Fujifilm FinePix XP90 Review

(From $156.00 Best)

The waterproof FinePix XP90 is one of the toughest budget cameras around, with specs that best many standard digital models. The photos tend to be on the soft side, but the tradeoff may be worth it.

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.

Where to buy

Canon PowerShot Elph 360 HS Review

(From $205.00 Best)

With 12x optical zoom, a 20.2MP image sensor, and almost no shutter lag, the PowerShot Elph 360 HS is practically peerless. Its biggest competitor is the previous version of the same camera.

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.

Where to buy

Sony DSC-W830 Review

(From $118.00 Good)

The 20.1MP Sony DSC-W830 sports 8x optical zoom and generally takes nice, sharp photos, although the quality is not always consistent. The small size appeals to some, but lack of Wi-Fi may disappoint.

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.

Where to buy

Nikon Coolpix A300 Review

(From $137.00 Good)

This upgrade to the Coolpix S3700 retains the 20.1MP sensor and 8X optical zoom but adds Bluetooth to the mix. The A300 likely shares its precursor's pitfalls, but both are solid budget buys.

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.

Where to buy

Nikon Coolpix W100 Review

(From $157.00 Good)

The 13.4MP Coolpix W100 (successor to the oh-so-popular S33) is a basic camera that snaps decent photos both on land and underwater. Large buttons and a dead-simple interface make it family friendly.

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.

Where to buy

Canon PowerShot Elph 190 IS Review

(From $160.00 Think Twice)

The PowerShot Elph 190 IS fails to impress experts with ho-hum features and mediocre performance. The 10x optical zoom and connectivity options are nice but don't outweigh shortcomings.

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.

Buying Guide

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.

Choosing a Cheap Digital Camera

Professional and ambitious amateur photographers opt for more expensive digital single-lens reflex cameras. DSLRs boast larger image sensors, interchangeable lenses, and more bells and whistles than most casual users need. These heftier models generally cost about four times as much as a cheap compact digital camera.

For those who simply want better quality pictures than a cellphone can capture, many of the same brands that serve the upscale DSLR market, including Canon, Nikon, Sony, and Fujifilm, also sell pocket-size point-and-shoots for travel or carrying around day to day. The real strong point of cheap digital cameras -- besides the price -- is their simplicity. Consumers buying a budget point-and-shoot probably don't want to worry about the finer points of good photo composition. They simply want to, well, point and shoot. All the models we researched have myriad preset shooting modes and convenient aids designed to take a lot of the guesswork out of composing photos.

Our top choice among compact digital cameras is the Canon PowerShot Elph 360 HS (starting at $205). Although it costs a hair over $200, this camera is a versatile all-around performer that can shoot better, often faster, photos than most of its cheap competitors and packs in a few extra perks. Following close behind is the Nikon Coolpix A300 (starting at $137). It struggles a bit more with speed and low-light image quality, but photos generally turn out well and the price is certainly lower. The older and relatively stripped down Sony DSC-W830 (starting at $118) is the smallest and lightest of the bunch. It generally takes sharp photos but snaps a blurry shot once in a while.

Although Canon generally makes very good cameras, sometimes its budget models fall short of the mark. The Canon PowerShot Elph 190 IS (starting at $160) presents one such case. According to reviewers, many of the camera's features feel outdated, especially for the price, and the photo quality is lacking.

Waterproof and Rugged Cameras.

It's safe to hazard that most cellphone owners have suffered a cracked screen or submersion accident. With that in mind, one of the best reasons to buy a dedicated picture-taking device is that some cameras can go places a phone shouldn't. With reinforced or waterproof casings, they're made to endure rough adventures or go in the water when users are swimming, boating, or even snorkeling along island shores. They offer varying degrees of protection in the great outdoors -- or in clumsy hands indoors. Waterproofing allows families to capture every moment of a vacation on "film," especially those unique underwater experiences.

