Few things evoke the fury of the human spirit like shoddy electronics. Every week at Digital Camera HQ, we hear from a slew of angry consumers who are livid at their camera's awful performance and the miserable customer service that often accompanies repair or replacement requests.
All cameras run into problems. Users write scathing, one-star reviews for even the most highly regarded products on the market. But when multiple users report the same catastrophic failures for a particular model, it usually indicates that something is inherently wrong with the manufacturing or design.
With that in mind, we sifted through thousands of user reviews on our site and around the internet looking for the cameras released in 2009 with the most consistently awful reviews. We tested them out for ourselves, and oh boy, did we find some real losers. Avoid these at all costs. Here are the worst cameras of 2009:
Fuji J20: Handle With Extra, Extra Care
Several users reported that the LCD screen broke within a few weeks of purchase. DCHQ user Amanda even claimed that her LCD malfunctioned after just one night. Fuji replaced it for her, but now the camera won't turn on at all. Grahame got three pictures out of his J20 before the screen cracked. He replaced it, but now the whole camera is broken. "Anyone who says this camera is good clearly keeps it in its original box," he said. "Best place for this camera is in the bin."
Our unit didn't break, but the construction did feel pretty flimsy. In any case, the picture quality is poor, so skip the J20 and spring for something like the Canon A1000.
Nikon S220: "Blurry, Grainy, And White-Specked"
Nikon make great cameras. They also make some crummy cameras. While dSLRs like the D90 and D5000 get plenty of love, the Coolpix line of point and shoots is hit or miss. Every year, they pump out a handful of decent Coolpix models, a few boring Coolpix models, and one piece of garbage.
The Nikon S220 is this year's big loser. DCHQ user Melanie remarked: "I HATE THIS CAMERA! Unfortunately, I have never purchased such a horrible product in my life." Joel bluntly stated that it's "Not worth owning," while Rosalyn lamented, "Woe unto me, the pictures were blurry, grainy and white-specked! Don't buy this camera!" In total, we looked at more than 100 user comments for the S220, most of which are indifferent at best or downright nasty at worst.
Professional reviews at CNET and DPInterface.com called it out on its mediocre images and slow performance, and we agree wholeheartedly. It's the least worst camera on this list, but there's a good reason that Ashton Kutcher isn't hocking it on TV this holiday season. Save a few bucks and grab a Nikon L19 or L20 instead.
Pentax W80: Very Strong, But Not Too Sharp
When you try to be everything to everyone, you end up being worthless to all of them. Such is the fate of the Pentax W80. It's nearly indestructible—shockproof, dustproof, waterproof, and freezeproof—but the images--wait for it--are qualityproof (hiyo!).
This is a common problem with these rugged cameras, and that's fine. Designers obviously have to compromise the image quality for the sake of durability. But the W80 takes the fuzziest pics of all the outdoorsy models. PCmag.com found that pics taken in all but the best-lit conditions are grainy. Users found this as well, writing reviews around the Web with titles like "Terrible picture quality—it is going back," and "Poor quality pictures."
Unless you're climbing a mountain, snorkeling, or working on a construction site, you probably don't need one of these tank-like cameras. If you're convinced that you do, go for the Olympus TOUGH 8000 instead of the W80.
Kodak C180: Everything You'd Expect
Kodak has earned the dubious distinction of being perhaps the worst mass-market digital camera manufacturer, churning out dud after dud for several years running. Their C813 even inspired DCHQ's former editor to advise readers to avoid all Kodak cameras, period.
Thankfully, this year's batch of Kodak products was better—well, less worse—than in the past few years. The Kodak Zi8 pocket camcorder, for our money, is far and away the best budget camcorder on the market. The company's inkjet-printer business is doing moderately well, and our reviewer also enjoyed her time with the Z950 digital camera.
That said, there's still not much to love here. We've seen very little user feedback on any of this year's models (probably because Kodak's sales took a tumble—the company has posted losses of more than $100 million for four quarters in a row now), but the comments that we have seen suggest that it's the same old story.
Take the C180 for example. It's the embodiment of everything that's wrong with these cameras: mediocre picture quality, short battery life, blocky construction, and a clunky user interface that looks like it was designed in 2002. If you're in the market for an uber-cheap digital camera, grab the Samsung SL30 instead. In the meantime, we're hoping for big things from their new camcorder.
Olympus FE-45: An Expensive Paperweight
Last and definitely least is the Olympus FE-45. We can confidently say that this is the worst camera of the year. We haven't received enough user ratings to assign it a letter grade, but the reviews we have seen give it the lowest ranking of the 100 or so cameras we've added to DCHQ in the past year.
First of all, it uses the obnoxious xD card format. The picture quality and interface are also years behind their time. But its worst feature, by far, is the atrocious battery life. In his two-star review, entitled "Low Battery Life," DCHQ user Khawar Shahzad claims that two fully-charged NiMh batteries lasted just 10 or 15 minutes. "I would suggest that no one should get this camera," he said, "as this will just be a waste of money." We thought that this had to be some kind of fluke, so we tested his claim. The FE-45 tore through a fresh pair of our Duracell AA alkaline batteries in 12 minutes. Even when you factor in all the variables with different batteries, that's still unbelievably bad.
It's only been on the market for 10 months, but most merchants seem to have stopped selling the FE-45. We found just one store in the Boston area that still had one, and they had to dig it out of storage. Olympus must have realized how bad this was and discontinued it. They've already pumped out the FE-46, which seems to at least be an improvement on this box of bolts. Opt for that model, or better yet, try the Canon SD1200.
To make it perfectly clear, you should not buy these cameras under any circumstances. Even if you find a fantastic price, it won't be a good deal. They will cause you or your loved one some form of headache or frustration in the not-too-distant future. There are plenty of better of cameras out there, sometimes for a better price, so really, truly, in the name of the holiday spirit, avoid these duds.