If you want to buy a decent, basic point-and-shoot for less than $200, you’ll probably be best off buying the $179 Canon 340 HS (the IXUS 265 HS elsewhere). It combines extreme ease of use with sharp photo quality, complete with vibrant colors and low noise levels. This means you’ll be able to just flip this thing on and take a good photo without having to fiddle with manual controls (good for situations where you won’t have time or patience to focus much on your camera, like outings with friends or kids’ birthday parties). The 12x zoom capabilities and built-in Wi-Fi that can sync photos to your computer are nice features to have as well.
This is a replacement for our pick from last year, the Canon 330 HS, that manages to fix some of the more frustrating problems with that model. Notably, the old 330 HS had a major battery life bug that made it just about unusable for recording videos.
But the 340 HS isn’t perfect: Though better than its predecessor’s, its battery life leaves something to be desired. Photos taken while zoomed in all the way at 12x can be fuzzy due to the nature of shooting at full zoom. And its high-burst mode, while useful, can’t shoot at full resolution, meaning you’re sacrificing speed for image quality if you shoot in that mode.
Still, we think the 340 HS is the best pick for most people who want something a little better than a smartphone camera. But if our main pick is sold out or becomes unavailable, we also like the Samsung WB250F. Its image quality is lower than that of our top pick, but it has a better 18x zoom lens and longer battery life. The Samsung is also a little older and may not be widely available online at any given time, which is part of why it’s not our main pick.
For those who prefer faster focusing and burst shooting modes, the Sony WX80 is also a decent choice. It has okay image quality (not as good as our main pick), but it’s physically smaller and can take photos in much lower light than the competition. If the Canon and Samsung are hard to find, the Sony is a good option.
In reality, the Canon 340 HS is the best of a rather lackluster bunch. If you want something that’s pocket-sized, has a zoom lens, has Wi-Fi, and is a marginally better camera than your smartphone, then you’re largely faced with options that either have major drawbacks (like the battery life on the Canon 340 HS) or are old enough that we’re not sure how long you’ll be able to find them (the Sony WX80 and the Samsung WB250F). Still, between these three models, you can likely find the best match for the person in your life who isn’t convinced that a smartphone camera will do the job.
Who should buy this?
The low-end point-and-shoot market has been all but destroyed by smartphones (hey, you’re carrying a camera anyway), but there are still some people for whom a dedicated camera makes sense. The images will, generally speaking, be at least a little better than a smartphone’s, plus you have a zoom lens (which makes a world of difference).
If you’re happy with the photos your smartphone takes, then there’s really no reason to buy something like this
Also, I’m sure you have a friend or relative who just hasn’t jumped on board with smartphones yet. Maybe they’re nursing an ailing Blackberry or they have an ancient Nokia that plays Snake and that’s all they want. In that case, a dedicated camera is probably perfect for them. Cheapo cameras like this also have the advantage of usually being extremely simple to use (perfect for your technophobic family members), and the low price means it’s a lot less painful if the camera gets damaged.
But if you’re happy with the photos your smartphone takes, then there’s really no reason to buy something like this, unless you have a burning desire for a point-and-shoot camera that’s cheap enough that if it gets destroyed, you won’t miss it. More realistically, you’d be better off saving your pennies for something that provides a tangible benefit, like some of our picks for mid-range point-and-shoots.
How we picked
If you’re looking to buy a digital camera for less than $200, it’s mostly a matter of separating the wheat from the chaff. There’s a lot of chaff. For years, camera makers have pumped out what feels like dozens of near-identical models that get bargain-binned almost immediately and are generally worthless. They’ve slowed down a bit of late, since fewer people are buying these cheap cameras, but there’s still a lot to wade through.
Ideally, what you want is a camera that debuted at a higher cost a little while back and has since been marked down. A $200-$250 camera that now goes for $150 will generally be significantly better than one that started at $150 and now goes for $95.
