Want to shoot pro-quality photos without forking over a month’s salary? These high-end compacts have built-in lenses with specs so tasty they could make Terry Richardson drool all over his white walls.
1. Samsung TL500
The 3X wide-angle lens on Samsung’s flagship compact boasts a fast f/1.8 aperture that lets so much light hit the 10-MP sensor, it’s practically blinding. We captured gorgeous close-ups of flowers with lush, blurred backgrounds for a professional look; just don’t forget to use a superfast shutter speed in bright daylight or your highlights will be obliterated. In candlelit portraits, our subject’s face was sharp and evenly illuminated.
2. Canon PowerShot SD4000 IS
Canon was able to cram a nice f/2.0 lens into the SD4000’s slender and stylish body, making this a great camera for a night on the town. We got surprisingly sharp portraits of singers and musicians in tricky lighting at a rock concert. It was also rock-solid when shooting HD video, with decent stereo sound. Unfortunately, you’d miss all the action by the time you change settings on this annoyingly menu-driven compact.
get-gadget Built-in stabilizer helps keep the 10-MP images sharp. Great macro mode for close-ups of flowers, bugs, and set lists.
TIRED Image size shrinks to 2.5 megapixels in high-speed (8.4 fps) mode. Snazzy beveled edges cause camera to fall over on flat surfaces.
3. Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX75
The good news? This 14.1-MP monster has a bright f/2.2 lens. The bad news? It has no manual controls to let you fully exploit the lens’s potential. Despite high-end components, this is an idiot-proof automatic model meant for the camera-phobic. Getting the lens to open to maximum aperture was a crapshoot, and we had no luck defocusing the background in our close-up shots of flowers.
get-gadget Helpful 24-mm to 120-mm focal range does right by everything from landscapes to long-distance candids. 3-inch LCD touchscreen. Records HD video in space-saving AVCHD Lite format.
TIRED Fully automatic functionality reduces creativity. Noisy low-light images. Dull design.
4. Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX5
This pipsqueak paparazzo is outfitted with a 5X zoom seemingly made for a bigger model. The G-series lens—the moniker Sony uses for its top digital SLRs—is capable of opening up to f/2.4, but you have little control over it. The WX5 does offer one great noob-friendly feature—a Background Defocus mode that sets the lens to a wide aperture so you can focus attention on your subject.
get-gadget 3D Sweep Panorama automatically stitches together a 3-D-like image to show off on a compatible TV. HDR mode blends multiple shots into one with picture-perfect exposure.
TIRED Small body and buttons make it hard to shoot with. Weakest of the bunch in image quality.
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