As seen in:
Panasonic
LUMIX 4K
Samsung
16.2MP Smart WiFi & NFC Digital
Sony
20.1 MP, Digital
Nikon
Coolpix L330
Canon
PowerShot SX420, 42x Optical Zoom
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Good

Shoots 4k video. Exceptional zoom returns crisp, clear shots w/its 25mm to 600mm lens.

Reliable WiFi tech and stress-free image sharing.

Powerful image sensor provides optimal clarity, contrast, and detail in various lighting conditions.

Lightweight and portable, yet offers the performance of an upper-level camera.

Versatile. Excellent optical zoom and wide-angle lens. Dedicated button for 720p movies.

Bad

1200mm lens has an initial learning curve and can return blurry shots.

Audio cuts out whenever one attempts to zoom while videoing.

Pronounced shutter delay. Sequences can be difficult b/c of this.

Slower shutter speed creates a lag during action shots. Occasional blurry images.

Poor instructions/lack of software can make initial learning frustrating. Battery life isn't great.

Bottom Line

Once you get used to this camera, it is hands down the best on the market.

Although there's a learning curve, the end results are ideal for most amateurs.

Suitable for anyone seeking a beginner digital camera w/a handful of valuable features.

Image quality isn't of the highest caliber, but it's an excellent choice for the money.

A great all-rounder from a reputable company. Not the most recent tech, but definitely the best deal.

How we decide
BestReviews is committed to providing comprehensive and trusted reviews for products that matter to consumers. We do the research to help you save time and money.
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Products received from manufacturers
86
Models Considered
15
Hours Spent
1
Experts Interviewed
144
Consumers Consulted

Shopping Guide For The Best Digital Cameras

At BestReviews, we photographed hundreds of smiles, scores of lattes, countless sunsets, and at least a few unsuspecting pets — all so that we could tell you everything you need to know about choosing a digital camera, from shutter speed to optical zoom. When you’re ready to make a selection, please see the matrix above for our top product recommendations.

If you want to shoot beautiful landscapes, capture great video footage, or improve your Instagram portfolio, consider upgrading your cell phone camera to a quality digital camera. Often boasting sharper images and features your cell phone camera doesn’t have, a digital camera can significantly expand your photography capabilities.

Consumer-level digital cameras run from inexpensive point-and-shoot styles to semi-pro models that cost several hundred dollars.

As technology marches on, it’s easier than ever to find quality digital cameras that offer sharp digital imagery, impressive zoom, HD video, and other impressive features at an affordable price.

Whether you are an amateur photographer wanting to go pro, or you are looking for a no-frills camera for the upcoming vacation, there are countless options to suit any need.

To avoid product bias, we never accept free gifts from manufacturers. We visit stores and pay cash to buy them, just like you do. Our goal is to arm you with honest and reliable product advice that you can turn to again and again.

Digital Camera vs Pro DSLR

While the image quality of cameras has improved, a vast difference exists between the point-and-shoot cameras we considered for this shopping guide and the DSLR (digital single lens reflex) cameras professional photographers use. To be sure, DSLR cameras create sharper images and offer more versatility than their point-and-shoot counterparts. But with their high-end parts — image sensors, interchangeable lenses, and so on — they also cost a lot more.

Nevertheless, you can still find a consumer-level digital camera of exceptional quality. Today, we even see billboards featuring photos taken on a cell phone. If you enjoy photography and want to create short video clips, great Instagram posts, and photos you can print (or even sell), consider one of the top five digital cameras in our product matrix. These cameras offer range, quality, and extra features that far exceed those of a simple cell phone camera.

Quality mid-range digital cameras of today are good enough for occasional photography while DSLR’s are more suited for specific functions like professional portraiture or long-range landscape photography.

Digital Camera 101: The Basics

How comfortable are you with technology? What’s your budget like? And what types of photos would you like to shoot? These factors will most certainly impact your camera choice. But no matter which camera you choose, there are certain “universal” features that affect its quality and performance.

Size

Does camera size matter? In a word, yes.

Pro-grade cameras include all sorts of hefty bells and whistles. Heavy yet delicate, these pieces are bothersome to lug around all day. We suggest you choose a camera that’s light enough to hold in your hand and compact enough to safely stash when not in use.

Resolution

Resolution refers to the number of pixels used to create an image. Cameras generally sport enough megapixels (12 to 16) to render a sharp picture on a computer screen or paper printout.

The more megapixels, the larger the file size. This could affect your camera’s processing speed and how many images fit on your memory card. As such, a higher number of megapixels isn’t always the better choice.

Don’t be fooled by a camera’s zoom specs. Many point-and-shoot cameras advertise 10x to 100x zoom, but this doesn’t guarantee quality. Says professional photographer David Zentz, “There are two kinds of zoom: optical and digital. Optical zoom uses the lens to zoom, while digital zoom basically crops and magnifies the picture, sacrificing quality. You want a longer optical zoom. Always check the specs, because a manufacturer might quote optical and digital zoom combined. What you think is 100x zoom might not be all optical. You don’t need much more than 20x optical zoom.”

Lens

Most consumer-level digital cameras sport zoom lenses, which allow you to focus at a range of lengths. A camera’s optical zoom spec addresses the ratio between the shortest and longest focal length. For example, a camera with a minimum focal length of 24mm and a maximum length of 288 has a 12x optical zoom. While some cameras boast incredible zoom specs, however, you probably don’t need more than 20x.

