Consumer Reports’ recent tests of digital cameras found some fine performers that can take pleasing shots in a wide variety of shooting conditions. Testers’ top choices include:
Nikon Coolpix P330, $380. A basic camera that could appeal to advanced users. Its high-quality lens has the widest angle among the top models (24 mm), plus an f/1.8 maximum aperture for more professional looking images. Among other highlights:
■ Very good image stabilizer (better than many cameras) for blur-free photos.
■ Very good full-HD video quality.
■ Fast start-up time.
Olympus Stylus XZ-10 iHS, $400. Includes a hybrid control ring built around the lens, which lets you assign various functions, including zoom or exposure adjustments. Other highlights:
■ Shorter next-shot delay than many models.
■ Very good touchscreen LCD.
■ HDR (high-dynamic range) settings can help capture shots in difficult lighting.
■ Wide-angle (26 mm) lens.
In addition to Top Choices, Consumer Reports’ website includes Best Values, Best for Sharing Photos, Best Models with Long Zooms, and Best for Extreme Conditions.
Beware the sales pitch. You can’t always depend on sales staff to help you to choose the right camera. Readers indicate that the quality of in-store help is all over the map. Indeed, when Consumer Reports’ shopped at a mass merchandiser, as many consumers do, a member of the sales staff told him that there was no difference between digital and optical zoom (optical is far more useful). Another couldn’t explain the differences among mechanical, optical, and simulated image stabilization (optical and mechanical are superior).
Shop by brand. Before diving into specific models, consider some characteristics by brand, culled from Consumer Reports’ years of digital-camera tests. For example, Fujifilm offers image sensors with proprietary technology that produce high image quality at high ISO settings. Canon, Nikon, and Olympus offer full lineups for every type of user. Samsung offers cameras with high styling and multimedia features. Panasonic uses image stabilizers and Leica lenses throughout its line. Sony often uses Zeiss lenses, a brand well known in the camera world.
Try it out. The smallest, lightest models aren’t necessarily inexpensive cameras. And the biggest and heaviest aren’t necessarily found at the high end. If possible, try cameras at a store before you buy. That way, you will know which one fits your hands best. In the tests, some of the smallest didn’t leave much room even for small fingers.
Keep your other cameras in mind. If you own a film camera with interchangeable lenses, you can often use the lenses on digital SLRs of the same brand. But there are exceptions. For example, some new Nikon bodies only operate autofocus on its AF-S or AF-I lenses.
Forgo the extended warranty. Overall, digital cameras have been among the most reliable products in subscriber surveys. About 4 percent of those bought from 2006 through 2010 have been repaired or had a serious problem. Yet in Consumer Reports’ latest survey, 60 percent of camera buyers were pitched an extended warranty in stores, and 16 percent of those bought one. Consumer Reports doesn’t think it pays for most consumers.