CR tested 77 digital cameras and named four all-star brands. COURTESY PHOTO

Four camera brands perform better than others, model to model and year after year, across a wide range of prices, according to Consumer Reports’ analysis of such trends among point-and-shoot brands it regularly tests. Those standouts: Canon, Casio, Panasonic and Samsung. By contrast, Olympus has been the brand least likely to be a top performer.

CR found many models at a bargain price, even a few outside of the four leading brands. The subcompact Pentax Optio E70 is $120 but provides decent performance. The Samsung SL102, $130, is also inexpensive and did well in low light. For SLRs, the Canon EOS Rebel XSi ($700) with a lens is one of just two basic SLRs that produced excellent image quality.

POINT-AND-SHOOT ADVANCE IN FEATURES: Subcompact and compact cameras now have added features that older models do not have. More cameras are making shooting easier with features like the ability to recognize certain types of scenes such as portraits as opposed to landscapes. In a recent survey of more than 8,000 subscribers, many point-and-shoot owners said they found certain features especially useful including image stabilization to help steady a shaky hand, wireless capability that allows for transfer of images without a wire, and touch-screen display to minimize the need to fiddle with buttons and dials.

Face detection and video recording create additional usefulness for point-and-shoots. Face detection helps the camera make focus and exposure of faces the top priorities, while video recording improvements add high def capabilities, which are showing up on some point-and-shoots and SLRs.

CR recommends that consumers who want a pocket-sized camera should go with a subcompact. The Canon Powershot SD880 IS Elph, $270, is a top-rated model. For a pricier option that can easily and quickly upload both stills and video to online sites via Wi-Fi, there is the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-G3 ($500).

There are a number of strong options for point-and-shoots under $150 including the Canon Powershot A1000 IS, $140.


* Select the right type. For portability, subcompacts are strong options and should be comparable to a compact in price and performance, though many compacts have better battery life. For sports or nature photography, superzooms, while often heavier and bulkier, are best.

* Match performance to your needs. CR recommends considering image quality, a camera’s most important performance attribute. For action shots, consumers should look for higher scores for first-shot delay and next-shot delay. For landscape or group portraits, a wide-angle capability and dynamic range are useful.

* Downplay megapixels. Seven or eight megapixels are enough for most consumers. If printing poster-size shots or doing major cropping, CR recommends higher-resolution models.

* Consider features. A viewfinder helps with shooting in bright light, manual controls and RAW-file capability provide greater control over image, and a swiveling LCD is best for shooting above the heads of crowds.

* Size up the design. Consider a camera’s tactile qualities. Some consumers may find that sleekness sacrifices usability. And some larger models have handgrips to help steady the camera.