Budget shoppers can choose from a variety of "tough" or "rugged cameras," as they're called. Waterproof digital cameras have dropped in price so that even frugal shoppers can afford them, but just keep in mind that there's usually some degree of image quality that must be sacrificed in the service of increased durability. Our top pick for a cheap waterproof digital camera is the Fujifilm FinePix XP90 (staring at $156). It's relatively speedy and waterproof to 50 feet -- and shockproof, freezeproof, and dustproof to boot. For many reviewers, the affordable ruggedness more than makes up for less impressive image quality. The Nikon Coolpix W100 (starting at $157) has a slightly lower water-resistance rating, at 33 feet, and several other basic features that lag behind competitors'. But this new release from Nikon should satisfy consumers looking for a tough family camera that even the kids can use. The previous version, the Nikon S33, was a No. 1 bestseller on Amazon, and with the addition of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and NFC connections, the Coolpix W100 is likely to follow in the footsteps of its predecessor.

Another model that's especially nice for adventurers but a bit outside our price range is the Olympus Tough TG-870 (starting at $279). While the two models above can withstand a drop of about 6 feet, this camera adds another foot to its comfort zone and claims to be crushproof up to 220 pounds of pressure. The less expensive cameras also have their share of focusing foibles, while the Olympus TG-870 is said to produce sharp, clear pictures both underwater and on dry land.

Instant Cameras.

Stripped-down "instant" cameras aren't necessarily viable competitors to the best cheap digital cameras, but they offer a simple way to capture the moment, along with immediate gratification. The Polaroid Snap (starting at $90) also one-ups the Polaroids of yesteryear: It can instantly produce those classic "party shots" for passing around while also storing digital copies on a memory card to view, print, and share later.

Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table

(from $205.00)
Resolution 20.2MP
Optical Zoom 12x
ISO Range 80-3200
HD Video 1080p/30fps
LCD 3 inches (461K dots)
Wireless Connectivity Wi-Fi, PictBridge, NFC
Battery Life 180 photos (265 in Eco mode)
Waterproof No
(from $156.00)
Resolution 16.4MP
Optical Zoom 5x
ISO Range 100-6400 (6400 effective only in smaller image sizes)
HD Video 1080p/60fps
LCD 3 inches (920K dots)
Wireless Connectivity Wi-Fi, GPS
Battery Life 210 photos
Waterproof Yes (to 50 feet)
(from $137.00)
Resolution 20.1MP
Optical Zoom 8x
ISO Range 80-1600 (up to 3200 in Auto mode)
HD Video 720p/30fps
LCD 2.7 inches (230K dots)
Wireless Connectivity Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC
Battery Life 240 photos
Waterproof No
(from $118.00)
Resolution 20.1MP
Optical Zoom 8x
ISO Range 80-3200
HD Video 720p/30fps
LCD 2.7 inches (230.4K dots)
Wireless Connectivity No
Battery Life 210 photos
Waterproof No
(from $157.00)
Resolution 13.2MP
Optical Zoom 3x
ISO Range 125-1600
HD Video 1080p/30fps
LCD 2.7 inches (230K dots)
Wireless Connectivity Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC
Battery Life 220 photos
Waterproof Yes (to 33 feet)
(from $160.00)
Resolution 20MP
Optical Zoom 10x
ISO Range 100-1600
HD Video 720p/25fps
LCD 2.7 inches (230K dots)
Wireless Connectivity Wi-Fi, PictBridge, NFC
Battery Life 190 photos (245 in Eco mode)
Waterproof No
(from $279.00)
Resolution 16MP
Optical Zoom 5x
ISO Range 125-6400
HD Video 1080p/60fps
LCD 3 inches, 180-degree flip (920K dots)
Wireless Connectivity Wi-Fi, PictBridge, GPS
Battery Life 300 photos
Waterproof Yes (to 50 feet)
(from $230.00)
Resolution 16MP
Optical Zoom 20x
ISO Range 125-1600 (up to 6400 in Auto mode)
HD Video 1080p/30fps
LCD 3 inches (460K dots)
Wireless Connectivity Wi-Fi, NFC
Battery Life 210 photos
Waterproof No
(from $148.00)
Resolution 16.1MP
Optical Zoom 4x
ISO Range 100-1600 (up to 6400 in High Sensitivity mode)
HD Video 720p/30fps
LCD 2.7 inches (230K dots)
Wireless Connectivity No
Battery Life 250 photos
Waterproof Yes (to 26 feet)
(from $90.00)
Resolution 10MP
Optical Zoom N/A
ISO Range N/A
HD Video N/A
LCD N/A (optical viewfinder)
Wireless Connectivity N/A
Battery Life N/A
Waterproof No

Digital Camera Reviews: What We Considered

When conducting our research, we consulted reviews by camera and consumer product experts as well as everyday users. Most inexpensive digital cameras get a mix of positive and negative feedback. When it comes to performance, image quality is king, and unfortunately most digital cameras under $200 abdicate that throne. It's certainly possible to snap great-looking photos with a cheap digital camera, but doing so consistently can be tricky. Generally budget cameras require a lot of light and a still subject to take an ideal photo. Most struggle in darker settings and with fast-moving subjects. Still, under the right conditions, our top picks can snap colorful, sharp, vivid photos without a lot of fuss.

