Entry Digitals

The entry Point-and-Shoot market is toughest of all to navigate. Every company seems to pile on more hype - most of which is meaningless - in an effort to persuade the unknowing into buying their camera. Before we make our recommendations, let's talk about a few things to avoid.

Digital zoom is totally meaningless and does nothing for your photos. It means either the camera chooses high ISO in low light or that the camera crops the picture it takes and digitally stretches the result to make it appear that it zoomed. Neither one does anything good for your pictures. The only zoom that matters is optical zoom, which is the zoom range of the fixed lens.

Image Stabilization - or IS, Mega OIS, VR, and other names - is important. Image Stabilization allows you to hand hold the shot in lower light than normally possible. This is very important with P&S since the tiny sensors always compromise ISO "film" speed and low light performance. Look for this feature as it makes a difference in the quality of the pictures you take.

For just over $100 you can buy the Canon Powershot A590 IS. The A590 lists for $149, and it's worth it, but a little shopping will find you an even better price. The A590 features IS (Image Stabilization), a very good quality 4x zoom lens (35-140mm equivalent), and a bright 2.5" LCD in an 8.0MP dark graphite body. It features the latest in face detection and motion detection technology and produces good quality images in full auto mode or the wide selection of scene modes that work well in tricky lighting.

Experienced users, or those who want to grow with their camera, will appreciate the range of control from all Auto to adjustable ISO, color, contrast, white adjustment, and sharpness/saturation. You also get Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and full Manual , which is very rare in an entry level point-and-shoot. In addition to the 4x optical zoom there is an added 4x digital zoom that works better than most, but keep in mind that digital zoom is of much more limited use than true optical zoom.

The A590 is small but not tiny. In the end it delivers great images right out of the box in full auto mode - there's even an easy mode for complete beginners. When you want more, there is a very wide range of adjustments you can grow with. "Film" is SD or SDHC cards and power is two AA batteries - not bad for a camera that costs just over $100.

Some prefer a really tiny camera that fits easily in a purse, pocket, or backpack. A good choice for those who like thin and small is the Fuji Z100FD. This tiny camera actually packs a 5x (36-180mm) optical zoom and an 8.0MP sensor in that tiny body. It also delivers an excellent image for the cost of around $119 if you shop for it. It achieves super small size by using a small rechargeable Li-Ion battery and comes with the battery and charger. It does away with the optical finder to keep things small, but the LCD is a large 2.7". The Z100FD is also the first Z series to feature Image Stabilization and Automatic Red-Eye Removal.

The Z100FD is available in Shell Pink, Cappuccino Brown, and Tuxedo Black in addition to the standard Satin Silver. The colors will likely be a hit for those who want to tuck it in their purse, but you may have to pay more for colors other than Silver. When it was introduced, the Fujifilm Z100FD had a suggested price of $249, but it has dropped to $199 and can be found today at $115 to $120 at large etailers like Newegg and BuyDig.

Another excellent choice in the beginner P&S category is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-L8. This 8.1MP model features a 5x (32-160mm) optical zoom lens and an exceptionally wide ISO range of 100-6400. Other features are definitely competitive with the best in this category.

If you are wondering why all our choices are around 8MP, it is because of the tiny sensors used in point-and-shoot cameras. 8MP seems to be the sweet spot for current P&S sensors. You can still achieve a wider usable ISO range and keep noise reasonably low. When you go beyond 8MP with these small sensors, image quality deteriorates very fast. Our advice here is to avoid the 12 to 15MP point-and-shoots and stick to 7 to 9MP for best overall performance.

Index Superzooms


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  • yacoub - Tuesday, December 9, 2008 - link

    Anandtech is not where I'd get my camera purchasing advice from. Not only do they routinely miss the best cameras in their round-ups and recommendations, but there are so many dedicated photography and camera websites with much better reviews and content.

    Why bother trying to stick your head into that industry? JUST STICK TO COMPUTER HARDWARE. The ONLY thing these articles do is create a potential to mis-lead people who SHOULD have read dpreview or another camera site for the best advice.
  • malmal - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    Thank you first poster for mentioned the Lumix LX3. I am looking to buy a high-end point and shoot for our honeymoon. I think this is the one to get.

    ;( at the reply from the author for regarding the LX3 as not making sense when entry level SLRs are cheaper. I want a point and shoot on our honeymoon, not an SLR.
  • boogle - Sunday, November 30, 2008 - link

    Did you guys actually use these cams, or read a bunch of reviews around the net and summarise their conclusions?

    Simple things like how the Nikon bodies have auto ISO. Lets say you're wandering around town in the middle of summer - obviously you'll be using ISO 100-200. What if you want to suddenly take a shot down a dark alley, or inside a building? On body without this feature you make a hash of it due to forgetting to knock up the ISO. Nikon does it for you. I believe this feature is slowly leaking into other (not Canon :() bodies too.

    Or how the 'prosumer' bodies have dual command deals, useful for setting both aperture and shutter speed at the same time, etc. They also allow for bracketing of exposures, another useful feature - especially if you want to mess around with HDR.

