Expert Recommendation

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Best Compact Digital Camera Overall Under $400
Expert (88 Recommendations and 32 Compliments)
Send a ComplimentComplimented (Change)
December 20, 2008 Updated: July 4, 2009
Overview

Sporting a class-leading 12x zoom lens that is bright and sharp, the Canon SX200 IS is a great camera for everyone in the family. The best in class reach is good for sports and offers closer views of your subjects. Its wide angle view is great for shooting landscapes. The camera produces very pleasing images with rich colors and fine details under a variety of lighting conditions. It also includes manual controls for more experienced photographers.

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My Best In Class Pick
Canon PowerShot SX200 IS

PowerShot SX200 IS is latest superzoom without an eye-level viewfinder from Canon. It offers a 12MP resolution sensor. The zoom range has been improved over its predecessor and the camera now is equipped with a sharp 12x super-zoom lens with wideer angle view. Despite such a big zoom range the lens gathers more light (wider aperture) at the tele-end of the zoom range than others in its class. That translates into more blur-free shots under a variety of condition throughout the zoom range.

The image quality is good with rich colors and fine details. Camera’s DIGIC IV processor does a good job at removing noise from High ISO images but at the cost of fine details. Nevertheless its high ISO images can still produce acceptable mid-sized prints (up to 8”x10” size).

Despite its small price tag, Canon has not skimped on features, and the camera offers full manual modes (Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, etc.) for demanding users along with many scene modes, which pulls it ahead of the competition. There is an easy mode too where the camera automatically chooses the appropriate settings, depending upon the scene and the lighting.

It has an HD movie mode too. However optical zoom cannot be used during making movies.

The overall versatile feature set, good image quality under a variety of situations, and powerful zoom lens make it the best in class pick among value compacts.

Comparison with Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3

The Canon SX200 IS has manual modes, more tele-reach, a brighter lens at maximum zoom setting. However if one mostly shoots in Auto mode then Panasonic ZS3 is better choice as it has better movie mode.

Comparison with Fujifilm FinePix F200EXR

Much larger zoom range.

Pros
  • +
    Good zoom range
  • +
    wider aperture than competition at tele-end of zoom
  • +
    Good image quality
  • +
    Useful Aperture/Shutter priority & manual modes
Cons
  • -
    Higher instances of color fringing around high contrast edges
  • -
    Flash pops up automatically and can't be put down when camera is switched on
Canon PowerShot SX200 IS is the Best Compact Digital Camera Overall Under $400
Where to buy
Canon PowerShot SX200 IS
  • Best Price: $313
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Zoom: 12.0x
  • Wide-Angle Lens: 28mm (25% wider)
  • Resolution: 12.1MP
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (2 reviews)
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com

Comparing My Best In Class Pick with Other Good Choices

Product
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Canon PowerShot SX200 IS
2
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3
3
Fujifilm FinePix F200EXR
Customer Rating
Price $313.29
Size (W x H x D) 4.1 x 2.4 x 1.5 in. 4.1 x 2.3 x 1.3 in. 3.8 x 2.3 x 0.9 in.
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Sensor Size
6.0 x 4.5 mm 6.0 x 4.4 mm 7.8 x 5.8 mm
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Effective Sensor Resolution
12.1 megapixels 10.1 megapixels 12.0 megapixels
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Shutter Lag Time (including auto-focus time)
0.3 sec 0.7 - 0.8 sec 0.5 - 0.6 sec
Max Shooting Speed (continuous) 1.0 frames/sec 1.5 frames/sec 0.5 frames/sec
Max Video Resolution 1080 x 720 pixels 1280 x 720 pixels 640 x 480 pixels
Max Video Frame Rate (max resolution) 30 frames/sec 60 frames/sec 30 frames/sec
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Min Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
28 mm 25 mm 28 mm
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Max Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
336 mm 300 mm 140 mm
Optical Zoom 12.0x 12.0x 5.0x
Min Focus Distance (not macro) 19.7 in. 19.7 in. 17.7 in.
Min Focus Distance (macro) 0.0 in. 1.2 in. 2.0 in.
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Max Aperture (wide-angle)
f/3.4 f/3.3 f/3.3
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Max Aperture (tele-photo)
f/4.3 f/4.9 f/5.1
Max Usable ISO (subjective) 1600 1600 1600
Aperture Priority Mode Available Yes No Yes
Shutter Priority Mode Available Yes No No
Battery Type Proprietary Lithium Ion Rechargeable Proprietary Lithium Ion Rechargeable Proprietary Lithium Ion Rechargeable
Image Quality
Corner to corner sharpness Very good excellent excellent
Quality of optics good excellent excellent
2
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3

The Pansonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 is part of the highly successful TZ (Travel Zoom) series. It packs a versatile 12x zoom lens with a super wide angle view in a sturdy metal body.

Despite being so tightly packed, the lens retains its sharpness & produces little distortion across the zoom range which is commendable. The camera is a snappy performer and battery life is good making it great companion for travel. The camera also features a superb HD movie mode that supports using the optical zoom while recording movies (a rare feature among compacts).

Panasonic has improved their image processing technology over time, and the ZS3 uses their latest Venus Engine HD processor for the task. This image processor also helps in better compression of movie clips which now require less memory card space.
The unique multi-aspect sensor design results in efficient utilization of pixels while taking photos in various aspact ratios (4:3, 3:2 or 16:9).

But for the missing Manual modes (Aperture/Shutter priority, etc.) this camera would have been top overall choice in this category.

Comparison with Fujifilm FinePix F200EXR

More zoom and better movie mode.

Pros
  • +
    Class leading 12x zoom with super wide angle view
  • +
    Low distortion lens with good corner-to-corner sharpness
  • +
    Sturdy metal body
  • +
    Class leading LCD resolution (460K dots) that is great for framing and checking focus
  • +
    Good image quality
Cons
  • -
    Lacks useful Aperture/Shutter priority modes.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 is one of the Best Compact Digital Cameras Overall Under $400
Where to buy
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3
Specifications
  • Zoom: 12.0x
  • Wide-Angle Lens: 25mm (40% wider)
  • Resolution: 10.1MP
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
Fujifilm FinePix F200EXR

Fuji F series cameras are renowned for their super CCD sensors which produce less noisy images than others in class. Finepix F200EXR is the latest model which now support 5x zoom producing sharp images with minimal distortion throughout the zoom range. The lens also provides wide angle view, which is great for capturing landscapes and taking photos of family gatherings. The high ISO image quality is among the best in class. The camera now offers useful aperture & shutter priority modes too.

The compact size, rich feature set, good image quality and useful zoom range makes this camera an irresistible offering. If you can live with its smaller 5x zoom range (as compared to 12x zooms of Panasonic ZS3 & Canon SX200IS), then this camera will delight you with pleasant images.

It is great for travel too due to its ultra-compact size.

Comparison with Canon PowerShot SD880 IS

More zoom, availability of Aperture/Shutter priority modes. Better low light performance.

Pros
  • +
    Good image quality
  • +
    Low distortion lens with good corner-to-corner sharpness
  • +
    Sturdy metal body
  • +
    Class leading LCD resolution (460K dots) that is great for framing and checking focus
  • +
    useful Aperture/Shutter priority modes.
  • +
    Ultra-compact size
Cons
  • -
    small zoom range
Fujifilm FinePix F200EXR is one of the Best Compact Digital Cameras Overall Under $400
Where to buy
Fujifilm FinePix F200EXR
Specifications
  • Zoom: 5.0x
  • Wide-Angle Lens: 28mm (25% wider)
  • Resolution: 12.0MP
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (3 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Rated Excellent by CNET.com
4
Canon PowerShot SD880 IS

The Canon PowerShot SD880 IS is the most affordable camera with the latest DGIC IV image processor in the Canon lineup. It has a sharp 4x optical zoom lens with wide angle view.

Due to DIGIC IV the high ISO images are cleaner than ever and without unpleasant noise reduction artifacts, resulting in good image quality under variety of situations.

Pros
  • +
    Good image quality
  • +
    Good corner-to-corner sharpness
  • +
    Ultra-compact size
Cons
  • -
    Small zoom range
  • -
    Lack of manual modes
Canon PowerShot SD880 IS is one of the Best Compact Digital Cameras Overall Under $400
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

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