Digital Cameras 2013

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Best Cameras For Casual Photographers

Last updated on 07/06/2011

Looking for an easy-to-use camera that fits in a pocket and takes great pictures in any setting? Start here. These are great cameras for “once-in-a-while” photographers -- folks who pull their cameras out on special occasions like parties, family gatherings, or vacations to share online and make a few prints. They’re easy enough even for novice users who just want to pull out the camera and start snapping in just a few seconds. But they’re no slouches, either. They can all snap great photos in any setting, and they’re fast enough to capture every great moment. Some of them even have long zooms and fun extras like sweep panorama modes.

Canon PowerShot ELPH 100 HS
Best Budget Camera of 2011
[Read our full Canon PowerShot ELPH 100 HS Review] The Canon ELPH 100 is easily our favorite point-and-shoot camera of the year, and probably one of the best affordable compacts ever made. Everything about this shooter is done right: It’s fast, it’s easy, and the pictures look great. It takes shots in the blink of an eye (3.6 shots per second, to be specific), so it’ll never lose a great picture to shutter lag or slow shot-to-shot times. Smart Auto mode takes care of all the settings, and it also allows a bit of hands-on control for shooters who are interested. The shots themselves look great, even the ones taken in bad lighting, which is really impressive for a $200 camera. It shoots nice 1080p high-def video too, about the same quality as a good pocket camcorder. If we could change anything, we’d make the zoom a little bit longer and add a few extra “fun” features like a sweep panorama mode (though its 4x lens is still respectable, and it comes with a range of built-in photo effects). Even so, the ELPH 100 is a real winner, and one that we wholeheartedly recommend to anyone shopping for a point-and-shoot.
Sony always make cameras that look great, but sometimes they make one that works great, too -- the WX9, for example. It’s similar to the ELPH 100 in most ways: small, stylish, affordable, and very fast. Its spec sheet looks more impressive, with a 5x zoom lens, a high-res LCD, tons of fun extras like a 3D sweep-panorama mode and background defocus mode, and burst shooting that tops out at 10 frames per second. The tradeoff is that the WX9 flattens and smooths a lot of details in its pictures -- not necessarily a deal-breaker for the casual viewer, but something to consider. It’s one of the coolest little point-and-shoots out there right now, the kind of camera that even occasional photographers look forward to using.
Nikon Coolpix S8100
Versatile Zoom, Solid Low-Light Performance
[Read our full Nikon Coolpix S8100 Review] We consider cameras like the Nikon S8100 to be "compact zooms." That means, roughly, that the zoom range is 10x or greater, and the body is still small enough to fit in a jacket pocket. While the S8100 offers a lot more than the average shiny pocket shooter, it's still a charm to use -- quick, user-friendly, and about as versatile as a camera can get at this price. The 10x zoom range is useful near and far, and it can snap great shots from very dark settings. It doesn't have as many extra features as either the Sony above or the Canon SX230 below, and its pictures can show dull colors in certain situations (overcast skies and bright indoor situations, mostly). But hey, it's impressive that all of the capabilities it does have are crammed into a $250, pocket-sized package. It'll make an excellent vacation camera, capturing everything from faraway landmarks to a candlelit dinner with ease.
Canon PowerShot SX230 HS
Everything a Compact Should Be
from $225.38
[Read our full Canon PowerShot SX230 HS Review] Canon’s excellent SX230 compact zoom is pricey, but it's the only camera that a casual photographer will ever need. The SX230 is about as well-rounded as a compact camera gets. It’s based around similar guts as the ELPH 100 above, and offers a similarly breezy user experience to match. But it boasts a mighty 14x zoom range and a full spread of shooting modes, plus some premium extras like a built-in GPS unit. It’s more balanced than the S8100 above (obviously more costly as well) but casual photographers who shoot enough to maybe call themselves a hobbyist should give this snapper a look. When it’s time to start messing around with real hands-on shooting, this is a good place to start. In the meantime, it just makes taking great pictures easy from anywhere.