Canon PowerShot S95
Original RRP: £399
Current price: around £245
This pocket-sized powerhouse combines smart styling with sophisticated technology, and really impressed us with its overall performance in our tests. The PowerShot family of cameras has long been revered for its ability to deliver great image quality and exciting features in a petite package that scores well in the style stakes too: all aspects that ring true for the Canon PowerShot S95.
In terms of technology, the Canon PowerShot S95 doesn't disappoint. It incorporates Canon's excellent High Sensitivity (HS) system, marrying a 10MP CCD sensor with a powerful DIGIC 4 processor, resulting in an excellent all-round performance when it comes to both operational speed and image quality. The compact camera also offers a superbly fast and sharp f/2.0 zoom lens, with a useful focal range of 28-105mm (35mm equivalent), in addition to HD movie recording.
While the beginner-friendly user interface is blissfully simple to navigate, the Canon PowerShot S95 boasts several features that aim it squarely at the more advanced photography enthusiast, namely raw file shooting capability and full manual control over settings. Throw in top-notch image quality and impressive low light performance and - at the current selling price - the S95 is a real steal.
Read: the full Canon PowerShot S95 review
Panasonic Lumix LX5
Original RRP: £399.99
Current price: around £295
Sporting a stylish all-metal body, one of the Panasonic Lumix LX5's headline features is its speedy f/2.0 24-90mm (35mm equivalent) zoom lens, which stole the show during our testing period. Originally designed to compete with the Canon PowerShot G11, the compact camera packs a 10.1MP sensor and a comprehensive sensitivity range spanning ISO 80-12800, in addition to 720p HD video recording in AVCHD or Motion JPEG format.
Raw file shooting is available with the Panasonic Lumix LX5, as is full manual control. So you can make the most of the fast lens's f/2.0 aperture and generate some pleasing shallow depth-of-field effects, which really come into their own when you're photographing macro subjects.
Image stabilisation is another asset boasted by this well-equipped compact camera, helping to achieve shake-free shots in low light, while the camera's performance at high ISOs is also exemplary. Great colours, plenty of sharp detail and an impressive dynamic range all add to the Panasonic Lumix LX5's impressive image quality, which - when combined with the favourable handling experience this camera delivers - makes it a tempting option at its new, lower price-point.
Nikon Coolpix P7000
Original RRP: £450
Current price: around £264
The tank-like Nikon Coolpix P7000 comes from a prestigious line of high-quality compact cameras aimed at photographers who favour taking complete control over their settings. Offering a decent range of manual dials and dedicated controls, the all-metal camera also boasts a 10.1MP sensor, 720p HD movie recording, built-in optical viewfinder and an outstanding 3-inch, 920,000-dot resolution LCD.
While beginners may be daunted by the plethora of physical controls adorning the Nikon Coolpix P7000's business-like body, advanced photographers will revel in the level of direct access the interface affords to key settings such as ISO, white balance (WB), bracketing and exposure compensation - to name just a few.
Where the Nikon Coolpix P7000 really shines is when it comes to low-light photography. Offering a top sensitivity setting of ISO 6400, we found the camera capable of producing printable shots as high as ISO 3200. Taking this - plus the robust build quality and sophisticated manual functionality - into account, the P7000 can still hold its own among its peers. Our only major criticism when this camera was first launched was its hefty price tag, so there should be little to deter you from snapping up the Nikon P7000 in the sales.
Fuji FinePix F550 EXR
Original RRP: £270
Current price: around £180
This hot contender is packed with high-end features, including a 15x optical zoom lens (equivalent to 24-360mm on a 35mm camera), 16MP rear-illuminated CMOS sensor with EXR technology, sensor-shift image-stabilisation, manual exposure control and raw file shooting. As if that wasn't enough, the Fuji FinePix F550 EXR also boasts Full HD 1080p movie recording capability at 30fps, and even built-in GPS functionality: all features that you really wouldn't expect for a sub-£200 selling price.
Take into account that the new Fuji FinePix F600 EXR is almost identical - save for a new EXR Auto mode with Motion Detection for better action capture, an intelligent digital zoom mode that Fuji states "doubles its telephoto power to 30x", plus a Landmark Navigator added to the GPS system - yet comes with a price tag around that of the Fuji F550 EXR's original RRP, and you really appreciate the value for money that the older model offers.
If you're a tech-loving photographer who hankers after the ability to take control over the entire shooting process without being weighed down by a DSLR body and lenses, then the decision to pick up this little beauty should be a no-brainer.
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