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Best Ultracompact Pocket Cameras / Digital Camera HQ Buyer's Guide

Last updated on 01/25/2011

In choosing the best sub compact cameras, a combination of features vs. image quality is a a delicate balancing act. Users who want a good pocket option often have to sacrifice zoom capability but want to still have sharp pictures, especially in low light situations. But the cheaper the camera, the more of a challenge it is to keep to this standard. The following is our list of some of the best ultra-compact point and shoots that can toe the line for every day image capture.

Quality is typically sketchy at this price point, but Panasonic puts forth a solid effort with the F3. It puts together a respectable 12.1 megapixel sensor and a fast, 4x zoom lens with optical image stabilization. It takes great flash pictures within its (admittedly limited) range and has some great features including nine-point focusing and high speed single point focusing, face detection, and Panasonic's excellent Intelligent Auto Mode which balances focus and exposure for the best-looking shots in any given situation. In short, it's a solid snapshooter, nothing more. As long as you set your expectations accordingly, you should be happy with this little guy.
At under $300, it’s hard not to like the Canon SD1400 IS. The SD line has been a consistent performer and the SD1400IS is no different. It's also their slimmest ultra-compact to date. Key features include quick startup and auto focus, as well as the stellar DIGIC IV processor and an upgraded 4x zoom that will handle most small groups and portraits quite nicely. It does have a few flaws, like the noise that steadily creeps in above ISO 200, and you won’t see anything of detail while on a photo safari. But for parties and those kiddie moments, it’s a great point-and-shoot option to stuff in your pocket. And with the ability to shoot HD video in 720p, video on the go is both crisp and convenient. It's available in four colors.
Sony always puts out sexy ultra-compacts, but the WX5 actually includes some exciting tech inside as well, using every trick in the book to help it outperform your typical small-sensor pocket camera. It can shoot up to 10 frames per second and uses some software magic to create low-noise composite images. It's apparently capable to shooting rudimentary 3D images too. All this comes in a truly sleek and minuscule camera body featuring a 5x zoom, 1080i HD video, and a 3-inch touchscreen. Whew. All that for a reasonable $299.