Thanks to the evolution of photography, you can now buy a decent digital camera that takes great photos without needing to take out a bank loan (or even a mortgage in some cases, it seems). Some of us might want a super-slim model we can slip into a spare pocket for everyday shooting and fun days out. Others might want something tougher that can withstand some adventurous holiday action, and even a dunking in the sea. There are also some surprisingly small yet highly versatile cameras on the market that go XXL in terms of zoom range.
We’ve rounded up the top ten buys from all of the leading camera manufacturers, including Canon, Nikon, Fujifilm, Panasonic and Sony. There’s even a GoPro camera on the list for those who want an all-out action camera.
Everything here should be available for less than £200/$270, so let’s kick off with the cheapest and work our way up the price tag ladder.
1. Nikon Coolpix A10
A supremely budget-friendly camera
Type: Compact | Sensor: 1/2.3-inch | Megapixels: 16.1MP | Screen: 2.7-inch 230k | Viewfinder: None | Lens type: 5x zoom | Max burst speed: 1.2fps | Max video resolution: 720p | User level: Beginner
Despite being the cheapest camera on the market from a mainstream manufacturer, the Nikon Coolpix A10 boasts a 5x zoom lens and stabilisation that works for both stills and video capture. The megapixel count is perfectly respectable, it has a decent 2.7-inch LCD screen and the control layout is simple and intuitive.
It’s an easy camera to use, even for absolute beginners and kids. The fact that it runs on a pair of regular AA batteries can be another bonus, as you can simply pop in a new pair if they go flat when you’re out and about. Build quality feels pretty solid, but don’t expect any advanced features or Full HD movie capture.
2. Canon IXUS 190
Latest Canon IXUS model combines stylish simplicity with a slim-line design
Type: Compact | Sensor: 1/2.3-inch | Megapixels: 20.5MP | Screen: 2.7-inch 230k | Viewfinder: None | Lens type: 10x zoom | Max burst speed: 0.8fps | Max video resolution: 720p | User level: Beginner
Designed to be slim enough to slip into a spare pocket, Canon’s IXUS range of cameras (PowerShot ELPH in the United States) has proved very popular over the years. Two of the newest models are the 185 and 190. The 185 is around £30/$40 cheaper but only has an 8x rather than a 10x zoom lens.
More crucially, the Canon IXUS 190 adds Wi-Fi and NFC for easy sharing and printing of photos. In all other respects, the two models are identical, with 20.5MP image sensors, a simple and intuitive interface, and good picture quality. It’s a stylish camera that’s easy to live with and comes in a range of colour options.
3. Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FT30
Lights, camera, action... this tough Panasonic can handle all of it
Type: Compact (tough) | Sensor: 1/2.3-inch | Megapixels: 16.1MP | Screen: 2.7-inch 230k | Viewfinder: None | Lens type: 4x zoom | Max burst speed: 1.3fps | Max video resolution: 720p | User level: Beginner
Whether you’re on the beach, up a mountain or in the desert, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT30 should prove ideal. It’s waterproof down to a depth of 8m, freezeproof to -10C, dustproof, and shockproof to withstand being dropped from heights up to 1.5m. In short, it’s as tough as a brick but sadly looks a bit like one as well, with a very boxy design.
Unlike some ‘tough’ cameras, this one has a zoom lens, which is a nice bonus. Video resolution is a little disappointing but image quality is good and it’s an easy camera to use.
4. Nikon Coolpix W100
A Nikon for the adventurous budget photographer
Type: Compact (tough) | Sensor: 1/3.1-inch | Megapixels: 13.2MP | Screen: 2.7-inch 230k | Viewfinder: None | Lens type: 3x zoom | Max burst speed: 4.7fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner
Like a couple of other cameras in our roundup, this Nikon is built for the adventurous. The Coolpix W100 is waterproof to 10m, shockproof to 1.8m, freeze-proof to -10C and dust-proof. So basically you can keep shooting in any conditions, whether it’s wet, dry, hot or cold. It’s easy to use and has a funky design that’s available in five different colour options.
Another bonus is that you can capture video in Full HD 1,080p. What’s not to love? Well, the image sensor is physically small with a low megapixel count, and image quality tends to be a bit noisy even under good light. The 3x zoom range is a bit small too. On the plus side, the camera has built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
5. Fujifilm FinePix XP130
A tough camera from Fujifilm for an active lifestyle
Type: Compact (tough) | Sensor: 1/2.3-inch | Megapixels: 16.4MP | Screen: 3.0-inch 920k | Viewfinder: None | Lens type: 5x zoom | Max burst speed: 10fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner
Fujifilm’s offering in the budget ‘tough camera’ sector comes in the shape – and distinctive colours – of the XP130. It’s available in bright yellow or black with either sky blue or lime green accents. With better diving abilities than the Panasonic FT30 or the Nikon W100, this camera is waterproof to 20m. It’s similarly freezeproof to -10C, shockproof to 1.75m and dustproof.