Resolution.

Today's budget digital cameras almost always have resolutions of 14 to 20 megapixels -- which, truth be told, is more than most users need. A sharp-looking 8x10 photo requires only about 5MP. At a resolution of 10MP, users can dramatically increase a photo's size while retaining sharp detail.

With an expensive camera like a DSLR, experts say the size and type of the image sensor, as well as the lens, matter a lot more than the number of megapixels. But the sensors on cheap compact cameras tend to be similarly small (although the type and technology differ), so those with higher resolution may offer better image quality in general. That's why manufacturers are packing more and more megapixels onto the tiny sensors in low-priced cameras (although there's a point at which too many megapixels may prove a drawback).

It's not surprising, then, that among our picks, the Canon PowerShot Elph 360 HS, Nikon Coolpix A300, and Sony DSC-W830 -- all of which tout about 20MP -- are said to produce the most pleasing pictures. The resolution is one thing that's typically pared down on "tough" models. Although the 16.4MP Fujifilm FinePix XP90 has more megapixels -- and better overall image quality -- than the Nikon Coolpix W100, experts say its pictures tend to be less sharp than some other cameras'.

There are clearly other factors that influence photo quality, however. This is evident in critiques that pictures taken with the Sony DSC-W830 are hit or miss, and the 20MP Canon PowerShot Elph 190 IS doesn't achieve the same regard as our top picks with the same resolution. For example, a reviewer for Steve's Digicams says the colors in photos taken with the PowerShot Elph 190 IS are inconsistent.

ISO Settings.

Digital camera reviews tend to talk a lot about a camera's image quality at different ISO settings. Changing the ISO makes the camera more or less sensitive to light. Budget cameras can typically be set to 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1600 ISO, and most of our top picks can reach levels as high as ISO 3200. The higher the number, the less light needed to take a properly exposed photo and the better the camera can capture shots in dark settings. The Fujifilm FinePix XP90 and the Olympus Tough TG-870, which sport back-illuminated (BSI) CMOS sensors purported to capture more light, can go as high as ISO 6400. But there's a tradeoff, especially in budget cameras: Photos snapped at higher ISO settings tend to look "noisy" or grainy and may display other distortions known as digital artifacts. The images also may look more washed out than photos taken in bright light. While you can try to always keep the camera on a low ISO setting, don't expect to take a sharp picture in a poorly lit room with the ISO set to 100.

Image Stabilization.

In general, photos taken indoors are likely to wind up blurrier. To take pictures without a tripod or a flash in low light, you need a camera with image stabilization to minimize the blurring effect of unsteady hands or a moving subject. Optical image stabilization used to be pretty rare in budget models, which relied on digital tricks to reduce blurring in photos. Now the feature is commonplace and shows up in all the point-and-shoot digital cameras included in this guide.

Optical Zoom.

One of the biggest boons of a compact camera over a cellphone camera is the ability to capture shots from a distance. There are often two types of zoom listed in the specs for a digital camera: optical and digital. Optical zoom is the one to note. Digital zoom is basically the same technology used by cellphones and doesn't preserve image quality; instead, it simply enlarges the individual pixels in a photo, making it less clear and crisp.

Many cheap digital cameras can magnify an image at least five times, but that number is ever climbing higher. The Canon PowerShot Elph 360 HS has the highest zoom among our top picks (and within the Canon PowerShot Elph family) at 12x. While the newly released budget Nikon Coolpix A300 has only 8x optical zoom, the next step up in the A-series, the A900 with 35x zoom, costs upward of $200 more. However, unlike with Canon, there's a happy medium for potential Nikon Coolpix customers who want to multiply the zoom without multiplying the price. Although it lies just outside our Cheapism price range, the older Coolpix S7000 (starting at $237) offers 20x optical zoom and good image stabilization. While it packs fewer megapixels than the new A-series models, at 16MP, the Coolpix S7000 is said to produce great-looking, colorful outdoor photos.

