Best $200 Cameras of 2011
Last updated on 04/26/2011
If there’s a sweet spot where point-and-shoots hit the ideal price-to-performance ratio, it’s right around the $200 mark. These cameras appeal to a wide swath of camera buyers, thanks to their combination of nimble performance, solid image quality, cool features, and affordable price. While they don’t generate the buzz that more highfalutin cameras do, we predict that these three affordable point-and-shoots will be some of the best-selling cameras of 2011.
The Canon ELPH 100 HS is as close to point-and-shoot perfection as we’ve seen. The ELPH series (which bore the SD-series tag in North America until this year) has been reliably great for years, but blows the competition out of the water for 2011. The ELPH 100 is the quickest little camera in the class, with speedy autofocus, short shot-to-shot times, and a 3.6 frames-per-second burst mode -- pretty impressive for a $200 camera. Image quality is bright and clear in good shooting conditions, as expected, but holds up remarkably well in poor lighting (at high ISO settings). It’s also the only camera in this price range that shoots 1080p video, good enough to compete with smartphones and pocket camcorders. It’s small enough for any pocket, it looks classy and approachable, and it's a breeze to use. All we could really ask for is a bit of a longer zoom -- it tops out at 4x -- and a few more “fun” features like a sweep panorama mode, but it does have all of Canon’s cool effects and filters built in. We wholeheartedly recommend the ELPH 100 HS to anyone.
The Panasonic FH25 is the replacement for last year’s FH20, winner of this website's "Best $200 Camera" award in 2010. The FH25 takes everything that was great about it’s predecessor and...well, basically keeps it the same. It adds a few new features, like a Leica-branded lens (replacing the generic Lumix lens), new image-sharing software, and the Venus Engine VI processor, which was behind the excellent ZS5 compact-zoom model last year. The 28mm wide-angle, 8x zoom is still quite versatile for a camera like this, and shots are reliably sharp in good shooting conditions. The ELPH 100 (above) has raised the bar for low-light image quality and performance, but the FH25 can still hold its own. We aren’t too keen on the bloated pixel count -- 16 megapixels this year -- but it doesn’t seem to have had a noticeably negative effect on the image quality, so we’ll let it slide. The FH25 is still an excellent budget-friendly point-and-shoot, and if last year’s pattern is any indication, it’s price will fall fast later this year.
The Nikon S6100 is basically a prettier FH25. It has the same 16 megapixel CCD sensor, 720p HD video, and a more-versatile-than-average lens (28mm wide, 7x zoom). But that all comes in a sleeker package, with a 3-inch touchscreen. While it’s a fair bit more attractive than the FH25, it felt a touch more sluggish all around, though image quality holds up similarly well. The touch-based interface isn’t for everyone either -- it is a fairly good implementation, but aside from touch-to-focus, any of the controls could be better served with a physical button interface. Even so, it's still a solid casual shooter, and one of the most attractive ones we've seen.