Our list of qualifying cameras -- whose prices hover around $100 give or take $20 -- included Fujifilm FinePix J10, Casio Exilim EX-Z9, Panasonic Lumix LS80, Samsung S860, Kodak C813, Nikon Coolpix L18, Olympus FE360, Sony Cyber-shot S750, Canon PowerShot A590 IS, and Canon PowerShot A470.
We looked at all the basic aspects we think make up a good quality camera: shutter lag, optical performance, image sharpness and detail vs. noise and noise suppression, color rendition, and flash performance.
Bear in mind that these cameras are not the best of the best, but if you only want to spend $100, these are among the best you'll find, with many retailers selling all three of these cameras for $99 or less. For the best of the best, visit our Dave's Picks section under any but the Budget category.
Our top four bargain digital cameras are:
Fujifilm FinePix J10
Always able to get good quality from an inexpensive pocket digital camera, Fujifilm has done it again with the FinePix J10. Its 8-megapixel sensor delivers good quality images with good color and reasonable optical quality for the price. You'll find some noticeable barrel distortion at wide-angle, as well as chromatic aberration, but the latter is only obvious when the Fuji J10's images are printed above 8x10. Indoor shots with tungsten lighting are a bit yellow for our taste, but the Fujifilm J10's flash shots are well-exposed. Otherwise images are smooth, with reasonably low noise and good sharpness. The Fujifilm FinePix J10's shutter lag is a little on the slow side, taking 0.79 second to focus and capture a shot, but it's still usable. The Fujifilm J10 is a surprisingly good budget digital camera. Average Price $109.00
With a 3x zoom, a 2.5-inch LCD, and an 8-megapixel sensor, the Panasonic LS80 has all the basics covered, and it even includes extras, like optical image stabilization and Intelligent ISO. Image quality is pretty good, with vibrant color and minimal noise in the shadows. Optically, corners are a bit soft, but not bad up to 8x10. Detail is decent in the center even when printed at 11x14-inches, and chromatic aberration is also well-controlled. There's some barrel distortion, but it's not bad, and auto white balance handled incandescent lighting quite well. Shutter lag is again a little long, taking 0.8 second to focus and take a picture, but that's one of the tradeoffs at this price point. Flash range is good, at about 12.1 feet at wide angle, and 6.7 feet at telephoto, and the camera does raise the ISO to 400, making for a little more noise overall. A very good performance for a budget digital camera. Average Price: $122.76
Clearly offering the most bang for the buck at a price point closely approaching $100 is the 7.1-megapixel Canon PowerShot A470. With a 3.4x optical zoom and a 2.5-inch LCD, the Canon A470 doesn't skimp on features. Its shutter lag time is a little more bearable than the other two on this list, with full-AF lag coming in at 0.5 second, and a shot-to-shot time of 1.27 seconds. Corner sharpness is good when printed up to 8x10 inches, and chromatic aberration is minimal. The Canon A470's low-ISO images easily handle enlargement up to 11x14 inches. Even ISO 800 shots produce good 4x6-inch prints. The interface is easy to work with, and autofocus is snappy and accurate. The A470 has a lot of Canon's best features rolled right into a camera with a very low price, which is the very definition of the word "bargain." Average Price: $114.72
The Canon A590 IS is the most feature-packed of cameras in the budget category, and its price somewhat reflects that, with an average price currently hovering around $135. The good news is that that's just the average: As I'm writing this the day before Thanksgiving, 2008, it was available online from reputable retailers for as little as $112.95, definitely putting it the "budget" category. Looking at the camera itself, the Canon PowerShot A590 IS is one digital camera that delivers a lot of capability and good photos at a low price. We also like the fact that Canon A590IS is well-suited to both novices and advanced users. Total beginners can put it in "Easy" mode and snap away, but a full range of features (including full manual exposure control) will satisfy more advanced users. The Canon PowerShot A590 IS offers 4x optical zoom, an excellent range of exposure modes and options, and is very user-friendly. Face and Motion Detection ensure good-looking portraits, even of moving subjects, and an intelligent selection of preset Scene modes offer great exposure flexibility. The Canon A590IS has a bright 2.5-inch LCD display, but also features a real-image optical viewfinder to help conserve battery power. Not a perfect camera by any means, but a near-unbelievable buy at its current less-than-$120 street price. Average Price: $138.46
Remember, those are just average prices, click on the link to shop for the best price!
For more quick and easy recommendations on the best digital cameras, be sure to visit our Dave's Picks section, where we've posted the cameras we like most after running them through our thorough laboratory testing. You can search by category, or just check what's hot among our current Top Ten listings.