Shutter Speed.

Shutter speed determines how long the shutter remains open while the camera takes a photo. Less bright conditions require a slow shutter speed, while a faster shutter speed requires more light. A shutter speed of about 1/60th of a second is typical for most photos. When it comes to budget point-and shoot cameras, there's not a lot of variation with respect to shutter speeds. They generally have ranges that fall within 4 seconds to 1/2000th of a second. Given the limited differences, this isn't a setting the average shopper needs to worry about too much, but it is worth noting given that the ability to operate at faster shutter speeds makes some cameras slightly better equipped than others to freeze moving figures. The somewhat pricier Nikon Coolpix S7000 mentioned above can achieve speeds up to 1/4000th of a second. The slowest camera on our list of picks is the Sony DSC-W830, which has a maximum speed of 1/1600th of a second.

Continuous Shooting Speed.

A continuous shooting mode lets you hold down the shutter button and snap several pictures in a row. It's a nice feature to have when shooting action shots. Some cameras, as you'd expect, shoot these series faster than others, at "burst rates" measured in frames per second (fps). For example, the Canon PowerShot Elph 360 HS can snap photos at a maximum speed of 7.2 fps. The Fujifilm FinePix XP90 shoots at a speedy 10 fps, the fastest burst rate of all the cameras we reviewed -- even the more expensive models. At the other end of the spectrum, while it has many other strong suits, the shooting speed of the Nikon Coolpix A300 is an unimpressive 1.1 fps. Both the Sony DSC-W830 and the Canon PowerShot Elph 190 IS, our "Think Twice" pick, can manage only .80 fps.

Shooting Modes.

One area where budget point-and-shoots really shine is their simplicity. Digital cameras have become very easy to use, with automatic settings that eliminate the need for any tinkering. Preset shooting modes give images a little extra oomph and take some of the guesswork out of shooting nice-looking photos. Sunning at the beach? Watching a burst of fireworks? Chasing after a frisky pet? All our top picks have automatic modes that adjust shutter speed, light sensitivity, and color balance to suit a variety of occasions and venues, from portraits to landscapes and even food photography. The waterproof Fujifilm FinePix XP90 and Nikon Coolpix W100 have additional shooting modes for underwater photos. Cameras also have several white-balance settings users can tweak for daylight, cloudy, and indoor shots.

Almost all digital cameras have nearly identical shooting modes, so this shouldn't factor too heavily into the buying decision, although some users might find the in-camera editing options included on the Nikon Coolpix W100 particularly fun to play around with. They include Add Makeup, Add Starbursts, Decorate, and Make Photo Albums.

LCD Screen.

LCDs have largely replaced viewfinders on digital cameras as a way to frame an image before capturing it. Most digital camera screens measure about 2.7 to 3 inches, so you don't need a magnifying lens to see what's in the frame.

Images should be visible on a camera screen both indoors and out, although bright sun can make an LCD hard to see. Digital camera screens have resolutions measured in dots. The higher the resolution, the sharper images appear on the LCD. The screens on most of the models we looked at in our digital camera comparison have resolutions of 230K dots. The Canon PowerShot Elph 360 HS boasts 461K dots, and the display on the Fujifilm FinePix XP90 has an impressive 920K dots -- which makes it even better suited for its intended outdoor and underwater usage. The pricier Olympus Tough TG-870 features a screen that can flip upward to allow more views of the action and better selfies.

HD Video.

Digital cameras usually can record video as well as snap photos. The best point-and-shoot cameras record video in full high definition (1080p) at up to 60 frames per second. Many budget cameras, though, record video in 720p -- still HD quality but not quite as sharp as 1080p HD -- and often only at 30 fps. Three of the cameras on our list of top picks record at 1080p: the Canon PowerShot Elph 360 HS, the Fujifilm FinePix XP90, and the Nikon Coolpix W100. The Olympus Tough TG-870 and Nikon Coolpix S7000, both outside our Cheapism price range, also can shoot in 1080p.

Wireless Connections.

