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Best Buy Cameras - A Top 10 Review
Overwhelmed? Keep things simple!
There is a huge amount of choice out there when it comes to digital cameras that it can sometimes be quite simply overwhelming. So let’s keep things simple.
In order to assess the best buy cameras for this review, we’ve divided up our top 10 into 5 broad categories:
[a] Point-&-shoot cameras
[b] Superzoom / Bridge cameras
[c] Entry-level D-SLR cameras
[d] Compact System Cameras (CSCs) [also known as Micro Four Thirds]
[e] Prothusiast SLR cameras
To assess these categories and determine which category might best suit your needs, see the table below:-
What is it...?
Point-and-shoot [compact] camera
Very light-weight digital cameras that can do all the work for you and will fit into your pocket / bag for ultimate portability and convenience.
I want the convenience of a pocket-sized camera and the ability to take great pictures with camera doing all the techy stuff for me.
Superzoom [Bridge] camera
Has the look and feel of a DSLR, offering a single (non-detachable) zoom lens giving a large focal range at a lower cost to a conventional DSLR.
I want a reasonably-priced camera with the framing flexibility and picture quality of a DSLR zoom lens and ease of use of a compact camera.
Entry-level Digital SLR (D-SLR) camera
Has all the great features of a standard DSLR, including actual image view via SLR viewfinder, and is priced around the $500-$600 mark.
I'm casually interested in photography and want to experiment and expand my knowledge and abilities without spending a large amount on my first digital SLR.
Compact System Camera (CSC) or Micro Four Thirds camera
Can use different lenses and has compact-camera ease of use. Does have the mirror found in heaver DSLRs but has a larger sensor than compact cameras for better quality photos.
I want to take good quality photos with various lenses but don�t want the weight and bulk of a DSLR.
Prothusiast D-SLR camera
More features than the entry-level DSLR, with a price range to reflect these features (around $900).
I want to build on my photography knowledge and move up to a higher-performing DSLR with more features and a more rugged build.
2 Hurdles to clear
Before we get started, there are two key criteria hurdles that all these best buy cameras have had to clear to get into this top 10 best buy cameras review. Why? Well cameras (like PC’s) use leading-edge technology which quickly becomes outdated. So – as you will see from the criteria below
This is a non-techy article, but...
Although this review veers away from the overly technical, there are a few technical terms mentioned here and there. These are shown in bold italics and more details can be found in the “Jargon-buster Glossary” at the end of the article, should you be unfamiliar with these terms or need a refresher.
– there is no point in buying a cheap camera with low megapixels because these will quickly infuriate you (and the people who view your photos) when the next mobile you buy has a higher spec!
Hurdles that all the best buy cameras have cleared:
1. Resolution: 12MP or higher
2. Ratings on Amazon.com, bestbuy.com / techradar.com: 4+ stars
[A] Best Buy Point-and-Shoot / Compact Cameras
We start with a bit of an all-round star and some pretty amazing features for such a compact camera. And compact the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX100 sure is.
At 17.5mm (2/3”) at its thinnest point, this is the world's slimmest and lightest compact camera to feature a 10x optical zoom lens. The zoom lens gives you 25-250mm equivalent plus the ability to zoom a further 20x using the digital zoom facility.
In addition, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX100 delivers a whopping 18.2 mega pixels (MP) of resolution (via its 1/2.3" Exmor R CMOS sensor) and the ability capture video at full HD (1080). So if it’s good quality, high resolution pictures you are after – this camera can certainly give you that. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX100 also helps to reduce image blur caused by vibration or camera shake using its optical image stabilization feature and offers a range of autofocus modes (multipoint AF, center-weighted AF, spot AF, tracking focus and face tracking) to help produce crystal clear photos in a variety of situations.
As well as taking care of autofocus, blur and a bunch of other clever stuff, Sony’s proprietary BIONZ image processor gives you the facility to take stunning landscape shots using the Intelligent Sweep Panorama mode and image stitching technology; 3D still image shots; and face detection.
With an aperture range of f/3.3 - f/5.9, an ISO range of 100-12800, and a range of white balance modes, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX100 handles a good range of lighting conditions to optimise color capture; as well as producing superb quality natural-light video recordings. You’ll also be able to capture smiles automatically (with the smile function) – so prepare for multiple, automatic exposures when taking group photos!
Use the burst setting for taking fast moving images or action shots. The rapid-fire shots mean you get nice, crisp shots and with the on screenplay back, you can review the bursts straight away.
