Consumer Camera Ratings

Camera Shopping Tips

Beware the sales pitch

You can't always depend on salespeople to help you to choose the right camera. Readers indicate that the quality of in-store help is all over the map. Indeed, when our reporter shopped at mass merchandisers, as many consumers do, a member of the sales staff told him that there was no difference between digital and optical zoom (optical is far more useful). Another couldn't explain the differences among mechanical, optical, and simulated image stabilization (optical and mechanical are superior).

Also, despite the prevalence of 8-, 10-, and 12- megapixel cameras, 6 megapixels is all the resolution most people need. If you often crop or drastically enlarge your images, get at least 8 megapixels. Higher resolution doesn't necessarily produce better prints, so don't let a salesperson push a camera solely based on its megapixel count.

Shop by brand

Before diving into specific models, consider some characteristics by brand, culled from our years of digital-camera tests. For example, Fujifilm offers image sensors with proprietary technology that produce high image quality at high ISO settings. Kodak emphasizes simplicity and ease of use. Canon, Nikon, and Olympus offer full lineups for every type of user. HP offers such innovative features as in-camera retouching and a "pet-eye" fix that removes the glow from a flash. Casio specializes in ultra-slim models. Samsung offers cameras with high styling and multimedia features. Panasonic uses image stabilizers and Leica lenses throughout its line. Sony uses Zeiss lenses, a brand well known in the camera world.

Try it out

The smallest, lightest models aren't necessarily inexpensive cameras. And the biggest and heaviest aren't necessarily found at the high end. If possible, try cameras at a store before you buy. That way, you'll know which one fits your hands best. In our tests, some of the smallest didn't leave much room even for small fingers.

Keep your other cameras in mind

If you own a film camera with interchangeable lenses, you can often use the lenses on digital SLRs of the same brand. But there are exceptions. For example, some new Nikon bodies only operate autofocus on its AF-S or AF-I lenses.

Forgo the extended warranty

Overall, digital cameras have been among the most reliable products in our subscriber surveys. Only about 5 percent of those purchased from 2004 through 2007 have been repaired or had a serious problem. Yet in our latest electronics-buying survey, more than 70 percent of digital camera buyers were pitched an extended warranty in stores and 15 percent bought one. We don't think it pays to buy an extended warranty for a digital camera.