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. According to expert tests and user feedback, good budget-priced cameras can be had for under $150, while full-featured digital cameras start at around $500.
There are three main types of digital cameras:
The Canon PowerShot ELPH 360 HS (Est. $210) is the successor to the older Canon PowerShot ELPH 350 HS (Est. $200), and looks to be following in that well-regarded camera's footsteps. Both models garner mostly positive feedback from owners posting reviews to Amazon.com; the 360 HS earns a rating of 4.4 stars out of 5 following 50 reviews, while the 350 HS earns a rating of 4.2 stars out of 5 following more than 100 owner-written reviews.
Owners say that the 20.2-megapixel Canon PowerShot ELPH 360 HS takes sharp, quality photos and is blessed with intuitive, easy-to-use controls. Experts chime in that as far as usability goes, you can simply turn this camera on most of the time (thanks to its Smart Auto setting) and get decent-quality photos without tinkering with the settings. In Creative Shot mode, the Canon snaps several images and applies a set of creative filters for a variety of effects. The 12x zoom is impressive for a camera of this size – it can be easily tucked into a pocket and weighs just 5 ounces – but the downside to the long zoom is that it doesn't let in a lot of light, which can be challenging for capturing photos in low-light settings.
This Canon digital camera also offers rapid startup, and is ready to take the first shot just over a second after hitting the power button. Other pluses include 1080p HD video capture and Wi-Fi compatibility to easily connect your camera to your computer or smartphone to transfer images, and a smartphone can also double as a remote camera control. Battery life is good; expect to be able to take about 185 photos on a single battery charge.
If the Canon PowerShot is a little too much for your budget, the Nikon Coolpix S33 (Est. $130) is an excellent budget alternative. It earns positive feedback from hundreds of owners at Amazon.com and elsewhere. This 13.2-megapixel camera transitions easily between shooting still photos to full HD 1080p video, complete with stereo sound. It's also exceptionally rugged, especially considering its price point. The S33 is waterproof up to 32 feet – and owners say that it takes surprisingly good photos underwater. It's also reasonably shock-proof, rated to withstand drops of up to five feet, and freeze-proof down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Nikon Coolpix S33 has a 3x optical zoom as well as a 6x digital zoom, which Nikon dubs Dynamic Fine Zoom. There's a welcome screen that loads by default, but can be user deactivated -- and that's a good idea as doing so cuts the time to first shot after power up from around 4.5 seconds to around 1.6 seconds.
In one head-to-head test comparing rugged and waterproof cameras, the Nikon earns good ratings for photo quality, video quality, flash photos, and LCD quality, along with a fair score for ease of use. On the other hand, editors at DPReview.com name the Nikon Coolpix S33 one of the best digital cameras for kids thanks to its easy-to-use menu options, oversized buttons, rugged durability and affordable price tag. The Nikon also offers 16 different creative effects and options such as Underwater Face Detection, making it easier to focus on subjects underwater for better-quality photos. The Nikon Coolpix S33 will snap about 220 images on a single battery charge, so you'll rarely be stuck swapping batteries in the midst of an adventure.
If you're looking for a digital camera for less than $100, the Sony CyberShot DSCW800 (Est. $90) looks like a good choice. It offers a resolution of 20.1 megapixels, 5x optical zoom, and the ability to shoot video in 720p. More than 550 owners review this compact point-and-shoot camera at BestBuy.com, where it has a rating of 4.3 stars out of 5. Owners say it's lightweight and slim, making it a handy camera for everyday needs when you need something better than a smartphone camera without the hassle of carrying around a bulky DSLR.
Owners also appreciate the Sony CyberShot DSCW800's USB charging option, allowing users to charge the camera on the go. It comes with a wall adapter and detachable USB cable, meaning you can charge it with any USB charger – no need to carry around a separate charging device for the battery.
Advanced digital cameras are a step above the compact point-and-shoot models discussed above, often heavier and bulkier, but with plenty of additional features and options for more sophisticated photography. They are also notably more expensive, appealing to the enthusiast rather than the casual user that just wants a basic camera for everyday use.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 (Est. $700) is top consideration in this category, earning good feedback from expert reviewers and owners. Editors at one consumer testing organization give it excellent ratings for its viewfinder and LCD quality and very good scores for image and video quality, flash photos, and ease of use. What sets the camera apart from some competitors is that it uses a four thirds image sensor with a total resolution of 16.8 megapixels. That allows the camera to shoot in a variety of aspect ratios -- 3:2, 16:9, 1:1, or 4:3 -- using a much of the image sensor as possible, though, as PCMag.com notes, no aspect ratio will use all of the sensor, limiting the maximum resolution to around 12 megapixels. That's not necessarily a bad thing. "In our experience, the added creative encouragement offered by the multi-aspect approach, combined with a conveniently-placed aspect ratio switch is more valuable than the extra couple of megapixels and larger lens that a full-sensor design would require," say the editors at DPReview.com.