    No mention of the difference between in-body and in-lens image stabilisation? Its more than just the manufacturers posturing over which offers the greatest benefit - in-lens stabilisation means what you see through the view finder is what you get. With in-body and a long tele, the image may be going up and down so you're not neccesarily sure exactly what you're going to get. A small difference, maybe, but makes a surprising difference.

    You mention battery grips, but to the new user a battery grip means nothing. Do you need one, what's it for, how does it help? And of course different bodies get different advantages from battery grips. Talking about batteries - what about battery life? How about turning the body on & off to save battery life. Start up time, shutter lag, etc. etc.

    You make a lot of fuss about noise, resolution etc. But no sample photos so people can see the difference. Unless you pixel peep, the majority of these differences are actually difficult to see. Shooting in RAW and using certain pieces of software like DXO or Noise Ninja can remove the issue entirely. Some people will prefer the noise reduction of Sony bodies, while others will prefer Canon. A subjective 'noise is worse with X' should at least be qualified. Before I saw sample images for Pentax I would have thought Pentax was rubbish at 1600 or above. It's actually no where near that simple because the Pentax images still retain a lot of detail and if you don't mind grain for detail - then you'll prefer Pentax! I certainly wouldn't be that bothered since if you want a clean image at night you can just use a tripod and shoot at ISO 100.

    I suggest next time doing something like dpreview and take these cams out in the field for a few days (they spend about 14 days). Get to know how each handles, then you'll be able to comment on more than just focus speed, megapixels and how pretty the LCD is. The most important part is how the body handles. If you can't take photos without the camera getting in the way - then there's a problem. It's just a tool, the end result is all that matters.

    I don't mean to come off with a scathing comment - but I do believe an article should be more than just an opinion based on a few observations. It's so easy to write a balanced article on the big SLR manufacturers because they all have their own positives. Sony (apart from the A900) are consumer friendly with their in-body stabilisation, and heavy focus on live view. Canon are great for the technically minded with their extensive feature sets, and wonderfully priced lenses. Nikon are the guys to go with for great high ISO performance, and tend to be more of a 'photographers' camera. Pentax offer massive price advantages, in-body stabilisation, and a brilliant sensor in the K20D.

    (For other people reading this) The very best advice I can offer is to go into a shop like Jessops and handle each of the cameras yourself. Take an SD and CF cart, take some photos. Get a feel for how to change the exposure, aperture, shutter time, etc. Make sure exposure is easy to change - you'll use that a lot even on a compact. Can you preview the images quickly and easily? Does the preview function let you see info about the photo, specifically histograms or flashing over-exposure highlights. When you handle the bodies you'll find one 'feels' right. That's the one you want - otherwise you'll waste your time with settings than taking photos. If a feature you want isn't on the body you like - don't worry, it will be in the future, and by then you'll have a nice collection of lenses to use on it. If you go into a small specialist shop (like Bristol Cameras in Bristol) they'll let you go outside and give it a go.

    Oh one final thing - if you're only ever going to use 'auto', don't get an SLR. You won't use it, you won't like it, and you'll be put off for life. Get a small compact you can slide into any pocket.
  • Wesley Fink - Sunday, November 30, 2008 - link

    This is a Holiday Buying Guide, not a review. It is a summary of information previously published in reviews and roundups. Please click on the Digital Cameras tab if you wish to see any of our camera reviews – complete with sample photos - and digital sensor technology articles.

    Auto ISO has been an ongoing feature on Sony, Pentax, and Olympus prosumer bodies - everyone except Canon until they recently added it. In fact some of the other implementations of Auto ISO are much more flexible in my opinion than the Nikon version. ALL the prosumer models similarly feature several varieties of bracketing adjustments, but the low-end Nikons drop that feature.

    Sorry to burst your bubble but the Pentax, Sony, Olympus and Canon bodies ALL 4 feature dual command dials on prosumer models, and the Pentax Hyperprogram and Sony Program Shift are much more flexible and useful than the Nikon implementation.

    Great high ISO performance is recent to Nikon, and the result mostly of the D3 and D700 which were introduced about a year ago. Until that point high ISO and low noise were owned by Canon CMOS sensors and Nikons generally used CCD sensors. There is no long-term history of Nikon performing better at high ISO with lower noise. Sony also manufactures almost all of the Nikon sensors and they are the most likely mfg of the D3/D700 full-frame sensor.

    We did use all of the cameras - some for many months and some we are still using on a daily basis. It sounds as if you really know little about the cameras you suggest and the features and ergonomics of those models. I suggest YOU try other camera brands before touting features you think are unique to yours and accusing us of not paying attention. You should also note that the Nikon D90 was our pick in the prosumer category, and it is a great camera. IMHO it is the best value in the current Nikon line.
  • boogle - Monday, December 1, 2008 - link

    Please re-read what I wrote, I didn't say Nikon were the best by any stretch - or that they're the only one that offers various features.

    Dual command dials are not present on the budget bodies. I said the prosumer models (not mentioning Nikon, or any manufacturer) feature dual dials, while the budget models generally don't. You just said the same, but are attacking me for saying it?

