If you have never purchased a camera before or if it’s been several years, then chances are good that you’ll be amazed at the number of options that are available today. How do you sort through all of the choices to find the best camera for you? Perhaps even more importantly, how can you stick to a relatively modest budget?
The reviews presented here are designed to be a guide to the pros and cons of some of the most popular compact digital cameras that are available today. Best of all, each of these models typically is priced at less than $300. This makes it easy to stick to a budget while still enjoying outstanding performance.
With any one of these models, you’ll find that you are snapping beautiful shots in no time.
Kodak PIXPRO AZ421 Astro Zoom Digital Camera
Kodak has been a pioneer in the field of photography since the beginning of the twentieth century. It’s nice to see the company still offering reliable products like the PIXPRO AZ421 after all these years.
Called the Astro Zoom Digital Camera, this is one model that deserves its name. It has the equivalent of a 42x optical zoom. For a camera of this size, category and price, that is an impressive specification.
The Astro Zoom shoots 720p HD video and has a three-inch LCD screen on the rear. However, this camera is a bit heavy when compared with other compact offerings on this list. Tech fans also won’t like that this model has no Wi-Fi connectivity.
- Excellent zoom capabilities
- Extremely easy-to-use interface
- Decent-sized sensor
- Heavy when compared to other compact models
- No Wi-Fi connectivity
Panasonic Lumix DC-FZ80
This is a great camera from a reliable manufacturer. At this price point, it boasts an impressive number of features that you might expect in a more expensive model.
The lens is particularly notable. It’s a built-in that has a zoom range that goes from 20 mm up to 1200 mm. That is incredible for such an affordable camera. Moreover, this model has a nicely sized 1/2.3″ MOS sensor. This is even more important to image quality than the 18.1-megapixel count.
You get to choose between images in JPEG and RAW format. The maximum size is 4896 X 3672 pixels. In this market segment, it is rare to see the ability to shoot in RAW format. That alone might convince you to choose this model.
As an additional inducement, this camera records 4K UHD video. Most cameras in this class don’t have this function. The longest video you can record comes in at just under half an hour. A built-in mic ensures that the video picks up crystal-clear sound.
Tech geeks are bound to love that this camera is Wi-Fi ready. This means that images and videos can quickly and easily be sent straight to your computer or smartphone.
- 4K video capability
- Wi-Fi connectivity
- Impressive sensor
- Great lens
- Novice users may find the interface difficult
Samsung WB350F Digital Camera
If you like retro styling, then this may be the perfect choice for you. Also, this is an extremely affordable model, yet it delivers some very nice images.
Nitpickers will be quick to note the relatively small sensor, which may not deliver the sharpest, clearest photos when compared with other entries on this list. Nonetheless, many users are impressed with the 21x zoom wide-angle lens. Wi-Fi connectivity is available on this model, and this Samsung camera is capable of HD video recording.
With Samsung Link, you can seamlessly connect this camera to other Samsung devices. On the back of the camera is a three-inch hybrid touch display. It has nice, sharp lines, but some users note that the screen is a little too sensitive, resulting in accidental changes to settings.
- Tremendous zoom
- Pocket-sized for perfect portability
- Wi-Fi connectivity
- The touch screen makes it too easy to inadvertently change settings
- The interface could be easier to use
- The sensor is a bit small
Nikon COOLPIX A900 Digital Camera
If you’re looking for a compact camera that costs less than $300, you would be hard-pressed to do better than by choosing this model. Both the Nikon brand and the COOLPIX line enjoy great reputations in the photography world, so you can rely on this camera to deliver the performance you want.
Equipped with a 1/2.3″ BSI CMOS sensor and 20 megapixels, it’s easy to see why the A900 has so many fans. The built-in lens allows for a range between 24 and 840 m. That is the equivalent of a 35x optical zoom.
Like the Panasonic model on this list, the COOLPIX will shoot 4K UHD videos. Additionally, it has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi technology built in for easy file transfer.
If this camera has a downside, it is that the battery seems to drain quickly when not in use.
- Good-sized sensor
- Able to shoot 4K UHD videos
- Bluetooth and Wi-Fi technology built-in
- Too much battery drain when the camera is not in use
Sony Cyber-Shot DSCWX350 18 MP Digital Camera
The Cyber-Shot line has been around for several years, and this is a typically excellent entry. Of particular note are the 1/2.3″ BSI CMOS sensor and the 18.2 megapixels. Maximum JPEGs of 4896 x 3672 pixels are possible. The sensor is totally respectable, delivering sharp lines and vibrant images time after time.
At 4.8 ounces, this is a pretty lightweight model that’s easy to carry around. You may even be able to slip it into your picket.