If you want an impressive array of features and clever technology wrapped up in a slender, pocket-sized compact camera – at a spectacularly low price – the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX100 has got to be on your shortlist of best buy cameras.
If a product is on Amazon.com’s #1 Best Seller list, it’s got to be pretty good. And the Canon PowerShot SX260 is no exception.
The Canon PowerShot SX260 can take superb pictures at both wide angle and telephoto at the touch of the zoom button and a very responsive zoom.
Canon’s proprietary HS (High Sensitivity) System together with the 1/2.3-inch back-illuminated CMOS sensor, helps ensure that the Canon PowerShot SX260 captures sharper images indoors and in low light. The built-in auto flash pops up when needed (rather than when the camera is switched on) delivering great quality night, low-light and daylight fill-flash images.
The optical Image stabilization functionality digitally adjusts for camcorder shake so videos appear steady. And this functionality also allows for shooting at slower shutter speeds (for example, in low-light) without touching ISO.
The Canon PowerShot SX260’s processor (DIGIC 5) gives the camera its power to deliver reduced noise at faster continuous shooting, including the capture of 10.3 shots per second at full resolution! It also detects up to 58 scene types in Smart Auto mode, and has a number of auto focus modes including Face Detection, Single, Continuous, Servo AF/AE, Tracking AF.
If you want to shoot movies, you can use the Canon PowerShot SX260 to capture outstanding full HD footage at 24 frames per second (fps) – complete with stereo sound. The zoom moves smoothly during shooting and is very quiet. If you are capturing sports events, you can also opt to capture the action at high speed with either the 120 or 240 fps selected.
Other features include GPS functionality (to record image locations on a map via Canon's software); smile / wink detection (where the shutter fires on detection of either); cold proofing and shock proofing.
The Canon PowerShot SX260 has an excellent build quality and comfortable grip together with a recessed power button at the top of the camera means that it’s less likely to be turned on accidentally in your pocket or bag.
If you are after a compact camera with fantastic zoom range and performance, coupled with HD movie capability and a host of easy-to-use functions, then the Canon PowerShot SX260 must be at the top of your best buy cameras list.
[B] Best Buy Superzoom Cameras
As a reminder, the superzoom (or “bridge”) class of cameras offer you the convenience of a compact camera with the flexibility to override auto settings to develop your own creativity and photographic skills. In addition – as their name would imply – superzoom cameras deliver a zoom lens capable of handling an impressive focal range, giving you the ability to capture wide-angle shots right through to long-range photos (and everything in between). This camera class is also reasonably priced, giving the user the best of both worlds in terms of usability, quality and pricing.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V nicely captures these key aspects of superzoom cameras.
Priced only slightly above our best buy compact cameras, and looking every bit like a confident DSLR, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V offers 18.2MP, a 30x optical zoom, full HD movies and GPS capabilities. If the 27-810mm in 35mm terms is not enough, the DSC-HX200V can digitally extend the lens reach to 60x and with the help of Pixel Super Resolution technology (and Clear Image Zoom), the powerful Bionz processor compares patterns in the image to render a high-quality, sharp result in the digital extension zone.
To help stabilise shots when using the zoom particularly at the telephoto settings (800mm equivalent) and in low light conditions, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V turns to its Optical SteadyShot™ stabilization which results in digital rolling control and fantastically sharp pictures and steady movies.
Three other great features of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V are background defocus, multi-image and GPS.
Background defocus: Match the signature background-defocus benefit of DSLRs without having to mess about with f-stops, etc. Simply set the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V to background defocus and take the photo. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V takes two shots, identifies and defocuses the background; then merges both images for a fantastic result.
Multi-image: If you are shooting in difficult conditions (low light; fast moving; unsteady), use this setting. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V takes up to 6 shots in rapid succession – using its back-lit Exmor R CMOS sensor - and then combines these for greater clarity, noise reduction and HDR rendering – giving you the best result every time.
GPS and Compass record shot: Get an advantage over most current mid-range DSLRs with this great feature. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V’s GPS and internal compass automatically records your geo location and shooting direction. This can then be used to superimpose your photographic journey on a map using PlayMemories Home™ software. They can also be automatically posted on Google Earth™.
3-D shooting with full stereo sound; automatic panoramic shot capabilities (using intelligent automatic digital stitching); and anti-blink function also complement the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V’s raft of cool features.
With the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V’s rugged build; choice of electronic viewfinder and tilting back screen; together with a decent battery life (490 shot/4.08 hour video); manually-adjustable zoom and high-speed auto focus (AF), this is a truly high performance superzoom at an irresistible price.
