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What's the Best Point-and-Shoot Camera Under $150?

A reader writes:
My wife treats digital cameras like they're disposables, so once again I'm in charge of finding her next victim. Since I know I'll be in this position again by the end of summer, what's my best option for a camera that takes great pictures, is simple as pie to use, and is cheap enough that it won't make me cry when she inevitably busts it -- say under $150 or so? I've given up on winning this battle, so Just Tell Me What to Get!

Dear Reader:
While our first instinct is to dispatch Switched's 'Minority Report'-style Precrimes Division in order to prevent any more techie tragedies at the hands of your wife, you asked for an answer and not an intervention, so we'll keep them at bay. For now.

We have to confess that we initially scoffed at the idea of a quality digital camera for under $150. After digging deeper, though, we realized that prices really have dropped precipitously in recent years. Certainly, we still believe you almost always get what you pay for, especially with cameras, but, as it turns out, standards have risen so much that even many sub-$200 cameras provide bang for your buck. We tip our hats to the engineers and laws of microeconomics for this minor miracle.

That said, there's still a lot of garbage on the shelves masquerading as bargains, so we'd never recommend buying solely on price. Brittle plastic housings, drinking-glass quality optics, substandard image processing, and awful build quality all still abound. One sub-$150 point-and-shoot we particularly like, however, is Panasonic's Lumix DMC-FS7, which we find for $120 or so online. Yes, it's about a year old, but its specs still stand up well, and -- minus a few shortcomings -- it's a bona fide bargain.

The FS7's upsides include: fantastic 10.1 megapixel stills; optical image stabilization; a bright 2.7-inch LCD viewer; F2.8 Leica DC Vario-Elmarit lenses; and the ability to fit neatly in a shirt pocket or purse. It captures exceptionally crisp, bright images in daylight, and -- though things are less impressive in low-light with high ISO settings -- flash photos go from pretty good to great. It's simple to operate too, free of the baffling menu options and preponderant buttons that many competing models employ. In fact, if you set it to IA (intelligent auto) mode, it's practically idiot-proof.

The FS7's only real downsides are those common to cameras of its class: a mere 4x optical zoom; a non-wide angle lens; and an inability to shoot HD video. Although HD video is becoming increasingly standard on point-and-shoots, the FS7's video tops out at 30fps of standard definition video (640x480 at 4:3, or 848x480 at 16:9). If you have time to wait before your wife's next rampage, Panasonic's DCM-F3 is due out soon, packs a couple more megapixels, and addresses all of the aforementioned issues (minus the zoom) -- all for just a couple bucks more. Happy shooting, and condolences in advance for your imminent loss.


Tags: budget, jtmwtg, justtellmewhattoget, lumix dmc-fs7, LumixDmc-fs7, panasonic, panasonic lumix dmc-fs7, PanasonicLumixDmc-fs7, top