    I also didn't say Canon didn't use to have the best ISO previously - I was talking about current bodies out right now. Each has their own advantages right now, being you know, positive about all the brands rather than sticking with one brand. Right now Nikon have the best ISO performance, you agree with this yourself. The Canon 50D has lower ISO performance than the 40D - so should I therefore say in 5 years time when, say, Canon have the best ISO performance: 'Oh Nikon offer the best ISO performance because 5 years ago Canon actually reduced their ISO performance, their history in this field is poor'. No! I would say Canon have the best ISO performance.

    Interestingly CMOS/CCD doesn't make as big a diff as you would think. For example, medium format digital backs are almost exclusively CCD.

    Your other comments are exactly what I would have liked to have seen in the article - real life examples of what its like using the bodies. The pros & cons of using them, etc. Not just a focus on megapixels, ISO performance, and the screen. As you're mentioning there's plenty there to talk about. If I was buying a new camera I would want to know the differences, whether it would matter to me as a reader, or if its just the latest marketing rhetoric that can be ignored. For example, from the article, if I didn't know much, I would still wonder what a battery grip is, and why it is important.

    Again I didn't mention Nikon were the be-all and end-all, just that's the system I use most and obviously base my experiences from it. But I still fail to see where I said Nikon offers all of those features and the others don't. In fact I only mentioned them a few times. Obviously I don't have the experience with the other bodies - that's what articles like this are meant to make up for imo - by saying what's better than the other, what camera is probably best to get and why. Rather than say I'm rubbish for not having a whole host of bodies here to test, why not take this as (hopefully) constructive criticism and run with it? They're your articles, you're more than welcome to completely ignore my comments.

    I think the best example would be when you were gushing over the Olympus cameras in an earlier article. From the article it just appeared like you were a fanboy / bought by them. Later on in the comments where you provided a lot more useful information it became clear just how great the system was and why you gushed over it so much. It shouldn't be the comments where the actual useful info is - it should be in the article for all to see!

    Or maybe its dumbed down on purpose, and I've got the wrong end of the stick. But the hardware articles are usually spot on :(
  • boogle - Monday, December 1, 2008 - link

    Hmmm looking through previous articles it seems there are quite a few comments about ommitted info where you then say 'well view X article, its all there'. Since this is a web site, and not a magazine article - why not litter your articles with links? Like when you mention camera X, link to your review of it. When you mention ISO performance, link to an article on what ISO is. Etc. It'll be significantly more useful and provide valuable back-story without cluttering up a short & sweet article. It'll also stop the generic 'X isn't explained / is missing', 'Well its in another article, click on the cameras button' comments. Reply
  • shinpickle - Monday, December 1, 2008 - link

    ^ Agree!

    I think rather than spend the money to build a testing facility or pay a larger research staff, Wesley and AT should focus more on organizing and presenting the info that already exists on competing review sites.

    there is so much good data out there, but other sites don't have enough 'state of the union' roundups & are often not written for a general audience. like at dpreview they often take too long to put reviews out, and for instance, if you want to compare all the latest X category of camera, it's on you to go through articles for each and do the research...

    There would be real value in round-up articles that openly 'stand on the shoulders' of other sites, compile all their findings & testing results to fill in each others' gaps. proudly link to page X of review X on competing site X! site your sources to prove your claims! because you have no credibility & there is very little 'data' in your articles. the facts that your opinions are based on are not sited, but when pressed you openly discuss normankorea, etc. Wesley's 'know it all attitude' & laziness of research make for very sloppy conclusions. no one expects AT to be testing every lens and camera out there, but don't present yourselves as though you have.
  • mikepers - Saturday, November 29, 2008 - link

    A little constructive feedback if that's ok:

    1. I agree that digital zoom is totally worthless, as I think most people would. However, being it's worthless, don't bother mentioning the Canon's digital zoom as being better then most. You're contradicting yourself.

    2. For the truly price sensitive the $150 price of the Canon is not just over $100. I would argue the $115 price of the Finepix falls more into that category.

    The above comments aside, thanks for putting this together in time for the holidays. You've pointed out some camera's that I otherwise might not have considered. Personally I think I will be picking up a TZ5. Small package, great zoom, IS and a decent price.
  • Wesley Fink - Saturday, November 29, 2008 - link

    Thanks for the constructive criticism. I understnad your point about the Canon digital zoom, and certainly I agree. It is just that the Canon digital zoom does more than just enlarge or crop the image in digital zoom. It appears it also changes the image processing and does actually provide a better image than most digital zooms, which are, as we both said, basically worthless.

    As for the Canon A590, the list price is $150, but it is available for $109.99 at www.newegg.com, $108.88 at www.amazon.com, $112.95 at www.buydig.com, and even $115.00 at www.dell.com. Those are four of the largest etailers so I stand by the "just over $100" comment for the A590. I have actually found it for as low as $99 in the past week, but could not duplicate that today.
  • CEO Ballmer - Saturday, November 29, 2008 - link

    The ZuneCam is running about 6 months behind schedule. You people may have to buy one of these things if you are in a rush.
    Sorry, these things happen.


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