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Budget Camera Group Test (Q4 2008)

November 2008 | By Simon Joinson

Holidays '08 Compact Camera Group Test
Group 1: Budget cameras (sub $150)

In the first of our five group tests of compact digital cameras, we're looking at what are best termed 'budget' models. We've not gone for the absolute cheapest of the cheap (you can, after all buy a digital camera/ webcam thingy for as little as $20) but have chosen entry-level models from the major manufacturers with a price bar of $150. Our selection was made based on a variety of criteria, including popularity (best-sellers), price/feature balance and worldwide availability. There are so many sub $150 cameras on the market that we could only ever get a snapshot (excuse the pun) of what's available.

The days when buying a budget camera meant going 'off brand' and settling for a plastic toy with a couple of megapixels and no screen are long gone. These days you can get an awful lot of camera for $100-150, and most of the models here aren't even at the bottom of their respective ranges. Resolutions range from 7-10 megapixels (though as you'll see later this has an almost directly inverse relationship with the image quality) and towards the higher end of our price bracket you can expect advanced features such as face detection, image stabilization and slightly more exotic zoom lenses to start appearing. A couple of the cameras on test here even offer full photographic control with manual and semi manual exposure modes, making them perfect for the budding photographer looking to learn a little bit more about advanced shooting techniques.

For the purpose of these group tests we've abandoned most of our studio based tests, partly because the small differences between the various models won't impact on the typical user, partly because otherwise it would be next holiday season before we finished them otherwise. Instead we've concentrated more on the real world use of the cameras and on how they compare when used as they're intended to be - for standard sized prints (6x4 or 5x7 inches) or viewing full screen. Our photographic tests include studio comparisons and real world shots in good light, at night and in a typical social situation using flash.

The test cameras

From a list of around 40 camera we finally narrowed our selection down to nine models ranging from around $90 to just under $150. The cameras range from the simplest plastic point and shoot to fully featured enthusiast models, with a selection of metal bodied 'style' cameras in the middle.

  • Canon Powershot A470
  • Canon Powershot A590 IS
  • Fujifilm FinePix Z20fd
  • Kodak Easyshare C1013
  • Nikon Coolpix L18
  • Olympus FE-360
  • Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ8
  • Samsung L210
  • Sony Cybershot DSC-W120

Key Spec compared

As we've discovered over the years the bare specification of a camera tells us precious little about how good it is, but it does at least give us a starting point for our comparison. In this table by far the most important figures are the zoom range, screen resolution and presence of an optical image stabilization system. You can basically ignore the sensor pixel count as it makes virtually no difference to your pictures at this level.

 
Canon A470 • 1/2.5" CCD
• 7.1 MP
100-
1600
38-132mm
- • 2.5"
• 115k
SDHC/
SD
Auto + Scenes
• 640x480
• 20fps
$104
Canon A590 IS • 1/2.5" CCD
• 8.0 MP
80-
1600
35-140mm
• Lens • 2.5"
• 115k
SDHC/
SD
Auto, P, A, S, M + Senes • 640x480
• 20fps
$130
Fujifilm Z20fd • 1/2.3" CCD
• 10.0 MP
64-
1600
35-105mm
- • 2.5"
• 150k
SDHC/
SD/xD
Auto + Scenes • 640x480
• 30fps
• MPEG
$130
Kodak C1013 • 1/2.3" CCD
• 10.3 MP
80-
1000
34-102mm
- • 2.4"
• 115k
SDHC/
SD
Auto + Scenes • 640x480
• 15fps
$130
Nikon L18 • 1/2.5" CCD
• 8.0 MP
64-
1600
35-105mm
- • 3.0"
• 230k
SDHC/
SD
Auto + Scenes • 640x480
• 30fps
$112
Olympus
FE-360
• 1/2.35" CCD
• 8.0 MP
80-
1600
36-108mm
- • 2.5"
• 154k
xD Auto + Scenes • 640x480
• 15fps
$114
Panasonic LZ8 • 1/2.5" CCD
• 8.1 MP
100-
1600
32-160mm
• Lens • 2.5"
• 230k
SDHC/
SD
Auto, P, A, S, M + Senes • 640x480
• 30fps
$120
Sony W120 • 1/2.5" CCD
• 7.2 MP
100-
3200
32-128mm
• Lens • 2.5"
• 115k
Memory
stick
Auto + Scenes • 640x480
• 30fps
• MPEG
$148
Samsung L210 • 1/2.33" CCD
• 10.2 MP
80-
1600
37-111mm
• Yes • 2.5"
• 230k
SDHC/
SD
Auto + Scenes, M
• 800x592
• 20fps
• MPEG
$135

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