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Dying breed: Compacts with optical viewfinders

Compact cameras with optical viewfinders are all but gone from manufacturers' lineups. Here's a rundown of what models still have them.

The Canon SD990 IS is the only pocket camera with an optical viewfinder and manual shooting control worth buying. Or, really, available at all. Canon

Read through the user reviews of point-and-shoot cameras on CNET and you'll come across a common question: where's the optical viewfinder? The answer is there aren't any. Well, almost any. Canon is basically the lone major manufacturer of compact cameras with optical viewfinders. And even its numbers are dwindling.

In Canon's current lineup of PowerShot Digital Elph and A-series models, there are just five models featuring the company's real image optical zoom viewfinder. If you want manual control over shutter speed and aperture, the only option is the 14.7-megapixel SD990 IS (and it's nearing the end of its life). (On the upside the SD990 can now be found for more than $100 less than its original $399.99 price, making it a much better purchase than when I originally reviewed it.)

Below is a listing of the five models that are still readily available at retail with links to their reviews. Generally, they're all very good cameras and at current prices I wouldn't hesitate to recommend any of them if you must have a viewfinder. If you want it to be powered by AA-size batteries, too, you're limited to the A-series models. Also, if you don't mind a larger, more advanced camera, Canon's PowerShot G11 and Nikon's Coolpix P6000 models both feature optical viewfinders.

Canon PowerShot SD990 IS
The good: Excellent picture quality; very good shooting options for its size.

The bad: Disappointing lens specs; mixed performance; high-resolution sensor adds little benefit; no HD video.

The bottom line: The Canon PowerShot SD990 IS is a fine ultracompact camera, but its price-to-feature benefits are questionable.

Read the full review here.

Canon PowerShot SD780 IS
The good: Very small; simple operation; very good photo and HD movie quality; HDMI out.

The bad: No optical zoom in Movie mode; generally soft photos; mixed performance.

The bottom line: If you need an ultracompact camera for your pocket or purse, strongly consider the Canon PowerShot SD780 IS.

Read the full review here.

Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS
The good: Attractive, ultracompact design; easy operation; well-rounded, basic feature set.

The bad: Photo quality dips above ISO 200; flat buttons can be difficult to press accurately.

The bottom line: Simple and stylish, the Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS is a fine back-pocket camera as long as your photo-quality expectations are reasonable.

Read the full review here.

Canon PowerShot A1100 IS
The good: Viewfinder; simple operation; inexpensive; excellent photo quality for the money.

The bad: Mixed performance; short battery life.

The bottom line: Aside from a couple performance quibbles, the Canon PowerShot A1100 IS provides a good point-and-shoot experience with great pictures as a result.

Read the full review here.

Canon PowerShot A1000 IS
The good: Viewfinder; simple operation; inexpensive.

The bad: Limited shooting controls; mixed performance.

The bottom line: The entry-level Canon PowerShot A1000 IS is low cost without being lousy.

Read the full review here.