It’s no secret that we love pricey DSLRs. They represent some of the best imaging technology you can get. But sometimes that’s more than you really need. And let’s be real-some of us just don’t have the budget for an $8,000 Nikon D3X. That’s why we chose 10 cameras, many of them just announced, ranging from $300 to $499, that caught our eye with their relatively low cost and impressive features.
Canon PowerShot SX200 IS
An obvious answer to the pint-sized TZ5 from Panasonic, Canon packed a 12.1MP sensor, 12X (28-336mm full-frame equivalent) f/3.4-5.3 optically stabilized zoom, and 3-inch LCD into a camera body that’s small enough to easily fit in a jacket pocket. Keeping with the current trend, the SX200 can capture 720p HD video. The bonus: Unlike some cameras, it has a mini-HDMI output, so you can connect it straight to your high-definition TV to watch the footage.
Casio Exilim EX-FC100
Casio made big waves when it released its EX-F1 and EX-FH20, both of which shoot extremely fast, full-resolution bursts and super-slow-motion HD video. Too bad they weren’t exactly pocket-sized. Now, the company that kicked off the ultra-thin camera craze has created a supercompact model that can shoot 30- frame-per-second bursts and 1000-fps video. Its 5X optical zoom offers a little more reach than the average pocket camera, and its smooth curves will suit even the most stylish of snapshooters.
Fujifilm FinePix F200EXR
Fuji’s first compact camera to use its new Super CCD EXR sensor, the F200EXR sports a 5X zoom lens, as well as some cool new shooting options. In normal shooting mode, you can capture 12MP images. But cut that down to 6MP, and the sensor’s specialized highand low-sensitivity pixels expand the dynamic range by capturing two images at once-one with extra detail in the highlights, the other in the shadows- and merging them. Another mode, called Pixel Fusion, boosts sensitivity by combining adjacent pixels during capture for low-light images with little noise, according to Fuji.
Kodak EasyShare Z980
With its 12MP sensor and 24X, 26- 624mm (full-frame equivalent) f/2.8-5 zoom, the Z980 has a few things in common with other cameras in this round-up. But it’s the only superzoom that we know of to come with a removable vertical grip. Just like most DSLR vertical grips, it screws onto the bottom of the camera body and has a duplicate shutter button to make verticals more comfortable to capture. Its hot-shoe and slightly-larger-thanmost 3-inch LCD make it stand out from the pack. Plus, like more and more compacts these days, it can capture 720p HD video in the H.264 file format.
Nikon Coolpix P90
Nikon’s newest flagship superzoom sports a 24X, 24-624mm (full-frame equivalent) f/2.8-5 optically stabilized zoom lens that even includes ED glass to cut down on chromatic aberration. The camera can also choose your scene mode for you, correct for lens distortion, and includes all the features, such as face detection, that have become staples of compact cameras. If you don’t mind limiting yourself to 3MP, it can even shoot at 15 frames per second.
Olympus has been building interesting creative features into its new DSLRs lately, so it’s no big surprise that a multiple-exposure option (though only 2 frames at a time) is included in this new superzoom. Living up to that category, the 590UZ includes an shift stabilization to help keep your shots steady at those massively long focal lengths. It also includes face detection, “smile shot” mode, a 2.7-inch LCD, and a mini-HDMI output so you can view your images on your high-definition TV.
Panasonic Lumix DM CZS3
Sure, this Lumix has a 10MP sensor- fewer pixels than the similar 12.1MP Canon SX200 midsized long-zoom. But, it has the Canon beat on the wide end of its range, since its 12X optically stabilized lens covers 25-300mm (full-frame equivalent). The ZS3 also lets you zoom while recording 720p video, and it includes face recognition. In contrast to generic face detection, you can program this camera to recognize up to six specific people, expansive 26X, 26-676mm (full-frame equivalent) f/2.8-5 lens and sensor- ranked in importance, so the camera can prioritize your favorite folks when focusing and metering a group photo. Can’t decide on a crop? This camera captures images in up to three aspect ratios simultaneously.
Pentax’s new X70 has a 12MP sensor, but if you shoot in 5MP mode, which can still yield decent-sized prints, it has some nifty things to offer. For example, at that lower resolution, you can shoot at up to ISO 6400 and capture bursts of up to 11 frames per second for up to 21 consecutive images. Aside from these feats of low-res derring-do, the X70 boasts a 24X, 26-624mm (full-frame equivalent) f/2.8-5 zoom lens, 2.7-inch LCD, and sensor-shift image stabilization.
Another entry in the midsized longzoom zoom category, the HZ10W sports the widest lens of all the cameras featured here. Its 10X 24-240mm (full-frame equivalent) f/3.3-5.8 optically stabilized zoom lens feeds light to a 10.2MP sensor. Keeping up with the competition, the HZ10W has a 2.7-inch LCD, offers face detection, and can record video at up to 720p HD resolution. We particularly like its sleek design, which includes a curved strap lug on the upper right of the camera back that’s perfect as a thumb rest when you hold the camera.
Sony Cybershot DSC-HX1
$499, estimated street
Sony’s first Cyber-shot to include a CMOS sensor, this 9.1MP electronic-viewfinder camera raises the imaging stakes. Its 20X optically stabilized zoom, 3-inch LCD, and 10 fps burst are impressive, though they’re not all at the front of this pack. But, besides the sensor design, its 1080p HD video capture and a unique panorama mode that lets you create sweepingly wide or toweringly tall images-up to 1920×4912-pixels (horizontal) or 7152×1080-pixels (vertical)-set this newcomer apart.