Best Cheap Digital Cameras
Smartphone cameras continue to improve, but they still haven't quite caught up to cheap digital cameras in terms of features and quality. Many frugal consumers also haven't sprung for a smartphone with the latest and greatest camera technology or simply prefer to use a dedicated device worthy of preserving treasured memories. Amateur shutterbugs don't have to spend much to pack this extra piece of electronic gear in a purse or pocket. Our research found several "point-and-shoot" digital cameras that deliver posterity-worthy shots and loads of useful features for less than $200 -- in fact, most are closer to the $150 mark.
Our Top Pick
Canon PowerShot Elph 360 HS Review
Pros: Consumer product experts at The Wirecutter named the Canon PowerShot Elph 350 HS the "Best Cheap Compact Camera" and recommend the upgraded PowerShot Elph 360 HS equally. At just a hair over the $200 mark, the Canon PowerShot Elph 360 HS (starting at $205) packs a robust 20.2 megapixels and 12x optical zoom, a pretty expansive ISO range (with low-light shooting made better by a high-sensitivity image sensor), full HD 1080p video recording, and the full monty of wireless connectivity options. Most inexpensive cameras can't top its combination of features and performance. According to a reviewer at Steve's Digicams, the PowerShot Elph 360 HS pretty much stands alone in a class where its closest competitor is its predecessor.
Cons: Although the PowerShot Elph 360 HS can take sharp, vibrant photos in good light with almost no shutter lag between shots, its speed slows quite a bit when the flash is used. Like most budget compacts, it doesn't produce optimal results in low light. Noise shouldn't be an issue up to ISO 800, but it becomes quite noticeable at ISO 1600 and above. The reviewer at Steve's Digicams also wishes the full-resolution continuous shooting mode of 2.5 frames per second were a bit faster and that the camera had the option to manually control the shutter speeds and aperture (though users can adjust the ISO settings and white balance). The battery life is also a bit of a disappointment, at just 180 photos, and the reviewer says this is further reduced when the Wi-Fi is used.
Features: The Canon PowerShot Elph 360 HS has a CMOS image sensor. Its 12x optical zoom is coupled with 4x digital zoom and built-in optical image stabilization. The camera's shutter speeds range from 1/2000th of a second to 1 second. While the normal burst mode is 2.5 fps, 7.2 fps can be achieved in high-speed burst mode. ISO settings range from 80 to 3200. The PowerShot Elph 360 HS has a pretty wide selection of modes and settings, including portrait, smile, toy camera, fireworks, super vivid, cloudy, tungsten, and fluorescent. The camera supports Wi-Fi, NFC, and PictBridge connections and has USB and HDMI ports. The camera is compatible with SD/SDHC/SDXC cards (it has no internal memory). The LCD display measures 3 inches and has 461K-dot resolution. The battery life can be raised to 265 photos in Eco mode.
Takeaway: The Canon PowerShot Elph 360 HS is a good all-around camera that outperforms most other budget point-and-shoots. Users generally should be quite satisfied with the images it produces and its powerful zoom capabilities. At less than 1 inch thick, with myriad options for transferring and sharing images, this highly portable model aims to give smartphone cameras real competition as the quick-snap photo option of choice.
Fujifilm FinePix XP90 Review
Pros: The waterproof Fujifilm FinePix XP90 (starting at $156) is one tough camera, despite its low price. Experts agree that the camera's compact, sturdy, and "premium"-looking build is its biggest selling point. A Photography Blog reviewer says the FinePix XP90 feels good in the hands and was impressed with the high-resolution 3-inch LCD on the back of the camera. At 920K dots, the screen is bright and easy to read. A reviewer from EPhotozine says the large, clear LCD makes the simple menu layout even easier to navigate. The reviewer also appreciates the Wi-Fi support and ability to geotag images via built-in GPS. Photos have good color and proper exposure, according to these experts, and the optical image stabilization works well. Another boon: Users can record their outdoor adventures in 1080p full HD video.