Other enhancements over the other two cameras are that it has a more generous 5x optical zoom range, a faster burst speed of 10fps, and a larger LCD screen with a greater pixel count. The image sensor is also larger and more high-res than in the Nikon W100, but image quality can look a bit dull and image noise is still a problem in low lighting conditions. The XP130 comes complete with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
6. Sony Cyber-shot WX220
A slim Sony camera that packs a lot in
Type: Compact | Sensor: 1/2.3-inch | Megapixels: 18.2MP | Screen: 2.7-inch 461k | Viewfinder: None | Lens type: 10x zoom | Max burst speed: 10fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner
Despite being remarkably slim and lightweight, the Sony Cyber-shot WX220 packs a 10x optical zoom lens, Wi-Fi and NFC, plus an 18MP back-illuminated image sensor. This helps to retain relatively low-noise image quality at higher ISO (sensitivity) settings, making the Sony a good low-light performer. It’s no slouch either, with a rapid 10fps maximum burst rate for stills and Full HD 1080p movie capture.
Typical for the budget price sector, the camera has a 2.7-inch LCD, but the screen has twice the usual pixel count for a more detailed display. Overall, it’s a very good point-and-shoot camera with impressive image quality. However, if you like to alter shooting settings, the interface can feel a little unintuitive and the menus are a bit longwinded.
7. Sony Cyber-shot WX350
The WX350 from Sony is a small camera with a big zoom
Type: Compact | Sensor: 1/2.3-inch | Megapixels: 18.2MP | Screen: 3.0-inch 461k | Viewfinder: None | Lens type: 20x zoom | Max burst speed: 10fps | Max video resolution: 1,080p | User level: Beginner
At about an inch thick, Sony’s WX350 isn’t quite as super-skinny as the WX220 and it’s a little heavier too. The main reason is that it doubles up on optical zoom range, with a massive 20x capability. Even so, the WX350 is still a very pocketable camera, and remarkably thin considering its zoom range. It’s also a bit more intuitive to use, with the addition of a shooting mode dial on the top of the camera, putting the extra 4mm of body depth to good use.
The rear screen is slightly larger as well but has the same 461k resolution. In other respects, both cameras are very similar, with the same image sensor, 10fps maximum burst rate, Full HD 1080p video capture, Wi-Fi and NFC, along with a slightly fiddly menu system. Again, image quality is very impressive.
8. Canon IXUS 285 HS
This Canon combines a slim build with powerful features
Type: Compact | Sensor: 1/2.3-inch | Megapixels: 20.2MP | Screen: 3.0-inch 461k | Viewfinder: None | Lens type: 12x zoom | Max burst speed: 2.5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner
Typical of IXUS cameras, the Canon IXUS 285 HS has a very slim-line and pocket-friendly design. More unusually, it’s available in a particularly garish shade of purple, as well as the more usual black and silver options. For such a small camera, it packs a big punch in terms of features. The 20.2MP ‘HS’ image senor helps to retain low-noise image quality at high ISO settings, there’s a powerful 12x optical zoom lens, a 3-inch LCD screen, plus built-in Wi-Fi and NFC.
Typical of Canon cameras great and small, the layout of buttons and menus is simple and intuitive. All in all, it’s a great little camera, the only slight frustration being that the 2.5fps maximum burst rate is a little pedestrian.
9. Canon PowerShot SX620 HS
How big are your pockets? This capable Canon will stretch them...
Type: Compact | Sensor: 1/2.3-inch | Megapixels: 20.2MP | Screen: 3.0-inch 922k | Viewfinder: None | Lens type: 25x zoom | Max burst speed: 2.5fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Beginner
The phenomenal 25x optical zoom range of this Canon PowerShot SX620 HS equates to 25-625mm in conventional, full-frame terms. That takes you all the way from ultra-wide-angle to super-telephoto at just the touch of a zoom lever. The downside is that, compared with the IXUS 285, this camera is noticeably thicker, with a depth of 28mm instead of just 23mm. Canon still claims that it’s a ‘pocketable’ camera, but it’s not such an easy fit.
Image quality is similarly impressive from both cameras, with gorgeous colour rendition and relatively low image noise at high sensitivity settings. There’s also the same provision of Wi-Fi and NFC. Handling is more refined in the SX620 HX, with a sculpted grip area, and the LCD screen has twice the pixel count as well, for a more detailed display.
10. GoPro Hero
An action camera with a budget-friendly price tag
Type: Action | Sensor: 1/2.3-inch | Megapixels: 10MP | Screen: 2.0-inch touch | Viewfinder: None | Lens type: Prime | Max burst speed: 10fps | Max video resolution: 1440p | User level: Beginner
A growing number of ‘action cameras’ are often quite pricy but this one from the acclaimed GoPro manufacturer squeaks in below our maximum price limit. It has the same physical dimensions as the Hero5 Black and Hero6 Black, and the same provision of a rear LCD for composing shots. In fact, it’s the only camera in this roundup to have a touchscreen.
It also features voice control, which can be very useful if the camera is mounted in place and you’ve got your hands full with adventurous activities. Speaking of which, the GoPro Hero is waterproof to a depth of 10m and additional cases are available if you feel the need to dive deeper.