Buying a compact camera can be a tricky business thanks to the mind-boggling range of models to choose from, so here's our pick of the best budget-conscious models available today.
All have at least 3x optical zoom and some even offer image stabilisation to help tame camera shake and give them an edge over a typical smartphone. 16 megapixels or more is also the norm even at this price point, so you can print big whilst spending small.
Nobody wants to lug around a brick of a camera, but these entry-level cameras don't sacrifice style or compactness. One of our recommendations is a little pudgier than the others, but it hides some tricks that easily compensate for the extra bulk. You needn't have to worry about buying batteries either, as all pack a proper rechargeable Li-ion power pack.
But what really matters is image and video quality. It's easy to get sucked into the megapixel myth that more pixels equal better results, but that's not always true. Extra resolution is important when it comes to video capture though, and these day's you shouldn't accept anything less than HD video recording with at least 720p resolution.
Canon IXUS 150/Canon PowerShot ELPH 140 IS
Sensor: 16.0 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD Lens: 8x optical zoom, 28-224mm-equivalent focal range Screen: 2.7-inch LCD, 230,000 dots Max continuous shooting rate: 0.8fps Max video resolution: HD 720p
The IXUS 150 may be light on your pocket, but it isn't light on features, packing a 16-megapixel sensor and Canon's powerful Digic 4+ image processor. It'll also record HD video and there are several art filters to play with, too.
It's a breeze to use as well, thanks to features like Live Mode that allows you to see the effect of setting changes in real time, plus there's a help button to explain various functions. Once you get familiar with the camera, you've also got the ability to manually tweak several settings.
Unlike some cut-down compacts, the IXUS 150 doesn't sacrifice speed. It's quick to focus and you won't have to waste time waiting for the screen to clear before you can snap another shot.
There are no unpleasant surprises with image quality either. Keep the sensor sensitivity at ISO 800 or below and noise is well controlled, resulting in detailed, vibrant and accurately exposed images. Optical performance is also respectable, with no noticeable distortion and very little color fringing.
Despite its budget price tag, the IXUS 150 manages to produce quality images and is an excellent choice for novice photographers.
Nikon Coolpix S3600
Sensor: 20.1 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD Lens: 8x optical zoom, 25-200mm-equivalent focal range Screen: 2.7-inch LCD, 230,000 dots Max continuous shooting rate: 1.1fps (6 shots) Max video resolution: HD 720p
The S3600 is Nikon's new entry-level offering in its super-slim Coolpix Style range. It replaces the popular S3500, but you'll have a tough job telling the two apart as they share the same pixel count and a very similar case design.
Nikon has given the S3600 a new 8x zoom lens though, with more wide angle and telephoto range, as well as Vibration Reduction to help iron out camera shake.
The S3600 isn't short on features either, boasting selective color and toy camera effects, in addition to Nikon's nifty Smart Portrait system that'll detect a face, shoot only when he or she smiles, alert you to any blinking and give you some touch-up options.
More megapixels doesn't always mean extra detail, but the S3600 manages to churn out reasonably sharp shots which are well exposed and usually in focus. Low light performance is also pretty good, providing you steer clear of the maximum ISO 3200 sensitivity which is limited to 4MP.
Overall the S3600 doesn't excel in any particular area, but it's a small, stylish and simple snapper that offers decent performance for modest money.
Read: Nikon CoolPix S3600 review.
Nikon Coolpix S32
Sensor: 13.2 megapixels, 1/3.1-inch CMOS Lens: 3x optical zoom, 30-90mm-equivalent focal range Screen: 2.7-inch LCD, 230,000 dots Max continuous shooting rate: 4.7fps (11 shots) Max video resolution: Full HD 1080p
Rarely does a budget camera offer much fun, but the Coolpix S32 is a little bit special as it's dustproof, waterproof to 10m/33ft and able to survive drops from up to 1.5m/5ft. The go-anywhere theme extends to the simple, chunky button layout and a menu system that's a doddle to use in extreme environments.
Inside, the specs aren't quite as impressive, as the S32's sealed lens packs only a 3x optical zoom range, whilst the 13.2-megapixel sensor is physically smaller than the norm.
Nikon has equipped the S32 with Full HD video capture though, as well as a proper rechargeable Li-ion battery pack. The camera also has plenty of scene modes, plus several image effect filters.
Despite accurate exposure metering and fairly quick autofocussing, performance is bottlenecked by the S32's small sensor. Detail levels aren't bad at close range, but shoot a landscape and things start to look very smoothed over and painterly. Low light performance is also mediocre, and you can't manually select ISO sensitivities.
But if you're not too fussed about image quality or zoom range, the Coolpix S32 is incredible value for thrill-seeking photographers on a budget.
Read: Nikon Coolpix S32 review
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W800
Sensor: 20.1 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD Lens: 5x optical zoom, 26-130mm-equivalent focal range Screen: 2.7-inch LCD, 230,000 dots Max continuous shooting rate: 0.52fps Max video resolution: HD 720p
The W800 is Sony's starter Cyber-shot compact camera, yet it still packs a 20.1-megapixel CCD sensor with a sensitivity range of ISO100-3200, plus a 5x optical zoom lens and HD 720p video recording.
The W800 is aimed very much at novice photographers, but if you fancy getting creative, there are four Picture Effect filters to help spice you your shots, plus a 360° Sweep Panorama mode.
Operating the camera is a cinch thanks to the simple menu system, especially when this is set to Easy mode, whereby all non-essential functions are hidden. The W800's reliable exposure metering also ensures you get shots that look true to life.
Image quality does let the side down though, as despite the high pixel count, detail levels are poor. Shoot in low light at higher ISO sensitivities and you'll have to put up with even softer shots. The Sweep Panorama mode is another disappointment, producing blurry, low resolution results.
If you're after a simple point and shoot camera that'll slip easily into a pocket or bag and perform reliably, the W800 certainly fits the bill, but spend slightly more and you can get noticeably improved image quality.
Read: Sony Cyber-shot W800 review.
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