Holidays 2006: The Season's Best Point-and-Shoot Cameras

Basically every digital camera that’s not a digital SLR (dSLR) is a point-and-shoot camera. From there though, the camera model types get more segmented by features as well as by size: compact, ultra-compact, advanced/enthusiast and super-zoom. And with so many models of each type on the market, we decided it was about time we broke down and told you about some of our favorites.

Compact models usually are priced on the budget end, are small enough to fit in a jacket pocket and come with with a decent selection of standard auto settings and scene modes. Ultra-compacts are more expensive due to their minuscule size. They can be quite feature-packed and able to take some great high-resolution pictures. However, many of them rely on the LCD as the sole viewfinder, which means once your batteries can no longer power the screen, you’re out of business.

Advanced/Enthusiast cameras generally have more manual options than you’ll find on other point-and-shoots. Things like extended zoom, higher-quality optics, add-on lenses and flashes and support for RAW files are also likely to be found. Super-zooms are just that — advanced cameras that can do 10x or 12x optical zooms.

All of the cameras we’ve suggested take good snapshots that can stand-up to being printed at 8×10 inches. Some are, of course, going to be better than others, but we don’t think you’ll go wrong with anything we’ve picked out. All that’s left for you to do is match your feature needs to your new camera.

Best All-Purpose:
Kodak EasyShare C875
With its large, easy-to-read 2.5-inch LCD, 8-megapixel resolution and 5x optical zoom, the EasyShare C875 has a well-rounded feature set. Add to that 21 shooting modes, simple, straightforward controls and power supplied by two AA batteries, and this camera can be ready for any situation at any time. Check out our full review. $249

Best Fashion Accessory:
Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-N2
Few cameras even approach the sexiness of the N2. It has the good looks we expect from Sony plus innovative features like a 3-inch touch-screen LCD with software that lets you draw on your images and save your creations without altering the originals. The 10.1-megapixel ultracompact has a Carl Zeiss 3x optical zoom lens and 25MB of onboard memory, so even if your Memory Stick Duo flash card fills up, you’ll still have room for up to 500 VGA shots. $399

Best Cheapie:
HP Photosmart M527
It won’t win any awards for design or style, but the 6-megapixel Photosmart M527 is a solid, inexpensive camera with a good helping of features to simplify picture taking. The menu system is easily navigated and you can clean up your photos without putting them onto a PC. There’s even a “slimming” feature, which will help your picture shed a few pounds without your ass leaving the couch. $150

Best Pocket:
Samsung NV3
The NV3 does everything a good pocket camera should and then some. The slim 7.1-megapixel sensor captures very respectable snapshots. Its 3x optical zoom lets you get in on your subject tighter and since it’s internal you get a bit of a faster startup time. It has good image stabilization and goes up to ISO 1000 for shooting in dimly lit environments. And, when you’re not taking pictures, you can use it to listen to music or watch videos.
Read our full review. $349

Best Super-Zoom:
Canon PowerShot S3 IS
So here’s a problem. Canon makes so many camera models and many of them are, well, pretty freakin’ good. So basically, you can sub in a Canon for any of the others on this list: the SD800 (pictured at the beginning of this article), A540, A630, S80 to name just four. But for our money, the best super-zoom advanced camera is hands-down the PowerShot S3 IS. The shots it takes are excellent thanks to good image stabilization, Digic II imaging processor, a high-quality lens and a top-notch 6-megapixel CCD. And then there is the 12x optical zoom. It’s lack of support for RAW will keep it out of some enthusiasts’ hands, but if it doesn’t bother you this is a solid alternative to more expensive dSLR options. $359

Best Advanced:
FujiFilm FinePix E900/Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2K
Yeah, sorry, we couldn’t decide between these two feature-laden snapshot cameras. The E900’s been around awhile, but it still takes awesome pictures and has simple auto modes or can go fully manual for those that like to tweak settings.