Competent digital cameras that sell for $150 or less are few and far between. You certainly won't find a stellar camera with incredible image quality at this price, but it is possible to find a decent point-and-shoot -- as long as you keep your expectations reasonable. Ultra-cheap digital cameras have few features and don't take the best pictures, but they're useful to have on hand for capturing everyday moments.
The Canon PowerShot A4000 IS (*Est. $130) outclasses most cheapies. Photos (16 megapixels) and videos (720p HD) look surprisingly good. The 8x zoom gets you closer than its mostly 5x rivals. The body is -- surprisingly -- made out of durable metal, not plastic. The rechargeable battery packs enough juice for a typical day's shooting. And it's all tiny and slim enough to fit into a skinny-jeans pocket.
It's not perfect -- but all of its flaws are simply standard for this price. The LCD screen isn't very sharp or bright, so it can be hard to see sometimes. The A4000 IS struggles in low light, but flash photos look good. It dawdles between shots, forcing testers to wait about 1.5 seconds -- or more.
Bottom line: No runner-up camera under $150 fixes these flaws, and none performs as solidly as the Canon PowerShot A4000 IS overall.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH8 (*Est. $145) comes closest. Owners at Amazon.com almost always praise this camera, and it earns a Best Buy award from a top testing agency. It's just as tiny as the Canon, with slightly better photos and videos in that test -- but no other experts have fully tested the Panasonic FH8. It has a shorter 5x optical zoom, too.
Other runners-up -- the Nikon Coolpix S3300 (*Est. $100), Nikon Coolpix S6300 (*Est. $100) and Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W650 (*Est. $110) -- earn nods here and there, but experts say they're really not all that great. Blurry photos, frustratingly pokey shooting and malfunctions are common complaints.
The tough Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS20 (*Est. $150) looks promising: It says it's waterproof, shockproof, freezeproof and dustproof. Plenty of owners say the TS20 has captured impressive shots of their surfing, cliff-diving, snorkeling and other adventures. But plenty more say it leaked and broke quickly. Some experts say the TS20's photos look dismal, too, although others (equally reputable) say they're fine. Reviews are too inconsistent to make this rugged camera a top pick.