There are superzooms…and then there are super superzooms.
The Nikon Coolpix P510 comes with a jaw-dropping 42x optical zoom – equivalent to a range of 24mm to 1000mm!
To help mere mortals handle the inherent shake at maximum zoom, the Nikon Coolpix P510 helpfully provides lens-shift VR (Vibration Reduction) stabilisation, which delivers fantastic results.
The Nikon Coolpix P510 comes with a fully articulated (or vari-angle) 3” TFT-LCD back screen which means that even the most circumlotious and contorted shots are possible. The screen is coated with anti-reflective covering which improves the screen’s visibility even in bright sunlight.
As with the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V, you get 3-D capability; GPS geotagging (integrating with Nikon's myPicturetown® photo sharing site, Nikon View NX2™ software and Google Earth™), and full HD 1080p movie recoding with stereo sound.
With 99 manual focus points, 9-point autofocus, 20 pre-programmed scene modes (including auto, beach, backlight HDR, close-up, copy, dusk/dawn, fireworks show, food, museum, night portrait) and a pop-up central slave flash, consider this superzoom as your higher-end choice for the widest range of photo opportunities.
[C] Best Buy entry-level D-SLR Cameras
A serious entry-level D-SLR, the Canon EOS Rebel T3i (also known as the Canon EOS 600D in Europe) comes with a variety of eye-catching features and capabilities.
With a photo resolution of 18 MP, full HD video capability and a fully articulated screen, the Canon EOS Rebel T3i rivals some pro-thusiast D-SLRs and Compact System Cameras (CSCs). Full HD video is captured in a variety of sizes and frames per second – including 30p, 25p and 24p (for up to 4 GB per clip). It can also do high speed movie capture at 60fps (for HD resolution of 1280 x 720) and at 25fps (for 640 x 480), all captured in Apple-friendly QuickTime MOV format.
The Canon EOS Rebel T3i comes with a 18-55mm kit lens and has compatibility with over 60 lenses in the Canon range to provide a wealth of depth-of-field options. The three-inch LCD screen boasts the same 1,440,000-dot resolution as its big brother the Canon 60D, and is primed with three anti-reflection and fluorine anti-smudge coatings. This gives a truly excellent level of detail even in bright sunlight.
With an eye-level D-SLR viewfinder (fixed pentamirror); a 63-zone TTL full-aperture metering exposure controls (auto, manual, program, shutter- and aperture-priority, depth-of-field EA and E-TTL II auto flash modes); and a built-in flash with auto pop-up, you can capture a vast range of shots in various challenging lighting conditions.
To expand your creativity, the EOS Rebel T3i incorporates five in-camera Creative Filters (such as Soft Focus, Grainy Black & White; and Fish Eye) so you can manipulate scenes without the aid of a computer. You can also rate images by tagging with a number of stars for quick review later.
If you wish to sit back and let the camera do all the hard work, the Canon EOS Rebel T3i’s Scene Intelligent Auto mode handles a wide range of settings such as focus, flash, white balance, exposure and picture style, to produce stunning pictures with point-and-shoot ease.
The sheer ease-of-use of the Canon EOS Rebel T3i puts some of its rivals in the shade. The menu navigation is intuitive and simple and allows you to personalise 11 custom functions and file commonly used options under a My Menu tab. It also has a very helpful Feature Guide for detailed descriptions of camera settings to ease the user into using some of the more advanced settings without feeling too daunted.
Definitely a best buy entry-level D-SLR camera.
Although classed within best buy entry-level DSLR cameras, the Nikon D5100 versatility will appeal to both novice photographers wishing to develop their creativity as well as more experienced photographers.
The Nikon D5100 comes in a relatively lightweight, compact body but has some heavy-weight credentials: 16.2MP image resolution; fully articulated rear screen; 18-55mm VR (vibration reduction) kit lens; and full 1080p HD continuous autofocus movies capability.
As with all D-SLRs, the Nikon D5100 has an eye-level pentamirror single-lens reflex viewfinder, which provides accurate and realistic composition. The Nikon D5100 can shoot continuously at a rate of 4fps for around 100 highest quality JPEGS (or 20 raw images; or 12 raw and JPEG simultaneously). It can also take around 660 shots on a single charge.
As well as giving a generous ISO range (expandable to 25,6000), the Nikon D5100 can even be pushed to night-vision setting (monochrome only) or ISO 104,200.
