Ten Essential... Budget Compact Cameras
Summer snappers for less than 150 quid
Product Round-up The credit crunch has made many of us cost-conscious consumers, and so it’s no surprise that more people are taking a closer look at sub-£150 cameras. And with summer holidays coming up, now's the time to take a peek.
Naturally, at this price point, you're looking at a compact model, but you might be surprised by some of the features you can get for your money – some models include a 5x optical zoom, compatibility with wireless memory cards and even HD recording, although HDMI ports are as rare as the proverbial rocking horse droppings.
Here’s a round-up of some of the best sub-£150 models on the market. Note that all zoom figures are for the optical zoom and the 35mm equivalent.
Kodak EasyShare M550
OK, we know you should never judge a book by its cover and that beauty is only skin deep, but the EasyShare M500 looks as if it had been designed back in the Soviet era. This camera came plastered with YouTube, Facebook and Flickr stickers, and social networking fans will find features designed to make it easy to tag and upload images. You get a 5x zoom (28-140mm), 12Mp CCD, 22 scene modes and 0.3Mp (VGA) movie recording, but little else. The control layout is awkward, with dark buttons and strange icons used to select various functions. Picture quality wasn’t bad, although macro shots were disappointing.
More info Kodak 
Fujifilm Pinepix Z70
This 12Mp camera has a 5x optical zoom, although with a rather disappointing 36-180mm lens – a wide angle lens is more useful than a long telephoto, especially when there’s no optical image stabilisation. Handling is good – you just slide down the lens cover and the Z70 is good to go. There’s also a dedicated movie button - you can shoot HD movies at 1280 x 720 resolution. A Facebook/YouTube upload function is also included, and the CIPA battery rating is 165 frames. Images were a tad soft, but with this camera, you do get rather a lot for your dosh.
More info Fujifilm 
Nikon Coolpix S3000
At less than 18mm wide, the Coolpix S3000 is a super-slim camera, and its metal body comes in a choice of seven colours. You get a pretty decent spec for the price, including a 12Mp CCD and 4x optical zoom (27-108mm), plus four anti-blur systems - which, at this price point, means high ISO and digital systems rather than optical. There are also smile and blink detection systems, plus subject tracking. A nice touch is a choice of AC or USB charging, and battery life is rated good for 220 frames. Colour reproduction was good, but a number of shots suffered from slight softness and overexposure.
More info Nikon 
Canon Ixus 105
Sporting the traditional Ixus design, this camera certainly looks the part. There’s a 4x zoom (28-112mm), plus a few useful features, like Face SelfTimer, but little else. A CIPA battery rating of 240 isn’t bad, but I've seen better, and video is only in 0.3Mp (VGA) resolution. Handling is simple: a three-way slider makes it quick and easy to switch between auto, program AE/scene and movie modes. No surprises that the 12Mp Ixus 105 delivers a good performance when it comes to colour, sharpness and exposure, and it had one the best macro performances out of the group.
More info Canon 
Casio Exilim EX-Z550
This feature-packed camera include a 4x zoom (26-104mm), HD recording (1280 x 720) and digital effects - including one that makes your skin appear smoother. You certainly get lots of shooting options, with a "Best Shot mode" - aka Scene mode - offering more than 40 choices. The menu system is a little messy, but fortunately, the main functions can be accessed using an inverted L menu that runs along the top and right0hand side of the screen. This 14Mp camera offers decent image quality, although the AF system is a bit sluggish at times and some shots were a little soft.
More info Casio 
Pentax Optio H90
To say that the Optio H90 was a tad sensitive to low light would be an understatement. In auto mode, the flash fires off at the slightest hint of a shadow, even when shooting outdoors on a sunny day. A pity, because when the flash is tamed, you can get pretty decent images out of this 12Mp camera. It has to be said, the Optio H90 doesn’t have the most inspiring of designs, even with its two-tone colour, but it does offer a good range of features, including a 5x zoom (28-190mm), face, smile and blink detection systems, 210-shot battery rating, compatibility with Eye-Fi wireless cards and even 1280 x 720p HD recording.
More info Pentax 
The Olympus FE-5030 is compact camera with a double-layered crystal shell finish - as Olympus calls it - that gives the front of the camera body a lovely smooth texture. Handling has been simplified by removing most function buttons and using a scrolling menu system that runs down the right-hand side of the screen. This 14Mp model has useful 5x zoom (26-130mm), plus face-detection technology and AC/USB charging. With so many pixels crammed onto a chip, I was concerned about noise, but this wasn’t a problem - the FE-5030 produced crisp, clean images with good colour balance.
More info Olympus 
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FP3
You certainly get a lot of bang for your buck with this camera. For a start, there’s a 3in touchscreen, a 4x zoom (35-140mm), optical image stabilisation and HD recording at 1280 x 720. CIPA battery rating is a pretty impressive 300 frames. Sadly, the touchscreen is not the most responsive one I’ve used and it’s very easy to hit the wrong icon – especially the menu exit. With this 14Mp model you get decent picture quality, with sharp detail and good colour reproduction. Now, if only Panasonic had given this camera a wide-angle lens...
More info Panasonic 
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W320
The DSC-W320 looks and feels more expensive than it is. This light, compact camera slips easily into a pocket, but can be a little awkward to use if you have large fingers. There’s also a bit of a delay between pressing the shutter and the image being captured. On the plus side, it takes both SD and Memory Stick Duo cards, includes a 14Mp CCD, shake compensation and offers a decent 26-105mm zoom. Picture quality is impressive too, with fine detail and vivid colours, although macro shots were a little disappointing. Battery life is good for around 240 shots.
More info Sony 
Another camera that has been on a diet – it’s less than 17mm deep. Despite its compact size, this camera has had a lot packed into it, including a 14Mp CCD, 5x zoom (27-135mm), optical and digital image stabilisation systems, digital effects, and 1280 x 720 HD recording. Samsung has chosen to use Micro SD cards for storage, which is a pain if you have lots of SD cards lying around. The camera’s internal memory stores half a dozen shots at the highest resolution. Handling isn’t bad, but you do have to do a fair bit of scrolling when using the menu system. Picture quality though, was impressive, with sharp, clean images and good colour reproduction.
More info Samsung