In terms of specs, it’s more a matter of sizing up what the competition has and going a bit better. Specifically: How long is the zoom? Does the lens have a larger maximum aperture? Try and aim for f/3 or faster (a smaller number in the denominator is faster). Does it have Wi-Fi? GPS? A touchscreen? Can it shoot images quickly, or is it still limited to less than 1 FPS? 1080p video recording is also a must in this day and age.
There are also factors that you can’t judge from the box. Does it produce sharp, detailed images? Does the camera keep noise (those horrible speckles and smears that hit at high ISO) at a manageable level? Does it focus quickly and have a minimal delay between pressing the shutter button and having the the photo taken? Finding a good balance between features and performance at this price can be tricky, but typically there are at least a handful of cameras in any given year that fit the bill, even if they’re not fantastic.
We spent dozens of hours looking at more than 20 different widely available sub-$200 cameras. We were able to quickly dismiss a great number of them based on specs that just didn’t hold up to some of the more competent alternatives. Cameras with CCD sensors are usually limited to just 720p video, have slow burst shooting of around 1 FPS, and generally a maximum ISO of 1600. That allowed us to remove the vast majority of the cheap cameras. We also cut cameras that had lower-resolution 230,000-dot screens, as 460,000-dot screens allow for sharper images on playback. We also removed any cameras that didn’t feature optical image stabilization (which helps you take steadier images), as well as those with very poor user reviews on Amazon.
For most people looking for an affordable, semi-decent camera, the Canon 340 HS is the way to go. It takes good quality photos with minimal effort. This is a replacement for our pick from last year that manages to fix some of the more frustrating problems, notably that the old 330 HS had a major battery life bug that made it just about unusable for recording videos.
Canon has long been a byword for low-end, affordable, decent cameras. If you wanted a half-decent camera that you could get on the cheap, you could trust Canon to be decent for whatever price you paid for it. That hasn’t really changed, and the 340 HS is steadfastly middle-of-the-road. It’s decent, and its flaws are more forgivable than much of the competition’s.
In other words, you can just turn this thing on, and most of the time it’ll take a good photo.
The best thing about the 340 HS is its good image quality. It produces sharp images with vibrant colors and keeps image noise down to a manageable level all the way up to ISO 800 (even up to ISO 3200 if you were only going to put it on Facebook or send via an email).
In other words, you can just turn this thing on, and most of the time it’ll take a good photo. It’s not for people who want manual controls, but for taking a photo at your niece’s birthday party, where 20 eight-year-olds are running around hyped up on chocolate cake? You don’t want to be fiddling with manual settings then. The sample photos from the reviews at Reviewed.com and Steve’s Digicams do a good job of showing how it does for both.
The Canon 340 HS is also small enough that you can slide it into your pocket without any trouble. At 0.88 inches thick, it’s probably going to stand out a little in skinny jeans, but for bigger pants and coat pockets, it’ll do just fine, and it’s so light (5.2 ounces/147 grams) that you’ll barely notice it in a purse or backpack. Canon also has one of the best user interfaces around for simple cameras like this. It’s clear, easy to read, and just generally straightforward in a way that’s incredibly handy for people who don’t want to scratch their heads over what tiny little menu options do.
It also packs an impressive 12x zoom inside this tiny package. Just a few years back, hitting the 10x zoom mark would have meant a much thicker camera, but the 340 HS manages to get you a very close look at things a long way away in a remarkably tiny body. Unfortunately, there’s a significant downside to this—the side effect of a long zoom is that the lens lets in less light. What that means is that if you’re shooting in less than super bright conditions, the 340 HS will have to take a longer exposure than some other cameras in order to have an image that’s appropriately bright—which means you get motion blur and fuzzy photos. This is especially a problem when you’re zoomed in all the way.
Wi-Fi connectivity has slowly started to filter down to cameras at this price range, and now we’re seeing it on most sub-$200 cameras. The Canon 340 HS can connect directly to your computer or use the Canon CameraWindow app to create a connection between a smartphone or tablet and your camera, which can be used to transfer images and for remote control. It’s a bit fiddly to set up (last time I played with it, the documentation was on the rough side), but once it’s all set up, it’s pretty much done and dusted.
Who else likes it?