The lens is a fairly impressive feature with a range of 25 to 500 mm. Essentially, this is a 20x optical zoom, so not as extensive as other entries on this list. Videos can be recorded in full HD with the maximum length being just under half an hour.
Wi-Fi connectivity makes this model a favorite with tech geeks.
- Optical SteadyShot provides reliable image stabilization
- Excellent auto-focus
- Built-in Wi-Fi
- Could benefit from a more robust zoom range
- The LCD screen has a low-res display
Canon PowerShot SX620 HS
This new model is just slightly bulkier than the SX610 model that it replaced. Still, this will probably fit in your pocket, purse or anywhere else that you choose to stash it. It’s really lightweight, so it should not be a burden even on long treks.
Despite its small size and light weight, this PowerShot model takes excellent photographs. That is due to the 1/2.3″ BSI CMOS sensor, which gives captured images a resolution of just over 20 megapixels. This camera is particularly well-suited to low-light photography thanks to the DIGIC 4+ image processor. The processor also helps to capture better-looking images in situations that are too bright.
The lens ranges from 25 to 625 mm. With the optical image stabilization kicking in at the longest focal length, you can be certain of getting steady, crystal-clear shots.
When it comes to video, the PowerShot’s performance is merely adequate. It doesn’t help that the monaural sound recording really detracts from the overall quality.
The three-inch LCD screen on the back does not have touch capabilities. However, it is really high-resolution with 922,000 pixels. Built-in Wi-Fi makes transferring images and videos to other devices a snap.
- A good-sized sensor for taking clear shots
- Optical image stabilization is a big plus
- The LCD screen has great resolution
- Sound and video quality are only average
Nikon COOLPIX B500 Digital Camera
A true “bridge” camera, this model would be an excellent choice for anyone who isn’t quite convinced that they want to go full dSLR. This COOLPIX B500 will help you to feel like you’re shooting with a dSLR, but at a much more attractive price point and without some of the higher-level functionality that might not get used much.
As with many of the best compact cameras available today, this one has a 1/2.3″ BSI CMOS sensor. For the price, you’re probably not going to do better. One of the main advantages of this sensor is that it performs well in low-light conditions.
With a 40x optical lens, it’s hard to compete with this camera’s zoom capabilities. The zoom range goes from 22.5 mm up to 900 mm. That is pretty incredible for a camera in this category. Built-in vibration reduction guarantees that any small hand movements while taking pictures won’t interfere with the quality of the image.
You can shoot full HD videos with this camera too, relying on the four-axis hybrid image stabilization to ensure better quality. Use the built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC technology to easily transfer files to other devices. The LCD screen on the back features 921,000-pixel resolution for great clarity.
Some users have complained about issues with the Wi-Fi connectivity and the software that Nikon uses to connect to other devices.
- Takes great pictures thanks to a reliable sensor
- Wonderful LCD screen
- Vibration-reduction technology ensures steady shots
- Wi-Fi connectivity is sometimes questionable
- Nikon’s app software is not the most intuitive
Olympus PEN E-PL6 Digital Camera
The mirrorless PEN EPL-6 is far beyond ordinary point-and-shoot models, but it doesn’t quite rank up there with pricier dSLRs. As such, it is a perfect bridge camera for photographers who want to take their skills to the next level.
Most noteworthy among this Olympus’ features are its outstanding autofocus system and modes for low ISO shooting. Another major plus is that this model uses interchangeable lenses. If you want to upgrade to a more serious lens, you can!
For the price, this camera is an absolute steal. You’ll get clear and vivid shots thanks to the big sensor. The camera offers Micro Four Thirds compatibility across the board and a pop-up flash. You also get the exclusive TruePic Image Processor in this camera so that you get excellent reproduction of color. The F.A.S.T. autofocus system and impressive stabilization mechanism promise clear shots that are always in focus.
At just a couple of ounces under a pound, some photographers may find this model slightly weighty. Also, the lens that it comes with isn’t terribly impressive. To get the best out of this camera, you may want to upgrade.
- Excellent sensor
- Wonderful stabilization capabilities
- Interchangeable lens
- Slightly heavy
- May need to upgrade lens immediately
Canon PowerShot SX720 HS
The excellent PowerShot SX720 is a solid choice in the mid-range camera market. Like many of the other models on this list, it features a 1/2.3″ CMOS sensor. Its effective megapixels are stated to be 20.3. That is really impressive in a camera at this price point. Also, this camera is equipped with the manufacturer’s DIGIC 6 image processor, so you can rest assured that all of your photos will pop with color and life.
The PowerShot SX720 comes with a 40x optical zoom. This translates to a focal length range of 24 to 960 mm. With the Intelligent Image Stabilization system, you can trust that your photos will always be crisp and clear regardless of how far out you zoom.
