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, Nikon's Coolpix P6000 models both feature optical viewfinders.and
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.