On the less serious side, the Nikon D5100 comes with very intuitive controls, a robust build and a range of fun special effects, including Selective Color (which isolates any color within the scene); High Key (creates bright, glowing images); and Color Sketch (color outlines of the subject are played back as a series of stills in a slide show).
If you are after an impressive entry-level D-SLR with a range of professional options at a very competitive price, the Nikon D5100 is for you.
[D] Best Buy Compact System Cameras
With its sleek, contemporary design, the super-portable certainly punches above its weight. Although only slightly larger than your average compact camera, the Sony NEX-5RK boasts 16.1MP, HD video (1080p), a 3-inch tilting touchscreen and is the first of Sony’s CSCs to include full Wi-Fi connectivity. Sony NEX-5RK
Taking over from its predecessor – the Sony NEX-5N – this best buy compact system camera lets you download image and cinema effects apps with ease using its Wi-Fi enabled functionality and share your photos and video directly to your mobile device. The Sony NEX-5RK supports PlayMemories Camera Apps - there’s even an app that allows you to use your iPhone or Android as the remote control release for your Sony NEX-5RK!
The 3" Xtra Fine TruBlack touch-screen offers a crisp display and a high user-friendly rating. The screen tilts to 180 degrees above the camera – for those all-important self-portrait shots; and it also tilts 50 degrees down - allowing you to accurately frame the shot when you need to take photos over people’s heads.
The camera comes pre-loaded with a good range of filter effects and uses some of Sony’s impressive proprietary technology such as Sweep Panorama™ (delivering the broad panoramic landscape photo at the touch of a button) and Smile Shutter™ (capturing a smile the moment it happens!).
In terms of performance, the hybrid auto-focus (AF) system (together with Sony’s Bionz processor) enables super-fast AF, and an impressive 10fps (frames per second) shooting speed. The large APS-C sensor delivers superb image quality – comparable in quality to a DSLR’s output. The control dials and buttons on the top and back of the Sony NEX-5RK are fully customisable, so you can tailor each to your particular needs. The Sony NEX-5RK accepts the full range of Sony E-mount lenses and (with an optional adaptor) allows you to use the even wider range of A-mount lenses.
To summarize: an incredible, high-quality best buy camera in a compact-sized body.
If you are into taking sports, action shots or street photography and need a companion camera that is robustly built - the Olympus OM-D E-M5 is for you.
Don’t be fooled by the retro styling, the Olympus OM-D E-M5’s magnesium alloy body is dust and splash proof, and features the same all weather proofing as the top of the range DSLR, the E-5. Although relatively small in size, the camera feels solidly built with a ruggedness that suggest it will withstand some considerable tough conditions.
So what do you get for a $1000+ CSC? Well – a considerably impressive array of features, as it turns out.
Firstly the Olympus OM-D E-M5 is rated the world's fastest* autofocus camera via its FAST (Frequency Acceleration Sensor Technology). This – coupled with the 9 fps sequential shooting and 5-axis image stabilisation system - means that you get steady, crisp, clear action shots almost guaranteed. The Olympus OM-D E-M5 also handles low light conditions (ISO to 25,600) via its Live MOS Four Thirds sensor and TruePic VI image processor.
the world's fastest autofocus camera
The electronic viewfinder is pin-sharp - giving a 100% field of view with a blistering refresh rate and the image just taken appears in the viewfinder (if required) which is a great feature. For those tricky shots, the rear touchscreen is tiltable (80°up / 50°down) and has tap-to-focus point functionality as well as tap-to-release shutter.
The Olympus OM-D E-M5 comes with an electronic motorized M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-50mm F3.5-6.3 EZ lens, with options to switch between standard zooming, power zoom and “macro” mode.
A great feature called Live Time allows you to view the developing exposure on screen (once the shutter has been released) and stop the exposure when you believe it to be correct. Perfect for low-light conditions and landscape shots.
With two customisable function buttons and a range of art filters – capturing images in both Raw and JPEG (allowing filters to be removed in post-capture editing), the Olympus OM-D E-M5’s appeal will range from the advanced enthusiast to the semi-pro photographer alike.
A serious best buy camera within the CSC contenders.
[E] Best Buy Prothusiast DSLR Cameras
If you are after a high definition, high-end D-SLR, the Nikon D5200 – with 24.1-million pixel (MP) resolution – might just tick that box.
