Consumers could benefit from some of the biggest improvements to cameras in years. Responding to the challenge of smartphones, camera makers have boosted performance, added previously high-priced technologies to less costly models, and taken a cue from mobile devices by adding connectivity and friendlier user interfaces.
Consumer Reports tested more than 200 basic and advanced models. Here are some trends you need to know:
Enhanced capabilities. Even basic models are ratcheting up how quickly they shoot stills and how well they capture video. Some, such as the Canon PowerShot S110, $450, can fire eight to 10 frames per second at full resolution, a capability previously reserved for advanced cameras. Because of improved in-camera processing, video frame and bit rates have increased, yielding smoother playback, even with action scenes. Most models now have convenient, dedicated video buttons.
Almost all basic models in the ratings now have wide-angle capability, which used to command a premium price. Among the best values are the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX70, $230.
Another way camera makers are beefing up performance is by bringing pricey, professional-style capabilities down to consumer-priced advanced models. For example, the Nikon D600, $2,100 (body only), is one of the first consumer models to feature a larger, full-frame image sensor. On professional SLRs, such sensors have been known to produce great performance in low light and improved dynamic range.
Thinner, lighter, longer lenses. The recently introduced Canon PowerShot SX50 HS, $480, broke new ground with a 50x zoom, the longest of any basic model. Most superzooms offer 16x to 20x, but many are smaller, thinner, and lighter than previous models.
More connectivity. Three recommended Samsung models in Consumer Reports’ Ratings feature Wi-Fi: the WB850F superzoom, $350, and two SLR-likes, the NX20, $1,100, and NX210, $900. And the first Android-powered cameras have appeared, including Nikon’s Coolpix S800c, $350, and Samsung’s Galaxy camera.
Samsung has announced that the Galaxy camera will have 3G or 4G wireless data connectivity (depending on the version).
The combination of apps and wireless connectively would enable you to shoot still images or videos, edit them within the camera, and post them directly from the camera to an online service such as Instagram or Facebook without compromising image quality.
Better-performing rugged models. Almost all brands offer at least one such model. In the past, their image quality tended to be lower than for higher-ranked conventional ones. This year, performance rose for some rugged models, which are now grouped separately in the ratings. Four had very good image quality for photos, and two had very good video quality. Among the recommended models are the Canon PowerShot D20, $350.
Consumer Reports writes columns, reviews, and ratings on cars, appliances, electronics, and other consumer goods. Previous stories can be found at consumerreports.org.