This camera is capable of capturing 1080p full HD video with stereo sound. It also boasts a three-inch LCD screen on the back that has 922,000 pixels for a clear, beautiful image.
Critics say that this model doesn’t perform so well in low-light conditions. However, it is Wi-Fi compatible if you want to be able to easily transfer images and videos to your computer and other devices.
- A reliable sensor
- An outstanding image processor
- Wi-Fi compatibility
- Not the best option for low-light conditions
FAQs for Purchasing a Camera Priced at Less than $300
When you start shopping around for a new camera, you will quickly discover that you could easily spend several hundred dollars purchasing just the camera body. Then, you could also buy an interchangeable lens, which similarly may run you a few hundred dollars.
A couple of decades ago, it may have been necessary to shell out big bucks in order to get a camera that offered great performance. However, technology has come a long way. You don’t have to spend several hundred dollars to buy a great camera that has everything you need.
If it has been a while since you were last in the market for a camera, then you may feel overwhelmed by all of the choices. Moreover, you may not be clear on all of the specifications that you should be considering. How important is ISO? Do pixel counts really matter? What does it mean for a camera to be “mirrorless?”
The reality is that no single specification will make one camera a clear and solid winner over every other model. Instead, it is a good idea to look at a variety of specifications and other factors that might be more subjective.
For instance, weight can be incredibly important when it comes to camera choice. A lighter weight model is easier to carry for long periods and puts less strain on your neck if you plan to wear it on a strap. However, what feels light to one person may seem quite heavy to someone else. That is why it is always advisable to try to look at, touch and pick up each camera model that interests you before you buy.
Additionally, if you pick up enough different cameras, you will discover that each one feels different in your hands. One may feel bulky while another one feels flimsy. One may seem to have been custom-sized to fit your hands. How easy is it for your fingers to reach and operate the various controls? Once again, these can be very subjective considerations.
There is another very good reason for going to a brick-and-mortar store to take various camera models for a test drive before you make a purchase. Cameras these days are really high tech. Like smartphones and tablets, you may have to navigate through a series of menus and options to get your settings just right. Depending on how you plan to use your camera, you may need to switch these settings frequently. As you play with the camera, consider how intuitive and easy-to-use the menus are.
Keep in mind that it is not necessary to get the newest, latest model of a camera unless you are a total tech geek who has to have the most up-to-date devices. A camera model from one, two or even three years ago may still offer excellent performance. Best of all, it also will probably cost you a great deal less.
Remember, unless you are a professional photographer who pays the bills with their camera, you have nothing to gain by purchasing a top-of-the-line model. A modestly priced camera that costs less than $300 can provide impressive performance without breaking the bank. You may even be able to get cool features like video recording and WiFi capabilities.
Why You Might Want a Camera Even Though You Have a Smart Phone
It is a question that people who own a dedicated camera hear with increasing frequency these days.
“Why do you need a camera? Your phone has a great camera!”
While it is true that some smartphones have cameras that are quite capable, the reality is that none of these can truly match the quality and functionality of a top-rated dedicated camera. Plus, some smartphones actually do not have good cameras, so if you want to photograph a special event, that camera phone can really leave you in the lurch.
The camera in a smartphone is a lot like the old “point-and-shoot” cameras that were so popular a few years ago. These were great entry-level models that were inexpensive and easy to use. The images captured with these cameras weren’t going to win any awards, but they served the purpose for family events and casual photography.
Smartphone cameras have several limitations, including the quality of the images that they capture. These phone cameras typically have a fixed, wide-angle lens that isn’t particularly useful for taking high-quality close-ups or zeroing in on far-away subjects.
The long and the short of it is that a dedicated camera simply offers you far more versatility. If you are hoping to capture shots that you’ll remember for a lifetime, you need more options than those that are available to you on a phone.
What’s the Deal with Megapixels?
One of the most prominent specifications that you’ll see on any modern camera is the number of megapixels it captures. A higher number of megapixels usually translates to better image quality, but only if you’re going to be blowing up your photographs to enormous sizes.
What is a great deal more important is the size of the imaging sensor. Bigger is always better in this regard, and this makes an enormous difference to the quality of the images that you get.
Should You Choose a Fixed or Interchangeable Lens?
When you buy a camera body that has an interchangeable lens, you may gain several advantages. Such camera bodies may be either mirrorless models or dSLRs so you’ll have a wide variety of options from which to choose.
If you have an older camera body with an interchangeable lens, then you always have the option of purchasing a newer, better lens to enhance performance. Moreover, you can buy a new lens to give your camera a narrower or wider angle of view. Photographers who frequently work in low-light conditions further may appreciate the ability to switch to a lens that has a wider maximum aperture.
