Hello there digital photography enthusiast! You know, the market for digital compact cameras (also sometimes called compact point-and-shoot cameras) has shifted somewhat over the years. I remember when digital compacts were first introduced, they were HUGE popular. The average consumer was simply ecstatic that digital photography could be accessible through a small, point-and-shoot little camera.
Those days, however, digital compacts were only capable of 3 megapixel shots, and usually had very poor image sensors. That was ok in its time, but digital compact cameras these days are expected to do a LOT more.
Here are some distinguishing of the modern digital compact camera:
Size. Digital compact cameras are expected to be small, lightweight and supremely easy to carry around. If you go on a vacation, a digital compact is the perfect camera to just “whip out” and snap a photo.
Price. Digital compact cameras are pretty much at the lowest end of the digital camera price spectrum – you can probably get a very decent model for about $100 these days.
Quiet operation. Digital compact cameras are designed to be quiet. They have very small noise footprints compared to your behemoth digital SLRs which go buzz and whizz.
Image quality. The image quality of digital compacts will never be at par with digital SLRs or mirrorless cameras – BUT they are certainly more than good enough for the everyday user. If you’re just snapping photos for keepsakes, and not going down the line of creative, professional photography, a digital compact camera is all you’ll ever need.
Speed. One downside of digital compact cameras would be speed. Again, this is not an issue for everyday users, but professional photographers expect that shutter lag, and the time for writing images to the memory card, etc. to be SUPER fast (e.g. the . To give you a sense of digital SLR speeds, we’re talking about starting up and firing an in-focus shot in 0.5 seconds – no way a digital compact can do that – those usually take about 1 to 2 seconds.
Ok, now that you know what makes up a modern digital compact, let’s look at the top 10 digital compact cameras under $300. These are really absolute gems and are high value-for-money. At the sub $300 price point, it would be very difficult to get cameras with features that these models have.
1. Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 is a marvelous camera. It comes with a 10 megapixel image sensor, a 3-inch LCD screen, and 3.8x optical zoom capability. It also shoots very good 1080p HD video.
Clearly built for the enthusiast who needs a quick, easy-to-sue camera, the Lumix LX7 comes with a solid Leica lens which shoots amazing photos. The camera is very good at shooting low light photos too – in my opinion it’s one of the best value cameras in this list.
2. Canon PowerShot SX280 HS
Canon has traditionally dominated the point-and-shoot, digital compact camera market. The PowerShot SX280 is a clear indication of Canon’s prowess in packing digital optics in a small, confined space.
The camera offers a 12.1 megapixel resolution, has an ample 20x optical zoom and a 3-inch LCD screen. It shoots fantastic HD video, has a beautiful design and also has built-in Wi-Fi. A very complete package that is selling like hotcakes in the market (just like the Powershot SX510 HS below).
3. Fujifilm FinePix SL1000
I think Fujifilm has really upped its game in the digital camera world in recent years. It has clearly made headway into the highly competitive mirrorless digital camera market and is trying to cut into the point-and-shoot range as well.
The Fujifilm FinePix SL1000 is an example of a well thought of camera. It has a
16.2 megapixel resolution, a whopping 50x optical zoom and a 3-inch LCD s screen. If you like to zoom in on your subjects, especially those who like wildlife or bird photography, this camera is a godsend. It’s pretty big and heavy – that takes some getting used to – but on the whole it’s a fantastic camera for enthusiast level folks who are looking for an advanced point-and-shoot.
4. Nikon Coolpix P330
The Nikon Coolpix P330 is a 16.2 megapixel camera, complete with a 5x optical zoom and a standard 3-inch LCD screen. It takes great HD video and is overall a fantastic digital compact.
It think what stands out about the Coolpix P330 is its ability to support RAW mode and also its lens. The lens is one of the fastest Coolpix lenses out there and you can tell its quality from the pictures this camera shoots. Even at high ISOs like 1600, the camera images still look rock solid.
The downside is that it may be a bit slow – some photographers have fed back that it takes nearly 1.9 seconds to recover from a JPEG image capture. If, however, you can overlook this, the P330 is a fantastic digital compact.
5. Canon PowerShot A1400
The Canon PowerShot A1400 is a 16.2 megapixel camera, has a 5x optical and a 2.7-inch rear LCD display. It takes reasonably ok HD video and captures some surprisingly good quality images.
I think the A1400 is what I’d call a “very functional, high value-for-money” digital compact camera. The unit is extremely cheap and what stands out is its ability to capture good, sharp images.