The Nikon D5200 comes with a 18-55 VR kit lens and can shoot at a maximum continuous rate of 5fps. With shutter speeds of up to 1/4000 sec, a total of 39 AF points and a 2016-pixel RGB sensor for light metering / white balance assessment, with help at hand (if needed) from the Automatic Scene Recognition system, capturing crystal clear shots at 6000 x 4000 pixels resolution is easily achievable. The eye-level pentamirror SLR viewfinder gives 95% horizontal and vertical frame coverage
The native sensitivity range is ISO 100-6400, which can be expanded to the equivalent 25,600 in very low lighting conditions, made possible with the CMOS sensor and EXPEED 3 processing engine.
Images are captured in RAW files format (JPEG for special effects); while video is captured in MPEG-4 AVC.
Of course the Nikon D5200 is capable of recording full HD videos in stereo (via its built-in stereo microphone), and with a blistering frame rate of up to 60 fps, there is scope to create slow motion movies with this impressive D-SLR.
Not only does face detection come as standard, but the processing power of this camera enables it to auto focus and track up to 35 faces simultaneously in a scene.
With a range of White Balance and Flash modes; 16-scene selection modes; a collection of Special Effects and an HDR mode (which combines two shots to produce a single image with greater shadow and highlight detail), the camera has the additional “tricks” you would expect from Nikon. The Nikon D5200 also has an optimal WU-1a wireless adaptor for Wi-Fi photo sharing.
The Nikon D5200: One of the top two prothusiast D-SLR best buy cameras.
This final offering in our best buy cameras review is a robustly-built D-SLR which ensures that the prothusiast’s ambitions, talent and creativity taken to the next level.
The Canon EOS 60D gives you 10 process variables to create your perfect photo with, including
- brightness adjustment
- white balance
- Picture Style
- Auto Lighting Optimizer
- noise reduction
- JPEG image-recording quality
- color space
- lens peripheral illumination correction
- distortion correction and
- chromatic aberrations correction
The gives you the ability to shoot an image in RAW, the post-process it entirely in-camera using a range of creative filters (including soft focus; toy camera; miniature and grainy b&w) for an entirely customised, unique result. EOS 60D
As well as being able to shoot approximately 58 large/JPEGs and 16 RAW files at 5.3 fps with the supplied 18-135mm (x7.5 optical zoom) lens, the EOS 60D gives you top-end D-SLR functionality such as the iFCL metering system (with a 63-zone dual-layer sensor) and a low-pass filter (inherited from the pro-spec Canon EOS 7D). The metering sensor incorporates colour measurement functionality, which results in minimal exposure and focus errors sometimes caused by alternative light sources.
The Canon EOS 60D shell is made of polycarbonate resin strengthened with glass fibre and the chassis is aluminium with cold and shock proofing. This combination gives the EOS 60D a light bodyweight yet a resilient performance. The placement of the main control two wheels by the index finger and on the back of the camera, makes full manual mode setting intuitive and almost reflex-driven.
The AF system is extremely quick this camera (which features 9 points: cross type on 8 of them with dual cross on the center sensor). It also has a digital level that you can use to get a perfect horizon shot (either on the main LCD or through the viewfinder) – so no more tilting sun-sets!
The EOS 60D comes with an articulating, high-resolution LCD screen together with full HD movie capture (at up to 60 fps) capability in QuickTime MOV format. The viewfinder offers 96% coverage, with other features including face detection, burst mode and image stitching.
As with all Canons, the high picture quality, ease of use and intuitive controls make this a truly best buy camera.
The range, expressed in f-stop numbers, from a camera's largest lens opening setting to its smallest. (Equivalent to the size of a human pupil.)
Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor sensor found in most digital cameras.
The equivalent focal range of a D-SLR, expressed with reference to traditional 35mm cameras.
How the camera decides how much light to fire out of the flash
Focal length / range
The distance from the lens to the film or sensor, when focused on a subject at infinity. (A zoom lens will have a variable focal length also known as a focal range.)
A digital process of combining two or more images so that they look like one shot.
Measures the sensitivity of the "film". A low ISO setting gives the highest resolution and clarity. A high ISO will record low light levels but may produce a "grainy" effect. (A large sensor will be able to accommodate more light and greater ISO range without producing grainy effects.)
RAW images / files
A totally unprocessed image file captured by the D-SLR.
Sensor / Sensor size
The sensor is the "eye" of the camera. It is a light-sensitive chip responsible for recording the photographic image. It takes the place of traditional film and the sensor size normally determines the quality and sharpness of the picture (and cost of the camera).
Settings that assess and adjust for colour conditions in any given lighting thereby ensuring a true-to-life color result.
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