Cons: The FinePix XP90 isn't without flaws, and the expert reviewers found similar shortcomings. The EPhotozine reviewer noticed that pictures aren't very sharp, even at low ISO settings. At ISO 800 or higher, photos show too much noise and aren't as colorful, either. This reviewer says the noise problem isn't a big issue if photos will be used primarily for social media or small prints, but this is not a great camera in terms of overall image quality. The reviewer from Photography Blog also noted quite a bit of noise in images taken with the XP90 and general fuzziness in the fine detail. Beyond that, the camera struggles to focus consistently unless shooting in very good light.
Features: The Fujifilm FinePix XP90 has a 16.4MP backside-illuminated (BSI) CMOS sensor. It has a 5x optical zoom lens with 2x digital zoom. The ISO range is 100 to 6400 (the top setting is effective for small or medium-size image files). Shutter speeds range from 1/2000th of a second to 4 seconds, and the camera has a 10-frames-per-second burst mode. Like all point-and-shoots, the XP90 has numerous shooting modes and filters, including portrait, night, sport, landscape, snow, underwater (both standard and macro), toy camera, pop color, shade, and fluorescent light. The camera can record 1080p video at 60 fps and supports SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards. In addition to Wi-Fi, it has a micro-USB connector, as well as HDMI. The camera's battery is good for about 210 shots, which is a short lifespan, but it's relatively consistent with other budget models. The XP90 is waterproof to 50 feet, shockproof up to 5.8 feet, and freezeproof to 14 degrees Fahrenheit.
Takeaway: The Fujifilm FinePix XP90 goes where cellphones -- and many other point-and-shoots -- fear to tread. It's a rugged, waterproof digital camera that includes many perks not found in other budget models, like GPS support and full-HD video recording. But the tough exterior belies somewhat weak photo quality. The camera struggles to produce crisp images even in ideal light conditions. But for many consumers, this camera's strong features outweigh its flaws.
Nikon Coolpix A300 Review
Pros: The latest upgrade to Nikon's popular Coolpix S3700, the Nikon Coolpix A300 (starting at $137) is nearly identical to its predecessor, with the main exception being that it adds Bluetooth to a list of connectivity options that already included Wi-Fi and NFC support. While there aren't a lot of reviews of the A300 available, the matching specs suggest to a reviewer at Imaging Resource that potential users can expect the same accurate exposure and good contrast that experts appreciated in photos taken with the S3700. Nikon's effective electronic VR image stabilization is built into both models, helping offset camera shake to produce sharper images. While neither the S3700 nor the A300 is the most exciting camera, they're both easy to use, with respectable features that get the job done.
Cons: Just as the positives of the Nikon Coolpix A300 remain the same as those of the previous version, so do the hindrances. Reviewers who weren't impressed with the 2.7-inch, low-resolution display will find the same meager 230K dots repeated here -- suggesting that issues with pixilation and poor viewing angles linger as well. And users will most likely see at least a tiny bit of noise in most photos taken with this camera, although it's not a big problem at ISOs below 800. The Coolpix A300 shares the the former version's rather slow continuous shooting speed of 1.1 frames per second. And, surprisingly, no moves were made to improve the camera's video capabilities: Like the S3700, the A300 shoots in only 720p high definition (at a rather paltry 30 fps) rather than 1080p HD, which many budget cameras now support.
Features: The Nikon Coolpix A300 has a 20.1MP CCD image sensor, 5x optical zoom, and 4x digital zoom. The ISO settings range from 80 to 1600 and go up to 3200 in auto mode. Shutter speeds range from 1/1500th of a second to 4 seconds. The usual scene modes and exposure settings are there, and the camera includes some basic editing tools such as cropping, red-eye correction, and so on. The A300 supports SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards and has a high-speed USB port in addition to its wireless connection options. It has a battery life of 240 photos.
Takeaway: In many ways, the Nikon Coolpix A300 remains, like its predecessor, an average camera with a handful of highlights. It offers ample resolution, an adequate zoom, "pretty good" picture quality, and an impressive list of wireless connectivity options. With the A300, Nikon has once again found a good enough balance of features, performance, and price to satisfy the everyday consumer -- even if the camera doesn't knock anyone's socks off.
