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Almost all cameras in our Ratings took decent pictures. Your choice will depend a lot on whether you want small size or extra photographic power and flexibility. Compact cameras, too big for a pocket but small enough to fit easily in a bag, remain the best choice for most people, especially if your budget is tight.
A growing number of cameras now are subcompacts that fit in a pocket. They cost a bit more for the same capabilities and often come with compromises: shorter battery life, smaller controls, a narrower zoom range, and no viewfinder.
Small cameras continue to shrink and grow sleeker, and many have an LCD that dominates the back and has better screen resolution than ever. Some models have LCDs that swing out from the camera body and swivel, helping to compensate for the lack of a traditional viewfinder on many models.
Other features trickling down from large models to quite a few small ones include manual controls and the ability to save images in the RAW format, which stores the captured image before it has been processed and converted into a file by the camera's built-in software.
That improves your ability to control characteristics such as sharpness and color balance.
Consider a high-priced compact or SLR-like camera if you want lots of control over exposure and composition or you want to shoot close-ups of distant subjects. Spring for an SLR if you want those attributes and more, and can afford a variety of lenses.
Guide to the Ratings
Overall score is based mainly on picture quality, the presence of useful features, battery life, and weight. Displayed scores are rounded; models are listed in order of precise overall score. Megapixels is the resolution in millions of pixels. Weight includes battery and included memory. Optical zoom refers to the ratio of focal lengths. LCD size is measured diagonally. Flash range is the manufacturer's claimed maximum distance in auto mode with lens at wide angle. Picture quality is based on expert judgments on a reference monitor of images made with each camera's best resolution and compression settings. Battery life indicates how many highest-quality photos were taken with the batteries supplied (if they were proprietary ones) or rechargeable nickel-metal hydride AAs; alternate shots used flash, and the zoom lens was racked in and out. Models that shot at least 513 were rated excellent; 256, very good; and 128, good. Shutter lag is how quickly the camera can take its first shot once powered up. The fastest were virtually instantaneous; the slowest took 1 second or longer. Next-shot delay is how quickly the camera can take its next photo. Models at least as quick as 1 second were rated excellent; 3, very good; 5, good; and 7, fair. Image stabilizer shows which models have that steadying feature. AA batteries denotes cameras that use that size; most of those don't include a charger. Cameras with proprietary batteries always include a charger. Wide angle shows which cameras have a lens that zooms as least as wide as a 28-mm-equivalent film- camera lens. Manual controls refers to settings that let you adjust shutter speed and lens opening. Price is approximate retail.
Guide to the Ratings (SLRs)
Overall score is for the body only and is based on image quality, versatility, weight, ease of use, zooming capability, battery life, and useful features. Displayed scores are rounded; models are listed in order of precise overall score. Megapixels is in millions of elements. Weight is for the body only, including battery. Flash range is the maximum claimed for a well-lighted subject. SLR image quality is based on expert judgments using images taken at the best resolution and compression and viewed on a reference monitor, and on objective analytical test data. Battery life reflects the number of high- resolution photos taken with the batteries supplied, if the camera uses a proprietary size, or with rechargeable nickel-metal hydride AAs; 250 …