When PCMag reviewed the 340 HS, they actually recommended you buy the older 330 HS instead, but the battery flaws of the 330 HS mean that we can’t do the same. But they did compliment it for its “Sharp 12x zoom lens. Speedy focus. Creative Shot mode. Wi-Fi with NFC. Compact.”
Steve’s Digicams reviewed it and praised the high image quality, the zoom lens, good low light performance, and quick AF speed, but dinged it for its small maximum aperture on the lens when zoomed in, limited resolution at full burst mode, and lack of manual controls.
DigitalTrends was less impressed by the picture quality, saying, “So-so image quality, even when well-lit” (though we don’t think it’s worse than anything else at this price point).
Reviewed.com fell more on the positive side, calling the auto white balance “fantastic,” praising its color accuracy, and concluding, “But for those who want some optical zoom with their shots, the 340 HS has you covered…You won’t find a smartphone at the same price as a 340 HS with a 12x optical zoom—yet. Though Canon did a great job at cramming in a bunch of features and options for their bargain camera to attract new shooters, that zoom lens is really the biggest thing the camera has to offer.”
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Any camera at this price point is going to be a compromise by necessity. That’s not to say it’s a bad camera, but there is a series of tradeoffs for something that’s priced this cheaply.
For the Canon 340 HS, the biggest and most obvious flaw is the battery life. It shoots just 190 photographs on a full charge. That’s substantially fewer than many other cameras and means that you’ll need to have the battery on the charger far more often. With a bit of planning, it shouldn’t be an issue, but it’s annoying considering something like our pick for best point-and-shoot can get 350 shots per charge. Usually it’s okay, but it can be more problematic if you’re travelling—you might be able to squeak out a weekend on just one charge, but any longer than that and you’ll want to bring the charger with you, adding one more thing to carry.
Any camera at this price point is going to be a compromise by necessity
If you’re looking at Canon’s official specs page for the 340 HS, you might notice that it claims to shoot 10.5 FPS in “High-Speed Burst mode.” What it doesn’t say is that’s at reduced resolution. If you actually want to shoot images at full size in burst mode, you’re limited to 3.9 FPS, which is decent but not great.
The camera features a 12x zoom, which again is good but not great. When you’re zoomed out, it has a maximum aperture of f/3.6. This is a measure of how wide the iris inside the lens opens and how much light it lets in—more light means you can shoot in darker conditions and take faster snaps with less blurring. The average is around f/3.6, but the problem is that when you zoom in all the way on that lens, the number drops to f/7.0, which is abysmal. While the 12x zoom is nice and long, the aperture means you’ll be limited to using it essentially only when it’s bright out. In comparison, the Samsung WB250F (more on this later) manages an 18x zoom with the aperture only dropping to f/5.8. That’s more zoom and more light.
Runner-up (with more zoom)
There are, arguably, other cameras that come with a different set of compromises than the Canon 340 HS, which might make them more appealing to you. Chief among them is the $110 Samsung WB250F. If you’re going off specs alone, the Samsung looks like it’s miles better than the Canon 340 HS: It has an 18x lens that lets in more light no matter how far zoomed in you are. It packs 300 shots on a battery charge, a full 50 percent more than you’ll get out of the Canon. It can shoot images at a respectable 8 FPS, has a touchscreen, and has excellent connectivity options for linking it to the internet and smartphones. That being said, it’s not our pick for good reason.
There are a couple of notable flaws. The first is that it’s from January of 2013. That’s one of the reasons it’s so cheap—it debuted at $250 and has since dropped to $110. But also, we’re not sure how long it’ll be around or what back stocks are like. It could easily sell out. You can never tell what the shelf life of a camera like this will be.
The other issue is that we don’t think its images look quite as good as the Canon’s. Have a look at the sample images in this review from Steve’s Digicams. In these high ISO comparisons between the pair, the Samsung looks less sharp than the Canon.However, in brighter environments, they’re more on par.