Editors at DPReview.com also praise its image stabilizer, which enhances this camera's performance in low-lighting conditions, and its variety of easy-to-use controls and customized settings to match any photographer's preferences. It's not as light as more basic point-and-shoots, weighing in at 16 ounces, but is still lighter than some competing advanced cameras. The battery is rated to last for about 300 photos before recharging.
The Panasonic is also a great value among this class of digital camera, but if you have a bigger budget, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 II (Est. $1,400) is the top-rated advanced digital camera in one professional roundup, earning excellent scores for video, viewfinder, and LCD quality, very good scores for ease of use and image quality, and a good score for flash photos.
This 20.2-megapixel camera is considerably heavier than your standard point-and-shoot camera -- including the Lumix -- at about 30 ounces, but the added features are worth it when you need better-quality photos. With an 8.33x zoom, the DSC-RX10 II offers 14fps (frames per second) continuous shooting and a 960 fps max frame rate for recording videos.
Editors at DPReview.com say the primary downside is that it doesn't excel at capturing fast-moving subjects using the camera's continuous auto-focus feature. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 II won't disappoint in terms of battery life; capable of taking about 400 photos on a single charge, the Cyber-shot's battery life is among the most robust in this category.
Sony has also released the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 III (Est. $1,600). The chief difference between the two Sonys is that the mark III version sports a massive 25x zoom lens. It's an impressive performer throughout its zoom range, experts say, but there are some downsides, not the least of which is the added cost if you don't need that powerful a zoom. It also makes the camera around 10 ounces heavier, a little bit bulkier, and extracts a small performance penalty. "It takes between three and four seconds for the lens to rack through the full zoom range," note the reviewers at DPReview.com, who add that that the lens also takes a few seconds extra to extend at power up than some competing cameras.
Compact cameras with interchangeable lenses -- often called hybrid or bridge cameras -- occupy the middle ground between the digital cameras covered above and true DSLR cameras, which are covered in their own report. Unlike point-and-shoots and advanced digital cameras, which have permanently mounted lenses, you can swap lenses on a bridge camera for added versatility, but without all the bulk of a digital SLR camera.
In this category, the 24.2 megapixel Sony Alpha a6300 (Est. $1,150 with 16-50mm lens) looks like a great choice. Editors from one professional testing organization give it an excellent rating for its viewfinder and video quality (it can shoot 4K video) and very good ratings for LCD quality, image quality, and ease of use. At just under 13 ounces (body only -- you'll also have to consider the weight of the battery, memory card and lens), it weighs more than most compact point-and-shoot cameras but still not as much as a bulky DSLR.
Editors at DPReview.com praise the a6300's rapid autofocus as well as its robust battery life (about 400 photos) and extensive shooting options. However, they do note that the user interface is rather extensive and not that well organized. You can store often used settings for quick access via programmable buttons, but that can take a little time, and if you need settings that are not pre-stored, dealing with the menu system can be a bit frustrating. However, the editors add, putting in the work to get the best of the camera is worth it. "Its image quality is at least match for anything in its class, its autofocus is very impressive and its 4K video is peerless," they say.
The Fujifilm X-T10 (Est. $900 with lens kit) is also worth considering. It earns a solid rating of 4.7 stars out of 5 in more than 100 owner-written reviews at Amazon.com, and it also earns positive feedback in expert reviews. Editors at one professional testing organization give the Fujifilm an excellent rating for its viewfinder, LCD quality, and flash photos and very good ratings for image quality and ease of use, with a fair score for video quality.
The Fujifilm X-T10 is a 16-megapixel camera with a continuous shooting speed of 8 fps, a little lower than the a6300, which can shoot at 11 fps. That, plus the Sony's fast autofocus system, makes the a6300 a better choice for those that shoot a lot of sports or other action photos. Everyone else, however, will find a lot to like with this lightweight, easy-to-use camera. Its lithium-ion battery lasts for about 350 photos.
We found hundreds of digital camera reviews on sites like DPReview.com, Amateur Photographer, Imaging-Resource.com, CNET, TechRadar.com, PCMag.com, and others. ConsumerReports.org compares dozens of digital cameras in different categories such as compact point-and-shoot cameras, advanced digital cameras, and mirrorless cameras, rating each model for image quality, ease of use, LCD quality, video quality, viewfinder, and other performance indicators, in addition to noting key features such as megapixels and battery life. We turned to Amazon.com, BestBuy.com and elsewhere for feedback from owners on performance in real-world conditions.