Some consumer-level cameras (and all professional cameras) have interchangeable lenses, giving you versatility in your photography. For example, wide-angle lenses are ideal for group shots, indoor photography, and selfies, and telephoto lenses lend themselves to amazing sports, wildlife, and portrait shots.

Aperture

A camera’s aperture is measured by its f-stop, referring to the size of the opening that lets in light. A “fast” lens — which is preferred — has a wider aperture, allowing you to shoot at faster shutter speeds in lower light. A fast lens is typically f2.8.

As aperture size increases, your depth of field (the sharpness in front of and behind your subject) increases. Often used for portraits and macro shooting, a wide aperture furnishes better control over your depth of field, allowing you to create interesting effects by playing with focal points.

Resolution can often be misleading. You’ll need very high resolution only if you are looking to take professional grade prints or use your photos for digital publishing.

Sensor

A camera’s sensor affects the color depth and rendition of its images. Results vary from one digital camera to the next.

Bigger sensors typically yield better photo quality, but they cost more — and size is not the only factor to consider. How the image sensor reproduces color can vary. If you have a 16-megapixel camera with a low-quality sensor, your picture suffers (hello, grainy photos).  

Cheap digital cameras often incorporate cheap sensors (such as APSC sensors). CCD sensors can vary; high-quality CCD sensors produce superior image quality and better noise control, but low-quality CCD sensors could be terrible for video. It's important to remember that file size isn't everything. We suggest you study reviews of your sensor and test in different light conditions to see if the camera produces vibrant color and sharp images.

Shutter speed — the time it takes for your camera’s shutter to click after you press the button — is a crucial consideration. A fast shutter speed is key to your success, David says, “Pro-level cameras have an almost immediate response time. If a camera’s shutter speed is even a couple of seconds, it could mean you missing the moment.”

Image stabilization

Anyone who’s ever tried to catch a photo op on the fly knows about blurry images and shaky video. A camera’s image stabilization feature adjusts shutter speed and ISO sensitivities to control for blur and produce better-looking photos and video. This feature is great for photographers who shoot in low-light environments. It’s also helpful for those with shaky hands.

Viewfinder

Whether you use your camera's electronic viewfinder or lift the camera manually to your eye, you want a good coverage percentage. (Coverage measures the amount of your scene that appears in the viewfinder display.) Some viewfinders crop coverage, leaving you to guess what the full frame will look like. One hundred percent coverage is ideal.

Some viewfinders offer different focusing systems. For example, a tracking focus system moves the focal point to follow moving subjects. A toggling system allows you to change focus between subjects or between the foreground and background.

While electronic viewfinders (often located on the back of the camera) are handy for recording video, potential buyers should know that they might have a lower resolution and are often slow to update. This is especially true after a photo is taken, which means you might “see” the action after it’s happened, missing the moment.

Remember: What you see is not always what you get when it comes to camera viewfinders. Some cameras crop the actual lens coverage.

Battery Life

The days of having to carry extra AA batteries is likely behind you, as most digital cameras use long-lasting lithium ion rechargeable battery packs. These packs are typically designed for your specific camera and include a charger. If you plan to tote your camera on long trips, check first to see how many shots the battery has been rated for. And remember that everything from using the flash to activating the viewfinder affects battery power.

Video

If you want to shoot video on vacation or upload files to YouTube, you shouldn’t need more than Full HD 1080/30p video. 4K video is quickly becoming the norm in digital cameras, but not all professional photographers consider it a necessity.

When shooting video, image stabilization and a quality microphone are also important. Sound quality contributes to a video’s success (or failure) just as much as image quality.

The larger the bit rate (the number of frames captured per second), the better the video quality.

Other features

Do you want a camera with a splash-proof body? Burst mode? GPS? WiFi sharing capabilities?

Some of these features could be fun in certain situations, but they might be rarely used. What’s more, they could bump of the price of the camera. It’s up to you to decide which features are deal-makers or deal-breakers. Be sure you’re not paying for more than you need.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Before you dive into the technological specs of digital cameras, consider why you want a camera in the first place. Are you hoping to capture candid family moments? Vacation memories? Wildlife or landscape scenery? Perhaps it’s a little of everything.

Your photography goals should shape your camera-buying decisions. To that end, we recommend you ask yourself the following questions:

Will I be shooting fast-moving objects?

Animals, athletes, and young children: they all move quickly. To avoid fuzzy imagery, you need a camera with a fast shutter speed.

Pro-level cameras have an almost immediate shutter lag time (the response time between when you click the button and when the camera’s shutter click). Digital cameras, on the other hand, tend to have a problematic lag. The longer the lag time, the more likely you are to miss a picture-perfect moment. Find out how fast a camera’s response is before you buy it. Less than one second is ideal.

Cameras that allow you to shoot several frames in a row (burst mode) can also help you capture life’s speedier moments.

Capturing fast moving objects or shooting action scenes such as sports or a running pet require cameras with high shutter speed.

Do I want to capture beautiful landscapes with my camera?

If so, consider buying a lightweight, compact camera that travels well. For many landscape fanatics, a point-and-shoot with a built-in lens, waterproof capabilities, and a long battery life fits the bill.

Will I be shooting mostly video?

If you’re planning to shoot lots of video, examine the camera’s video specs before buying. Full HD video is a must. Image stabilization, weight, and battery life also figure prominently into the equation.

The team that worked on this review
  • Melissa
    Melissa
    Editor
  • Jimi
    Jimi
    Product Analyst
  • Devangana
    Devangana
    Web Producer
  • Heather
    Heather
    Content
  • Erinn
    Erinn
    Writer