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Review: Top 10 digital cameras under $500

PC World
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By Alan Stafford

(IDG) -- The news about four- and five-megapixel cameras may interest photo enthusiasts with lots of disposable income, but the other 90 percent of consumers for whom money is an issue may harrumph at the four-figure price tags. This month our new Best Buy, the Olympus Camedia D-370, rings in at just $199, making the point that pixels may drive the digital camera market, but a low price frequently will drive the sale.

The Camedia D-370 is a starter camera designed for people moving from point-and-shoot film cameras to digital. If you can figure out a low-end film camera, you can probably figure out the D-370: It requires a small number of configuration choices, and the camera tucks into easily accessible menus the few it does have. Of course, you have to give up something for the rock-bottom price, and in this case, you'll give up resolution. With only 1.3 megapixels -- a pittance compared with the other models we looked at -- you can forget about print enlargements. But we found the D-370 capable of producing attractive 4-by-6 prints -- perfect for its intended audience.

The other new camera we tested this month, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P50, costs twice as much as Olympus's D-370, but it offers nearly twice the resolution (at 2.1 megapixels) and does a better job on large prints. But the DSC-P50's battery life with its standard AA batteries came up far short: We only got 57 shots out of a set of two batteries. An optional lithium ion battery and charger provided three times as much battery life, but they cost an extra $100.

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Next month we'll recharge our own batteries: We're working on a big camera roundup, for which the PC World Test Center is revising its test suite and analyzing approximately 16 cameras. The comparison will appear in the December 2001 print edition of PC World, and online in late October.

Top 10 Digital Cameras

  1. Olympus Camedia D-370: If you're really trying to save money and you want a very simple digital camera for pictures to send via e-mail or print at 4-by-6 size, the D-370 is the perfect camera for you. But if you want larger prints or greater control over your shots, we recommend that you spend a bit more on a camera with a higher pixel count and more features.
  2. Toshiba PDR-M61: A solid general-purpose camera for buyers who need to strike a balance between features and price.
  3. HP PhotoSmart 618: The PhotoSmart 618 will give you good-quality prints and has a remote that can snap the shutter up to 20 feet away, but pictures don't look good on screen.
  4. Olympus Camedia Brio D-100: The D-100 is small and light enough to carry around wherever you go. It would make a fine pocket camera for traveling photographers, assuming you're not concerned about making enlargements of your shots.
  5. Kodak DX3500: The DX3500 is a fun family camera, especially if your only interest in photography is to record life's more memorable events.
  6. Fujifilm FinePix 2400 Zoom: A good choice for anyone looking for a solid, general-purpose snapshot camera with a relatively low price tag.
  7. Toshiba PDR-M65: If you want to print digital shots at large dimensions without dropping wads of cash, consider the PDR-M65. However, you may spend lots of time trying to rescue color-botched shots.
  8. Olympus Camedia C-2040 Zoom: The C-2040 is a solid, general-purpose digital camera that lets you go fully automatic or be manual and creative. If you like enlargements and are picky about fine details, opt for the C-3040.
  9. Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P50: The Cyber-shot DSC-P50 accomplishes its goal of being easy to use, and it takes attractive images. However, it ships stripped, so you'll have to shell out substantially more to get acceptable battery life and a usable amount of storage space.
  10. Canon PowerShot A20: The A20 might appeal to people who want to pull a camera out of a pocket or purse and snap off a quick shot or two without needing to set lots of controls.




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