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Consumer Reports reviews
compacts and subcompacts

Posted by Teresa Hanafin  December 7, 2011 06:00 AM

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Even though most of you use full-featured DSLRs, many also carry around a compact camera that's more convenient for weddings or other events, easily slipped in your pocket or purse. Some Globe photographers carry a Canon PowerShot G10, G11, or G12; I recently bought a Nikon Coolpix P7100 to go along with my D300.

Or perhaps you're looking for a camera for a relative or friend. This Consumer Reports piece, which ran in the November issue, should help.

By Consumer Reports

If you look closely at the cameras in recent weekend retail circulars, you might be surprised. A lot boast 14 or even 16 megapixels. Camera makers appear to have injected new life into an old marketing scheme: More megapixels mean a better camera.

Consumer Reports’ latest ratings include 58 recommended cameras, from basic to SLR. CR’s camera tests have shown for years that cameras with more megapixels don’t necessarily produce better images than those with fewer. Under the best of circumstances, models with more megapixels can produce images with greater detail, but that’s not very important unless you need giant enlargements.

A case in point: Cameras with just 10 megapixels are often ranked at or near the top of CR’s ratings for models with built-in lenses, beating cameras with more megapixels. To achieve such ranking, they had to produce very good images for regular, low-light, and flash photos.

Highly-rated cameras with 10 megapixels include the Canon PowerShot SD4000 IS ELPH, $220, a CR Best Buy, and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX700, $200, also a CR Best Buy, among subcompacts. Among compacts, the Casio Exilim EXFh100, $250 is recommended.

Canon PowerShot SD4000 IS ELPH

Canon PowerShot SD4000 IS ELPH

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX700

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX700

Casio Exilim EXFh100

Casio Exilim EXFh100

One reason some of those 10-megapixel models performed so well is that they have very good lenses. For the best image quality, a high-quality lens is essential. (Tip: Look at the lens’ maximum aperture setting. Those with a setting of f/2 or f/1.8 tend to be of better quality.)

There’s another reason not to jump for the camera with the most megapixels. If you use an older computer to store and edit your images, the huge files such a camera produces might be harder to work with and will fill up a memory card faster than files from a camera with modest resolution. Consider a camera with 14 or 16 megapixels if it is rated highly in CR’s tests, such as the Nikon Coolpix S8000, $240, 14 megapixels, a CR Best Buy, and you want to make very large prints or do a lot of cropping.

Nikon Coolpix S8000

Nikon Coolpix S8000

Here’s what else CR’s tests found:

Better displays

LCD displays on basic cameras continue to improve, which is why you’ll find that most recommended models have at least a 3-inch display with good or very good quality. That’s important, because none of the subcompacts or compacts has an optical or electronic viewfinder.

You don’t have to pay a lot for a very good LCD. The Canon PowerShot SD4000 IS ELPH, $220 (pictured above), has one, though the display on the Leica V-Lux 20, $650, is just OK.

Leica V-Lux 20

LCD display on the Leica V-Lux 20

If you must have a viewfinder in a basic camera, look for one of the three superzooms that include electronic viewfinders: The Nikon Coolpix P100, Canon PowerShot SX30 IS, or the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40.

Nikon Coolpix P100

Rear view of the Nikon Coolpix P100

Canon PowerShot SX30 IS

Rear view of the Canon PowerShot SX30 IS

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40

Rear view of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40

Trickle-up attractions

Useful features usually trickle down from advanced cameras to basic ones, but some are actually moving in the opposite direction.

For example, the swiveling LCD has moved up to the advanced Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3K and Nikon D5100. That feature, which originated on basic cameras, can be useful for self-portraits, hard-to-reach shots, or photographing children. The same advanced Panasonic Lumix includes a touch screen that lets you control exposure settings on the screen. You can also tap its LCD to set a focus point or snap a photo.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3K

The swiveling LCD screen on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3K

Nikon D5100

The swiveling LCD screen on the Nikon D5100

Cameras with 3D

As more electronics manufacturers add a 3D feature to HDTVs, you might expect to find it on many cameras. But 3D is making only modest inroads, mostly in basic cameras. Olympus, Sony, and Panasonic have been the most aggressive in adding it to their models.

In CR’s Ratings, just two basic models, the Olympus SP-610UZ and Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V, and two advanced ones, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2K and Lumix DMC-G3K, (pictured above) include 3D. The two advanced models require a special lens for 3D that costs $200. If you have a 3D-capable TV and would like to try out the budding technology without spending a bundle, consider a basic model first to see if you like it.

Olympus SP-610UZ

Olympus SP-610UZ with 3D

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V with 3D

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