, good all-around options are few and far between, and usually one has to choose between solid quality and exceptional featureset. Canon’s SD770 certainly falls into the former category - aside from an image-stabilized lens (all but standard these days), there’s nothing too notable about the SD770, except for solid image quality that isn’t necessarily a given at this price point.

With an ordinary 35-105mm (3x) zoom range, the SD770 isn’t all that versatile but is fine for general use - jut don’t expect to capture sweeping landscapes or zoom in on faraway sports subjects very well. With an lens-based IS system to help combat blur, the SD770 is better than most cameras in low-light situations, even though its average high-ISO ability still produces a moderate amount of grain/noise.

The SD770 is about average in terms of autofocus and shutter lag. It takes photos continuously at 1.4 frames per second, which is just fast enough to be used as a burst mode to take a series of shots of some peak moment of action, in order to choose the best photo afterwards.

Comparison with Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS5

With its 30mm wide-angle lens, the Panasonic FS5 is a more versatile camera and could be a better choice for those who do lots of travel photography requiring wide-angles, but doesn’t shoot too much in low-light situations. For general photography that require indoor or nighttime situations, however, the SD770’s better high-ISO quality becomes an all-important factor for reducing noise and blur.

Pros
  • +
    Above-average high-ISO
  • +
    Image stabilization
Canon PowerShot SD770 IS is one of the Best Ultra Compact Digital Cameras Overall Under $150
Where to buy
Canon PowerShot SD770 IS
Specifications
  • Zoom: 3.0x
  • Wide-Angle Lens: No
  • Resolution: 10.0MP
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (1 review)
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com
3
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS5

At the very budget spectrum of Panasonic’s ultracompacts, the Panasonic FS5 doesn’t offer too much in the way of features aside from its versatile 30-120mm (4x) zoom range. Though its 120mm telephoto end doesn’t zoom much further than the typical ultracompact and isn’t unusable for really long-range subjects, its 30mm wide-angle can be a big help for taking photos of landscapes or cramped building interiors, which are often encountered in travel photography.

The Panasonic’s low-light ability is a bit below average. While it does feature an image-stabilized lens to reduce camera shake, the FS5’s high-ISO ability produces blotchy/noisy photos. The FS5 is about average in terms of shutter lag and autofocus, but it can take photos at 2.5 frames per second for up to 5 photos, a useful tool for taking quick bursts of shots and choosing the best photo afterwards.

Pros
  • +
    Image stabilization
  • +
    Wide 30mm wide-angle
  • +
    Fast 2.5fps burst mode
Cons
  • -
    Below-average high-ISO
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS5 is one of the Best Ultra Compact Digital Cameras Overall Under $150
Where to buy
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS5
Specifications
  • Zoom: 4.0x
  • Wide-Angle Lens: 30mm (17% wider)
  • Resolution: 10.1MP
More

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