There's a digital camera for photographers of all skill levels
Whether you're a novice photographer or a seasoned pro, there's a compact digital camera that's right for you. Luckily, you don't have to break your budget to capture impressive photos and videos, tests show. Good budget-priced cameras can be had for under $200, while full-featured digital cameras start at around $450.
There are three main types of cameras:
- Digital cameras. These pocket-sized workhorses deliver better-quality photos than under-$200 point-and-shoot cheap digital cameras (which we cover in a separate category). They can handle challenging situations -- dim light, super close-up macros and fast action -- that stymie cheaper cameras. They'll also give you more control over settings, so you can get creative with your shots. Expect to pay $450 to $750, depending on whether you want advanced features like full manual video controls. (Note: Most of the cameras in this report have up to 12x zoom lenses, with some exceptions. Longer zooms are covered in our report on ultra-zoom digital cameras.)
- Compact interchangeable-lens cameras. Also known as mirrorless cameras, these have swappable lenses like bulky digital SLR (single-lens reflex) cameras, but in a scaled-down package. Most are about the size of an index card, and less than 2 inches thick, so they're more discreet and portable than a DSLR. You can get a good one for about $800 with a versatile zoom lens included, but for DSLR-like blazing speed and stunning images, expect to pay $1,000 to $1,400.
- Budget cameras. Cheap digital cameras are good for beginners -- or anyone who wants a pocket-friendly, user-friendly point-and-shoot that won't break the bank. These cameras are truly tiny -- a little bigger than a business card, less than an inch thick and, well, cheap. Every camera in this category costs less than $200. Although no cheap camera can compete with advanced cameras, you can get decent-quality photos if you pick the right one.
To find the best digital cameras, professional testers shoot photos and videos in all kinds of situations -- glaring sun, murky darkness, fast-action sports, intense close-ups -- and then inspect them closely for telltale flaws. They take note of how easy the cameras are to use, how durable and how full-featured. The editors examine reviews from several excellent photography websites, including DPReviews and Amateur Photographer magazine. Owner reviews are key, too; sometimes real-life use reveals flaws the pros don't find. We scour reviews to find out which cameras satisfy experts and owners best.