Wireless support is commonplace on higher-end models and is becoming the norm on budget cameras, as well -- especially as consumers look to quickly and easily share pictures with family and friends via mobile devices and social media. Wi-Fi and wireless connections via Bluetooth, NFC, or other proprietary linking systems also make printing photos a quicker process. All our top picks, with the exception of the Sony DSC-W830, which is a slightly older camera, support Wi-Fi at the very least.

The Canon and Nikon models are the most capable in terms of connectivity, although the Fujifilm FinePix XP90 has a feature they lack: geotagging. Another technology that's starting to catch on in digital cameras, geolocation capabilities equip cameras to automatically embed images with information on where pictures were taken. There's also GPS on the Olympus Tough TG-870, which makes sense for a camera meant for trekking out-of-doors and around the globe.

While GPS functionality and Wi-Fi support are nice features, they have no effect on image quality and aren't make-or-break options for most budget shoppers. Consumers who insist on skipping the few extra steps required to upload images via a memory card or cable are cut off from a range of respectable choices, like the Sony model we picked (which does accept Eye-Fi memory cards that provide Wi-Fi accessibility).

Memory.

A photo snapped at 16MP can easily use up a few dozen megabytes on a memory card, depending on the file type. However, most budget cameras have little, if any, built-in memory. Most of those we reviewed max out around 20 megabytes. Again, a notable exception is the Fujifilm FinePix XP90, which has 95MB of internal memory -- a handy feature given the imagined disappointment of a vacationer about to snap the perfect shot of some elusive underwater fish, only to find no storage available.

We also found an uncommonly large internal memory cache on another rugged camera we researched, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS30 (starting at $148), with 220MB of onboard memory. Although this model missed our list of recommended choices and lacks Wi-Fi, it may be worth a second look for adventure travelers. It also boasts an LED "torchlight," in addition to the built-in flash, to provide a continuous light source when attempting to capture images in murky water or outdoors in the dark -- think campfires and caves.

Along with a digital camera, experts at Photography Review recommend buying a memory card that holds at least 1 gigabyte of data. Most budget digital cameras, including the ones featured here, accept SD (secure digital), SDHC (secure digital high-capacity), or SDXC (secure digital extended capacity) cards. The Sony DSC-W830 also accepts the brand's Memory Stick format. The Polaroid Snap digital-instant hybrid takes microSD cards, like those that go in a smartphone, instead of full-size SD cards. Memory cards are generally cheap enough nowadays that it's worth buying at least two. A 32GB SDHC memory card can be picked up on Amazon for about $13, and that's more than enough memory for most users. (For a simple guide to the types of memory cards and recommended speeds, look to Digital Photography School.)

Battery Life.

Camera reviews often discuss battery life in terms of how many photos the camera can take on a single charge. This is not a particular strong suit of cheap digital cameras -- expect to shoot about 200 to 300 photos with most before having to recharge. Most of the cameras we picked take fewer than 250 shots before the battery is depleted. The two Canon PowerShot models have the lowest standard battery life, at 180 photos for the PowerShot Elph 360 HS and 190 for the PowerShot Elph 190 IS, although the manufacturer claims that operating in Eco mode can extend battery life. In general, battery life depends on how the camera is used. If you're shooting a lot of video or using the flash often, expect the battery to drain more quickly.

Additional Products We Considered

Olympus Tough TG-870 Review

(From $279.00 )

Pros: The waterproof, shockproof, and crushproof Olympus Tough TG-870 (starting at $279; available on Amazon) is a good choice for consumers seeking a tough camera to take into the wild. An expert from Digital Trends who tested it underwater says the photos looked very nice, with excellent sharpness. On dry land, outdoor photos also look sharp, with very good detail and accurate colors. The reviewer reports that the image stabilization works quite well. Another plus is the LCD, which flips up 180 degrees for framing selfies. A reviewer from Digital Camera HQ likes the strong build of the TG-870, and says the mix of metal and thick plastic used for the casing doesn't feel cheap at all. This expert also likes the simple interface, which includes a quick menu for finding common settings easily. The camera's performance is pretty fast; it is said to be quick to start up, has a speedy autofocus, and can manage a burst of shots at 7 frames per second.

