Canon PowerShot A470

The good: Inexpensive; fast performance.

The bad: Noisy pictures; chunky design.

The bottom line: For the money, you'd have a hard time finding a better snapshot camera.

Canon PowerShot A470

Noise mars the A470's otherwise very nice pictures. Grain starts to appear at ISO 200, and becomes quite noticeable at ISO 400. From ISO 800 to the camera's maximum sensitivity of ISO 1,600, fuzz saturates the picture, giving everything a felt-like texture. Besides the noise, however, the camera's pictures look good. Fine details appear crisp and clear, especially for a sub-$150 camera. Minor barrel distortion appears on the edges of pictures at the widest lens position, but it doesn't seriously hurt picture quality. Colors look generally neutral, though they sometimes appear slightly cooler than usual. If you keep sensitivity low, the A470 will produce good-looking prints. Even at higher ISO settings, pictures look clear enough to e-mail or post to the Web.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W150

The good: Nice design; a lot of shooting and playback options; effective optical image stabilization; 28mm wide-angle lens with 5x zoom.

The bad: So-so photo quality.

The bottom line: The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W150 ranks above average on looks and features, but it doesn't quite match up on photo quality.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W150

Photo quality, as with most ultracompacts, is the weak link for the W150. Colors are accurate for the most part, but when shooting outdoors in bright conditions there's a lot of blooming and haloing, particularly with reds and whites. Photos are soft overall, lacking fine detail. Visible speckles of color noise appear at ISO 200, and details become seriously obscured at ISO 800; though the camera can shoot at ISO 1600 and ISO 3200, I don't suggest using these higher settings. Also, off-subject elements of scenes tended to look smeary and overprocessed.

Canon PowerShot A580

The good: Great pictures for little investment; intuitive operation; advanced face detection for its class.

The bad: Feels and looks cheap; bulky; slow shot-to-shot performance, especially with flash.

The bottom line: It's slow and unglamorous, but the Canon PowerShot A580 captures good pictures at a low price.

Canon PowerShot A580

The A580 shines at ISO sensitivities below ISO 200. Grain becomes readily noticeable at ISO 400, but for the most part details remain unexpectedly good. Actually, you can get up to ISO 800 and still have a usable photo at smaller sizes. Color, contrast, and white balance all fare better than expected, as well.

Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS

The good: 5x zoom lens atypical for the price; easy operation; HD video capture with optical zoom.

The bad: Occasionally overexposes photos; only three-shot burst mode; mediocre performance.

The bottom line: The Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS is a solid value with decent photo quality, a well-rounded feature set, and a compact, solid-feeling design.

Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS

In general the photos from the Z1085 IS are good for the money. Colors are generally accurate as is white balance, both indoors and out. Detail remains good up to ISO 200 with little to no noise and no issues from suppression. At ISO 400, however, aggressive noise reduction in the red channel turns red objects smeary and the photos develop the typical overblurred, painterly look. The camera boasts ISO settings up to 3200 at full resolution and up to ISO 8000 at a 3-megapixel resolution. The results at these ISOs are pretty useless. Yes, you'll capture something that may be acceptable for Web use at a small size, but if you're expecting to get the same performance that the camera gives you at ISO 800, you'll be disappointed. Exposure also tends to be a bit off, with occasional blown-out highlights.

Pentax Optio E60

The good: Good photo color; big, well-spaced controls; simple operation; reliable auto mode.

The bad: No white balance control; no optical zoom in video mode.

The bottom line: The Pentax Optio E60 is an inexpensive compact camera that produces good photos and doesn't require much expertise to snap them.

Pentax Optio E60

Photo quality is pretty good for a camera in the E60's class. It renders vibrant, accurate color under both indoor and outdoor lighting, and photos are relatively sharp; Pentax errs on the side of a more natural look rather than oversharpening like many manufacturers. There is no white balance control at all, so it's a good thing the E60's auto white balance is fairly consistent in natural light. Shooting in incandescent light, however, results in the overly yellow scenes typical of auto white balance. Subjects occasionally underexpose, while background highlights blow out slightly. The lens also displays some barrel distortion, particularly on the left side, which results in purple fringing.


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