Sony DSC-W830 Review
Pros: The Sony DSC-W830 (starting at $118) takes pretty good photos for the most part, says a reviewer from Camera Labs, and for the super-low price, it's one of the best compact cameras available. Images look crisp -- although occasionally there is just a little color fringing -- and the camera tends to outperform similar models at low ISOs. Also, although the Sony DSC-W830 records video in only 720p high definition, the video quality is still pretty respectable, according to this reviewer. Users who have posted reviews on Amazon have mixed feelings, but positive ratings far outweigh negative. Many buyers say the DSC-W830 is easy to use, and they're happy with the portable size and the picture quality, particularly the sharpness of many of the photos they've taken.
Cons: The Sony DSC-W830 is a super-compact digital camera, but its small size presents some problems. The Camera Labs expert says the flush-mounted buttons can be a little tricky to use, particularly for those with larger hands, and the shutter-release button is touchy as well. Many photographers like to press the button halfway before they snap a photo, to lock in the autofocus -- normally a no-fuss operation but not so with the DSC-W830. The camera is also pretty sluggish compared with most other budget models, according to this reviewer and several users. It takes about 3 seconds from startup until the camera is ready to shoot. As the Camera Lab expert notes, noise is noticeable in pictures shot at settings as low as ISO 200 (although it's said to only become an issue around ISO 800). Some Amazon shoppers report that photos generally tend to be blurry and colors aren't as bright as in photos taken with other cameras. A few users also say they wish the camera had more features.
Features: The Sony DSC-W830 has a 20.1MP CCD sensor with an 8x optical zoom and up to 64x digital zoom, supported by Sony's SteadyShot image stabilization. There's a 2.7-inch LCD on the back with 230.4K-dot resolution. Shutter speeds run from 2 seconds to 1/1600th of a second, and the maximum continuous burst speed is a slow .80 frames per second. Although perhaps slightly short on picture effects, Sony packs a decent number of shooting modes and scene modes into the DSC-W830; there's even a panorama mode. The ISO settings range from 80 to 3200, a greater range than most cheap cameras. This model shoots 720p high-definition video at 30 fps. The DSC-W830 does not have Wi-Fi built in and relies primarily on a high-speed USB port for direct connections. Like most Sony products, the DSC-W830 accepts Memory Sticks for additional storage, but it can also support SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards and is Eye-Fi (Wi-Fi enabled) card compatible. It has a battery life of 210 shots.
Takeaway: The Sony DSC-W830 is a bit hit or miss. Photos can be noisy, quality can be inconsistent, performance can be slow, and the camera lacks Wi-Fi. On the other hand, many users are more than pleased with the purchase and say they've captured good if not great images with this easy-to-operate, super-stowable little camera. There are, indeed, newer and better choices that perform more consistently and provide a bit more convenience -- but they generally cost more than this uber-affordable and still respectable Sony standby.
Nikon Coolpix W100 Review
Pros: If you think you've seen this camera before, you have: It's the new model of the immensely popular Nikon Coolpix S33. Like that camera, it has a simplicity that suggests it was designed with kids as well as adult users in mind. The Nikon Coolpix W100 (starting at $157) is a waterproof camera that's easy to use, takes pretty decent pictures (at least in bright light), and can take a beating. The physical design is solid and blocky, and the controls are a little larger than those on most cameras, which makes them easier to use, according to a reviewer from Photography Blog. The interface is also a cinch to navigate, and Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and NFC support make it easy to transfer photos to a computer or mobile device. With a proprietary app, the camera can even be set to automatically upload shots as they're taken.
Cons: The Photography Blog reviewer reports that the Coolpix W100 can be a bit slow to move between shots, and the autofocus struggles in low light. Don't expect stellar shots overall. An expert from EPhotozine concurs: While photos taken with the Coolpix W100 in brightly lit outdoor settings have good color and exposure, the camera does not manage indoor and low-light situations well at all. A little noise can sometimes be seen at low ISOs, and noise easily becomes an issue at high ISOs. This is when the camera's simplicity works against it, because the ISO is set automatically and can't be adjusted by the user, nor can the white balance. The small, low-resolution screen can also be hard to read.