CNET complimented its sharing options, shooting controls, image quality, and pop-up flash, though didn’t love some of the user interface. Other publications were less enamored with image quality, with PCMag saying they “lack detail at high ISOs,” though they were taken by the Wi-Fi implementation, the long zoom, and the touchscreen. Steve’s Digicams also liked the Wi-Fi, zoom, touchscreen, and also called it “a lot of fun to use,” but also said that, “image quality has some slight softness,” and pointed out that you “must charge battery inside the camera, because no separate battery charger included.”
Also great (especially for speed)
The Sony WX80 can be had for around $150 and is also an older model, so the same supply concerns apply. It’s also hampered by having a low-resolution 230,000-dot screen and by the fact that it only has an 8x zoom and lets in even less light when fully zoomed than the Canon. Those issues, combined with middling image quality, keep it from being our main pick. But if the Canon and Samsung are hard to find or if you prefer faster focusing and burst mode to better image quality, the Sony is a good option.
The WX80 is marginally smaller than the 340 HS, shaving off a fraction of an inch in height and length (but slightly bigger on thickness); has a maximum ISO of a whopping 12,800 so that you can shoot in much darker situations; and can fire off images at a blistering 10 FPS at full resolution. In Steve’s Digicams’ testing it took longer to power up than the Canon (2.8 vs 1.6 seconds), but was faster to autofocus and had less shutter lag and a better burst mode. It also has slightly better battery life than the Canon 340 HS, with 230 shots on a charge.
The high speed at which it can take photos also allows it to make use of Sony’s popular sweep panorama mode for stitching together images in-camera. Always a nice touch.
Reviewed.com said, “Even though it boasts an array of attractive features, a compact body, and a few impressive highlights in our performance testing, the WX80′s image quality is ultimately nothing special.” PCMag complimented its small size, sharp lens, fast burst mode, and Wi-Fi, though didn’t like its screen or slow-to-start speeds. Steve’s Digicams was fond of its image quality, small size, and fast performance.
But between the slow lens, low-res screen, and questionably wide availability, the Canon 340 HS makes a generally better pick.
What to look forward to
At the very least, what was once a deluge of all-but-identical low-end models has now slowed dramatically.
The low-end camera market is currently in a period of flux. Smartphone cameras have essentially devoured the segment whole, with people preferring to use the camera already in their pocket. Multiple camera manufacturers have made noises about leaving the low-end market altogether, including frequently reliable manufacturers like Canon and Panasonic.
At the very least, what was once a deluge of all-but-identical low-end models has now slowed dramatically. We’ll still probably see many more of these things announced and then resigned to the bargain bins at your local Best Buy, but there are far fewer than there once were. On one hand, that means less mediocrity to try and wrap your head around. But unfortunately, the manufacturers aren’t using this as an opportunity to put out better low-end models, so we’re just left with fewer options and limited improvements.
While there are fewer low-end point-and-shoot cameras now than they used to be, there were still plenty that we had to analyze and discard for one reason or another. Most were nixed due to older or lower quality sensors that limit video size to 720p and keep the burst rate down to around 1 FPS.
The Nikon S6800 has even lower battery life than the Canon 340 HS at just 170 images. Also, the sample photos we’ve seen from it are very poor. The Nikon S5300 has barely been reviewed and struggles with image noise. The S6300, in addition to the slow shooting speed and video problems of its sensor, has abysmal Amazon ratings, and the S02 has a non-replaceable battery, digital-only stabilization, and only a 3x zoom.
The Canon SX170, SX500, 150 IS, 140 IS, 135 IS, 130 IS, and A2500 all suffer from having Canon’s older CCD sensor, which had a maximum ISO of just 1600, could only shoot 0.8 FPS, and was limited to 720p video.
Wrapping it up
If you’re someone who either doesn’t have a smartphone or who wants a dedicated camera with a bit more zoom than your Android can offer, then you should grab the Canon 340 HS. It provides bright, sharp images; a decent zoom; Wi-Fi connectivity; an intuitive interface; and decent shooting speeds in a small form factor. Alternatively, if you want a longer zoom, the Samsung WB250F will give you more reach, or opt for the the Sony WX80 if you want more speed. But for most people, most of the time? The Canon 340 HS is the way to go.