Fixed-lens cameras may have their advantages as well. These models are either considered “bridge” cameras because they have long lenses and look a lot like dSLRs or compact cameras, which once were known as “point-and-shoot” cameras.
Frequently, fixed-lens cameras are smaller and lighter than those that have interchangeable lenses. Bridge models tend to cover an impressively wide zoom range that would be considerably heavier and more expensive in an interchangeable lens. Many photographers appreciate not having to swap out lenses to get the zoom and angle that they need.
Do I Want a Mirrorless or dSLR Model?
When you look into purchasing an interchangeable lens camera, you’ll quickly discover that you must choose between mirrorless models and dSLRs. DSLRs have gotten a lot of positive press, to the point at which many people believe that they are the ultimate in photography technology.
However, mirrorless technology has made tremendous strides so that images captured by these cameras are virtually indistinguishable from those taken by a dSLR. When choosing a camera, it’s important to keep in mind that the quality of the lens that you choose may make a much bigger difference than the camera body.
Advantages of a dSLR
When considering whether to purchase a mirrorless or dSLR model, you’ll need to understand the potential advantages of both. A dSLR camera has far better battery life than a mirrorless model. If you’re going to be out on long treks and expeditions where opportunities to recharge a battery are minimal, then a dSLR is the way to go.
All dSLRs are equipped with optical viewfinders that refresh quickly and have great clarity. Mirrorless models tend to have an electronic viewfinder, which may be referred to as an EVF, that doesn’t refresh as quickly, though this is changing.
Another possible advantage of the dSLR is that you can use a wide range of lenses with them. Even lenses from old film cameras are compatible. Because dSLR technology has been around for years, you’ll have an amazing variety of lenses from which to choose.
New dSLRs also tend to be a bit cheaper than mirrorless models. If you’re on a budget, this may be the better way to go.
Advantages of a Mirrorless Camera
Mirrorless models tend to be smaller and lighter than dSLRs. If you plan to carry your camera around with you a lot, then this may be an incredibly important factor. You may be able to get an Olympus or Panasonic model that has a Micro Four Thirds lens, which is really small when compared to the APS-C lens used by other manufacturers.
When shooting video is of primary importance, then mirrorless technology may be an excellent choice. The view through the LCD typically is better, and autofocus performance generally is improved without making a great deal of adjustments.
Not having a mirror makes real-time previews possible. Photographers may appreciate being able to watch as a long exposure builds or the ability to switch to different filters.
How Do You Choose Sensor Size?
While camera manufacturers may boast about having more megapixels, consumers who are in the know realize that the number of megapixels is nowhere near as important to image quality as the size of the camera’s sensor.
Simply put, the larger a camera’s sensor is, the less light will be required to take a great snapshot. The camera’s sensor is made up of photosites, which are light-sensitive spots that record the information that is seen by the lens. A larger image sensor similarly translates to more highly detailed photographs.
If you do opt for a camera that has a larger sensor, then you also will be getting a bigger model that has a larger lens. This is necessary because that big sensor needs a larger camera body to house it while a bigger lens is required for casting an image of sufficient size.
Generally, the image sensor in a smartphone is quite small. That’s because your phone is not a dedicated camera, and it has many other functions to perform. A larger sensor simply will not fit in such a relatively small, multi-functional device.
If you are interested in producing any kind of effects with your images, then the size of the sensor similarly is critical. A larger sensor makes it possible to focus on one element in the image while leaving everything else blurry.
Is an Extra-Long Zoom Important?
If you have a camera with a really long zoom, then you’ll have all the possible bases covered. It’s vital to spend some time considering how you’ve used cameras in the past and what you’d like to accomplish with your new purchase. Are you taking up wildlife photography? Do you want to be able to capture high-speed sporting events? Will you be traveling and want to have a wide variety of choices?
A lens that offers an ultra-wide angle at less than 18 mm is great for taking shots of large scenes. Between 18 mm and 30 mm, you’ll be focusing on landscapes and group shots. The normal range runs from 30 mm to 70 mm, which is ideal for ordinary snapshots and portraits.
Telephoto lenses range from 70 mm to 300 mm. This lens may be ideal for portraits or sporting events. A supertelephoto may be required for capturing high-quality images of sporting events and taking photos of wildlife.
How Much Does Speed Really Matter?
Shutter lag used to be a major concern for photographers, but modern technology has largely eliminated this worry. Now, the emphasis is on the camera’s autofocus system. Is it fast and accurate enough to capture the kind of shots that you want to take?
This is especially critical if you want to get outstanding action shots. Action photography will require best-in-class autofocus and continuous shooting capabilities that are really fast. You’ll want to look for a range between ISO 800 and ISO 6400 to give you the right level of performance.