Cons: While this camera takes very good photos in bright light, it struggles indoors. The Digital Trends reviewer says indoor photos shot at ISOs of 400 or higher tend to show color shifting and noise, although this is not unusual for budget cameras, which have small image sensors. More of a problem are issues with focus when recording video. The expert from Digital Camera HQ concurs that shots taken inside and in low light don't quite measure up to photos taken with more expensive rivals with better noise reduction and better lenses. Also, while the autofocus generally works well, the occasional shot is a little out of focus. Finally, the reviewer notes that this camera is built to be waterproof, with external controls nearly flush to the camera body, which can make them a little more difficult to use.

Features: The Olympus Tough TG-870 houses a 16MP, backside-illuminated (BSI) CMOS sensor. The LCD measures 3 inches and has 920K-dot resolution. The ISO range is 125 to 6400, and shutter speeds go from 1/2000th of a second to 4 seconds. The TG-870 has a 5x optical zoom and 4x digital zoom. The camera offers a lot of shooting modes and filters, including super macro, self-portrait, sportcam, fish eye, pop art, soft focus, pin hole, gentle sepia, and vintage. It can shoot video in 1080p HD at 60 fps. This model accepts SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards, as well as Eye-Fi cards, and has USB and HDMI connections. It also features Wi-Fi, PictBridge, and GPS. The battery is good for about 300 shots on average. The camera is waterproof to 50 feet, shockproof to 7 feet, freezeproof to temperatures as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit, and crushproof up to 220 pounds of force.

Takeaway: Outdoor adventurers who want a tough camera that can also shoot underwater photos should give the Olympus Tough TG-870 a good look. It's outside our Cheapism range, but for those willing to spend a bit more on a camera that can weather much more than a storm, this model's features, toughness, and photo quality make it worth the higher price.

Nikon Coolpix S7000 Review

(From $230.00 )

Pros: The Nikon Coolpix S7000 (starting at $230) is a good all-around performer that's just a little outside the Cheapism price range. A TechRadar expert says photos taken with this camera have accurate, vibrant color and very good detail when using ISO settings up to 800. Another desirable feature of the S7000 is the generous 20x optical zoom. A reviewer for EPhotozine praises the optical image stabilization, as well as the speedy 9.2-frames-per-second burst rate. The camera's metal build makes it feel sturdy, as well. Overall this expert gives the performance of the Coolpix S7000 a thumbs-up, noting that the camera is responsive, with a fast autofocus and lots of buttons for quick and easy access to a variety of functions.

Cons: Although the image quality is pretty solid, the Nikon Coolpix S7000 has its limits. The EPhotozine reviewer saw noticeable noise start to creep into photos at ISO 400. Images get very noisy at ISOs above 800, and some images appear slightly over-processed to compensate. The relatively lean battery life of 210 shots is also disappointing, although not terribly unusual among budget-priced cameras. The expert from TechRadar concurs that images start to lose detail at ISO 800 and higher (although she doesn't find them particularly noisy). This reviewer laments that that the camera has no manual controls or semi-automatic exposure modes.

Features: The Nikon Coolpix S7000 has a 16MP backside-illuminated (BSI) CMOS sensor. It includes Nikon's VR image stabilization. The 3-inch LCD has a resolution of 460K dots. The ISO range is 100 to 6400, and shutter speeds range from 1/4000th of a second to 4 seconds. The Coolpix S7000 has a decent selection of shooting modes and settings, including fireworks, food, portrait, beach, snow, and sunset, as well as white-balance settings for cloudy, fluorescent, and incandescent light, among others. The camera can record 1080p video at 30 fps. It accepts SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards, has ports for USB and HDMI connectors, and supports Wi-Fi and NFC connections.

Takeaway: The Nikon Coolpix S7000 is a well-rounded camera with a large optical zoom, good image quality, and a nice selection of features, such as NFC support and a fast burst mode. This camera works best at lower ISO settings, so it's better for outdoor photos than indoor shots, but overall it's a good choice for users who are willing to bend their budget beyond $200 for a better-performing camera at a cost that's still reasonable.