Sure, it doesn’t have fancy features like Wi-Fi, GPS, a super fast lens or a big-time image sensor. However, at its price point, it’s rare to see a camera that takes such good pictures, has an optical viewfinder and is supremely easy to use.
I think the A1400 is a great choice for say Grandma who just wants to try out digital photography but absolutely doesn’t want bells and whistles in her camera.
6. Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 is a 14.1 megapixel camera, has a 20x optical zoom, and takes full 1080p HD video.
This unit is small, lightweight and takes very good pictures, particularly in low light. You can crank up your ISO to about 800 before you start seeing discernible noise in your images. I also like the fact that it has a long zoom lens, perfect for wildlife or long distance shots.
The one downside I’ve heard about this camera is its slightly slow startup speed – it takes about 2.3 seconds to start and snap a photo and has a 0.3 second shutter lag.
7. Canon PowerShot SX510 HS
The Canon PowerShot SX510 HS is a 12.1 megapixel camera which has a powerful 30x optical zoom, coupled with a 3-inch LCD screen.
The SX510 HS is a super bestseller – just go check on it online. It has integrated Wi-Fi, good control layout and superb speed. It takes good HD video, and you can also set it to full manual mode and run with its ample physical controls – something serious photography enthusiasts will be happy about.
It’s also interesting that Canon has a little “framing assist” button on the left of the lens barrel on the SX510 HS. This is useful if you’ve zoomed in and somehow lost track of your subject. The framing assist helps widen the field of view temporarily – you can use this to re-track your subject and go back to your original “zoomed in” view with one touch.
8. Samsung ST150F
The Samsung ST150F is one of Samsung’s key models in the digital compact market – it comes with a 16.2 megapixel camera, has a 5x optical zoom and a 3-inch LCD screen. It takes very 720p HD video and its very attractively priced (sub-$100 as that the time of this writing).
This model is tiny, just bit bigger than an iPhone. It has built-in WiFi and also has a feature called Remote ViewFinder. I like this quite a bit (though some will say its gimmicky) – you basically turn your phone into a viewfinder for the Samsung ST150F.
So you can do things like preview images, adjust camera settings, tag the shot location, e.g. from up to 30 feet away. You can also imagine that this is very useful indeed when you need to need to take a group picture with yourself in it.
9. Nikon Coolpix L820
The Nikon Coolpix L820 is a 16 megapixel camera with 30x zoom and a 3-inch LCD display. It takes 1080p HD video and has fantastic image quality for it price.
The zoom lens is brilliant and pictures shot with the L820 are razor sharp, with little aberrations or distortions. There’s a nice additional zoom switch on the lens barrel which is convenient if you want more control. The Nikon L820’s low light capabilities are also quite decent, and you can go up to ISO 3200 to improve light sensitivity.
On the other hand, the Coolpix L820 has raw file format shooting option and also no has no integrated Wi-Fi – something I’m sure many digital compact owners will want these days.
10. Sony DSC-W710/B
The final camera in my list is the Sony DSC-W710/B digital compact. This camera comes with a 16 megapixel resolution, has a 5x optical zoom and a 2.7-inch LCD display.
It’s very lightweight, portable and perfect as a “quick snap” device that backs up your more complete e.g. mirrorless or digital SLR equipment. The DSC-W710/B is also great in terms of on-camera features. For example, you can turn the “Easy” feature to detect background light, faces, action, or other photo situations.
It’s also good to note that Sony has started to use SD cards and not the horrid, proprietary Sony “memory sticks” of the past. One complaint I’ve seen though – there’s a non-standard USB cable that you need to use for charging the camera – which makes it a bit inconvenient.
That’s a long list of cameras! I hope the above has helped you understand a little more about the top 10 digital compact cameras under $300. At that price point, it certainly can be hard finding little camera gems that will meet your requirements.
For me, I think a digital compact is necessary more of (1) as a fun, vacation type of camera that you can use easily; or (2) as a backup for your more serious digital SLR gear. If I had to choose, my picks from this list would be the Canon PowerShot SX510 HS and Fujifilm FinePix SL1000 – your opinion may differ. The PowerShot SX510 HS is a great “all round” camera with all the up-to-date features you need built in, e.g. great images, decent megapixel resolution, Wi-Fi and good HD video. The Fujifilm FinePix SL1000 is great for super zoom and photographing birds, animals and otherwise faraway objects.
That’s all I have for now. Until next time, have fun researching more about digital compact cameras!