Features: The Nikon Coolpix W100 has a 13.2MP CMOS sensor and 3x optical zoom, with up to 4x digital zoom. It also has electronic VR image stabilization to help offset camera shake. Shutter speeds range from 1/2000th of a second to one second, and the continuous shooting mode can fire off 11 shots at 4.7 frames per second. The ISO range is 125 to 1600. The camera sports the standard selection of scene modes and white-balance settings, in addition to its underwater shooting capability. Nikon also throws in a few fun editing options, like Add Makeup, Add Starbursts, and Decorate. The camera records 1080p video at 30 fps. The 2.7-inch LCD has a resolution of 230K dots. In addition to its many wireless connection options, this model has a high-speed USB port and micro-HDMI connector. It accepts SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards and has a battery life of 220 photos. This camera is waterproof to 33 feet, shockproof up to 5.9 feet, and freezeproof to 14 degrees Fahrenheit.
Takeaway: The Nikon Coolpix W100 is a respectable waterproof camera that can take nice, colorful pictures. While images may not match the quality of those taken with some other cameras, and some features lag comparatively, this model's ruggedness and ease of operation appeal to consumers looking for a cheap camera that everyone in the family can use. For vacations and everyday photo-sharing, reviewers agree that this budget compact is a good choice.
Canon PowerShot Elph 190 IS Review
Pros: The Canon PowerShot Elph 190 IS (starting at $160; available on Amazon) has two features that make the camera worth considering, according to an expert at Digital Camera HQ: 10x optical zoom and Wi-Fi support. Otherwise, there's not much that merits a second look, as far as this reviewer is concerned. An expert at Steve's Digicams who conducted hands-on testing appreciates that the camera has optical image stabilization and says the feature works well, as does the autofocus. The camera feels snappy when shooting photos in good light, and it's very small and easy to operate. But the PowerShot Elph 190 IS also has its share of shortcomings.
Cons: The reviewer from Steve's Digicams isn't impressed with the camera's small, low-res LCD. Also, the battery life is pretty weak, at about 190 photos per charge (although the manufacturer claims this number can be raised to 245 in Eco mode). There's significant shutter lag when shooting with the flash -- so much so that users can expect to miss many shots. The ISO range is pretty limited, and the color in photos seems inconsistent, as well. The camera's burst mode is fairly glacial, at a mere .80 frames per second (the reviewer timed 10 full-resolution shots at 12.8 seconds), and video is limited to a very unimpressive 720p high definition at 25 fps. The small buttons can be difficult to press and use. Overall, this reviewer concludes that lackluster features make the PowerShot Elph 190 IS feel outdated.
Features: The Canon PowerShot Elph 190 IS has a 20MP CCD sensor (which tends to be slower than more expensive CMOS sensors) and 10x optical and 4x digital zoom, with built-in optical image stabilization. The 2.7-inch LCD has a resolution of 230K dots. Shutter speeds run from 1/2000th of a second to 15 seconds, and the ISO range is 100 to 1600. Although the burst mode tops out at .80 fps, 2.2 fps can be eked out using the low-light setting. The PowerShot Elph 190 IS has a decent set of shooting modes and filters, including portrait, low light, toy camera, monochrome, fireworks, super vivid, cloudy, and tungsten. The camera supports Wi-Fi, NFC, and PictBridge connections and has a USB-out port. For storage, the camera is compatible with SD/SDHC/SDXC cards (it has no internal memory).
Takeaway: The PowerShot Elph 190 IS almost feels like it was made as an afterthought. Canon has given the camera just enough features to get people's attention -- such as 10x optical zoom, a 20MP sensor, image stabilization, and NFC support -- but in practice the basic specs and performance are lackluster. For consumers who can snag the PowerShot Elph 190 IS at a lower price, however, it might be worth it.
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