Where to buy

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS30 Review

(From $148.00 )

Pros: Panasonic's Lumix cameras have a reputation for good quality, although they tend to be more expensive than the competition. The waterproof Lumix DMC-TS30 (starting at $148) is one affordable model from the line. One of the most surprising features of this camera, according to a reviewer from Imaging Resource, is its 220MB of internal memory -- quite a lot compared with the paltry internal memory found in most budget cameras. The DMC-TS30 also has an impressive 8-frames-per-second maximum burst mode, although its basic continuous shooting mode is 1.3 fps. Consumers who have purchased the DMC-TS30 likewise have plenty of good things to say about this camera in reviews. On the B&H Photo/Video retail site, they say photos turn out very well, and the camera is easy to use; the menus are particularly easy to navigate. The camera is pretty tough, too, according to users who've taken it on vacation, and even snorkeling, with good results.

Cons: The Imaging Resource reviewer was a little disappointed that the DMC-TS30 lacks Wi-Fi, but that's not an unusual omission among cheap cameras. A reviewer at the Australian outpost of PCWorld takes issue with the low-resolution, hard-to-read LCD screen, and says both photos and video have issues with softness and focus. Finally, while most buyers say this waterproof camera is tough, a few users, such as this one on Amazon, report leakage.

Features: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS30 is a 16.1MP camera with a CCD image sensor. It has 4x optical zoom and 4x digital zoom and includes optical image stabilization. The 2.7-inch LCD has a resolution of 230K dots. Shutter speeds range from 1/1300th of a second to 8 seconds, and the ISO settings span from 100 to 1600 (although the camera can supposedly reach ISO 6400 in high-sensitivity mode). The DMC-TS30, like almost all digital cameras, has several scene modes and white-balance settings, and it also includes basic onboard editing tools, such as cropping and red-eye correction. This model can shoot 720p high-definition video at 30fps. In addition to the 220MB of built-in storage, the camera uses SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards. Battery life is decent at 250 photos per charge. The camera is waterproof to 26 feet, shockproof up to 5 feet, and freezeproof to 14 degrees Fahrenheit.

Takeaway: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS30 is, for the most part, a solid "vacation" camera that can take a beating. It also takes good underwater photos. The reports of water leaking into the SD card slot give us a little pause, but reviews mentioning such incidents are rare. The camera has most of the features found in other budget cameras, and its quick-and-dirty editing tools are an extra boon that will appeal to shutterbugs who want to fix minor photo problems on the fly rather than transfer the images to a computer.

Where to buy

Polaroid Snap Review

(From $90.00 )

Pros: The Polaroid Snap (starting at $90; available on Amazon) isn't the best budget digital camera, but it may be the most fun. In keeping with its Polaroid heritage, this camera's biggest distinction is the ability to print photos instantly. That's made it a big hit with reviewers and users alike. Aside from its nostalgic appeal, a CNET expert says, the Snap is dead-simple to use. There's no LCD screen on the back, just a pop-up viewfinder, and there aren't waves of menus to sort through. There isn't even a zoom feature. You just point and shoot. Also, Polaroid's printing process is quite clever. As a reviewer from SlashGear explains, the photo paper is embedded with dye crystals that are activated by heat when the camera prints the photo. There's no actual ink involved, so images don't smudge. And, unlike the Polaroids of yesteryear, pictures can be saved to a memory card to be printed later or shared digitally.

Cons: The CNET reviewer notes that, in terms of digital photo quality, the Polaroid Snap is on par with a smartphone rather than a typical digital camera. But the quality of the prints the camera spits out is still pretty good -- and the instant photos are, of course, the primary draw. Consumers looking for more features might consider the upgraded Snap Touch, which increases the megapixel count and adds a touchscreen LCD, HD video, and Bluetooth support. But expect to pay double for those perks.

Features: The Polaroid Snap has fewer specifications than most digital cameras due to its simple design. The resolution is 10MP -- half that of our top picks. Users can take photos in color, black and white, or sepia mode. There's also a "photo booth mode" that fires off six quick pictures in 10 seconds. The camera accepts microSD cards to save photos digitally. The instant photos are credit-card-size 2x3 prints that fit in a wallet. A 10-pack of photo paper slips neatly into the camera.

Takeaway: Obviously the Polaroid Snap is not your typical digital camera, and it lacks some of the image quality -- and most of the bells and whistles -- of conventional low-cost cameras. It's designed for fun, carefree shooting, so it's ideal for parties, nights out with friends, and similar events. Given the low price and added functionality, this instant camera doesn't feel like too much of a splurge.