I frequently get asked to comment about different cameras. Sometimes I'm asked about a specific camera. Sometimes I'm asked which I'd prefer, this camera or that camera. Most recently I was asked what budget compact cameras I think are best.
The person who asked this isn't a photographer, but wants something a little more capable than a cell phone camera for an upcoming trip. Something that zooms. Something that is a least OK in low light situations. Something that's pretty straight forward. But this person doesn't want to spend a lot of money.
So what budget compact cameras are out there that might fit this person's needs? I've come up with three suggestions (in no particular order) that I think would be a good fit. There are, of course, many other good options available. I wanted to narrow the list down to just three, and so some worthy cameras didn't make the cut.
Fujifilm FinePix F900EXR
This camera has a 16 megapixel 1/2" sensor, 20x optical zoom, 3" rear screen, 1080p HD movie, GPS, and WiFi. Pretty much everything you'd expect from a good compact camera. It's slim and lightweight and will fit into a pocket.
The camera has an MSRP of $380, but can be found on sale for less than $300 (and sometimes for less than $250). That's a darn good camera for that price.
The DMC-TZ35 is very similar to the Fuji camera mentioned above. It has a 16 megapixel 1/2.3" sensor (slightly smaller then the F900EXR), 1080i HD video, 20x optical zoom, and a 3" rear screen. It doesn't have WiFi, but it does have a sharp Leica lens. The DMC-ZS25 is also a little smaller and lighter than the F900EXR.
The camera has an MSRP of $300, but can be found on sale for less than $200 (and sometimes for less than $180). If the F900EXR is a Cadillac, then the DMC-ZS25 is a well-equipped Buick.
Sony CyberShot WX300
This camera is similar to the two above. It has a 20 megapixel 1/2.3" sensor (which, because of how the lens fits, is only able to use 18 of those 20 megapixels), 1080i HD video, 20x optical zoom, 3" rear screen, and WiFi. It is the smallest and lightest of the three cameras mentioned here.
The camera has an MSRP of $330, but can be found on sale for less than $300 (and sometimes for less than $250).
Which camera is better? The WX300 gives the most resolution, but at the cost of high-ISO performance. The F900EXR has the best high-ISO performance, but at the expense of size and weight. The DMC-ZS25 has a Leica lens, yet otherwise it is the no-frills option. There is no clear-cut winner. They're all pretty much the same.
If size and weight matter most, go with the Sony Cybershot WX300. If having the best sensor is most important, go with the Fujifilm FinePix F900EXR. If cost is paramount to you, go with the Panasonic DMC-ZS25.
The differences between the three cameras are minor. I wouldn't spend a lot of time fretting over them. If you captured identical images with each camera and looked at them later, you would not be able to tell which came from which camera. Go with your gut and whatever your choice is you will be happy with it.