The specific models listed here may not represent the latest versions in their particular lines, but they do represent exceptional value, as I understand it.

In any case, buy a used camera unless you have good reason to buy a new one. There are plenty of excellent cameras available used, often which already include a large memory card and extra battery. It seems preferable to simply recycle, but there are other good reasons to prefer older equipment.

Marketing departments must move merchandise, and more megapixels means more sales. The truth remains that these cameras have tiny sensors, and adding more pixels (without adding more area) necessarily increases noise and power consumption (so don't believe the hype). Some abandoned the pixel-count race (see Fuji F-series below), and instead optimised for faster response (less noise) which means better pictures, especially in low light.

Optex Flexi Pod
tiny flexible tripod for compact/lightweight cameras (essential and inexpensive)


These cameras are roughly the size of a (thick) deck of playing cards. The vast majority of compact digital cameras have terribly slow sensors which give poor results in low light. The F30, F31fd, and F20 (all use the same sensor) remain unmatched; their low-light performance remained for several years superior to that of all other compact digital cameras (including, however strangely, even Fuji's own later models in the same series).

Fuji F-series

Fuji was first to introduce, in compact cameras, sensors optimised for sensitivity rather than pixel count. One irritation is that most Fuji cameras (prior to 2007) use only xD-Picture Card (instead of the more common SD cards); however, they have finally begun supporting SD cards.

The F-series is confused: the F20, F40, F100fd are cheaper versions lacking shutter/aperture priority and other features. However, a more important distinction regards sensitivity (low-light performance); the names of the low-sensitivity cameras are struck through (yes, the older cameras are more sensitive, but the newer ones are still better than most other cameras in their class).

same as F200EXR with 10 Mp sensor, and 10× zoom lens
same as F100fd with new 12 Mp sensor (6 Mp low-light mode; better dynamic range), and manual controls (shutter/aperture priority)
just an F50fd with larger display and updated firmware


  • new lens: 5× zoom (28–140 mm) 1:3.3–5.1
  • new sensor: better dynamic range
  • battery life?


  • ! 12 Mp sensor (less dynamic range, more noise)
  • ! shorter battery life (230 f/charge, down from 580)
  • mechanical image stabilisation
  • larger display (same resolution!)
  • new lens: 3× zoom, 1:2.8–5.1
just an F40fd with 9 Mp sensor and support for SDHC cards


  • ! 8.3 Mp sensor (more noise)
  • SD cards
cheaper version of the F30 with fewer features (same sensor)
just an F30 with a new processor (better matrix metering)


  • new sensor
  • better display
  • better battery (580 f/charge)


  • shutter & aperture priority
  • better macro focus
  • better display
6.3 Mp, 3× zoom, 500 f/charge, VGA 30 f/s, USB 2

manual compact

These are the smallest cameras which support (at minimum): RAW format, aperture/shutter priority, manual focus.

Panasonic Lumix LX-series



  • new lens: 3.1× zoom (24–75 mm) 1:1.7–2.8
  • new sensor: 4/3" CMOS (13 Mp)
  • new physical controls (rings/dials)
  • 11 fps burst (6.5 C-AF)
  • shutter speed: 1/16000–60 second
  • video: 4k/30p AVCHD or MPEG-4
  • in-camera raw conversion
  • Wi-Fi, NFC
  • much larger/heavier
  • no neutral density filter
  • lower battery life (300 f/charge)
  • no built-in flash


  • new lens: 3.75× zoom (24–90 mm) 1:1.4–2.3 (fast!); 1 cm macro
  • new sensor: 1/1.7" CMOS (same resolution: 10 Mp)
  • shutter speed: 1/4000–60 second
  • neutral density filter
  • aperture ring
  • new display: 920 kp
  • video: 1080p60 AVCHD or MPEG-4
  • electronic level
  • HDR
  • time lapse
  • slightly larger/heavier
  • lower battery life (330 f/charge)


  • new lens: 3.75× zoom (24–90 mm) 1:2–3.3 (fast); threaded barrel
  • slightly larger and heavier
  • new aspect ratio: 4:3, 3:2, 16:9, 1:1
  • shutter speed: 1/4000–250 second
  • video format: AVCHD Lite or MJPEG QuickTime
  • new processor
  • better battery life (400 f/charge)


  • new lens: 2.5× zoom (24–60 mm) 1:2–2.8 (fast); threaded barrel
  • new sensor: consistent field of view for different aspect ratios
  • focus button (autofocus in manual mode)
  • new display: 3:2 430 kp
  • shutter speed: 1/2000–60 second
  • USB2
  • 720p30 video (25 Mb/s MJPEG QuickTime)
  • new processor
  • better battery life (380 f/charge)
adds a 16:9 display, 10.2 Mp sensor and increased noise reduction (but practical resolution remains the same, if not lower than the LX1)
exceptional manual control (with physical controls; no menu madness) with an excellent Leica lens (4× zoom 28–112 mm 1:2.8–4.9) in a very small package (it also has optical image stabilisation and a 16:9 aspect ratio sensor, variable to 3:2 and 4:3)

Canon S-series (compact)

Before the LX1, these were the only compact cameras with RAW format (there were Fujis but their RAW format was somewhat cooked).



  • new lens: 5× zoom (24–120 mm) 1:1.8-5.7, built-in neutral density filter
  • new display: 922 kp
  • 1080p60 video


  • GPS replaed with WiFi
  • touchscreen display (460 kp)
  • 1080p30 video


  • new lens: 5× zoom (24–120 mm) 1:2-5.9, built-in neutral density filter
  • new sensor: 12.1 MP 1/1.7" Canon CMOS
  • new processor: DIGIC 5
  • ISO 80-6400
  • 2.3 fps continuous shooting (9.6 fps for 8 frames in burst mode)
  • 1080p24 video (optical zoom, H.264 compression, MOV format)
  • slow motion video (640 × 480 @ 120fps, 320 × 240 @ 240 fps)
  • built-in GPS (image tagging and logger)


  • variable aspect ratios (4:3, 16:9, 3:2, 1:1, 4:5)
  • high dynamic range (HDR) mode
  • 720p24 video

changes... (obviously informed by Panasonic's LX-series)

  • new body (much smaller/lighter)
  • new lens: 3.75× zoom (28–105 mm) 1:2–4.9
  • optical image stabilization
  • control ring
no RAW format!; larger display with fewer pixels!
just an S60 with more pixels and a black finish


  • new body (smaller/lighter, improved sliding cover)
  • new lens: 3.6× zoom (28–100 mm) 1:2.8–5.3
  • new battery
just an S45 with more pixels


  • new processor
  • more control
  • saved settings
  • orientation sensor
  • time lapse
  • longer movies
  • EXIF 2.2
just an S30 with more pixels
avoid models earlier than the S30

CHDK (Canon Hack Development Kit)

The CHDK software makes many Canon cameras – especially the beautifully compact SD (IXUS) series – much more useful by enabling raw format, manual control, motion-triggered exposure, &c.

digital SLR

Canon EOS 5D
the first relatively inexpensive full-frame sensor, digital SLR
Fuji S3 Pro UVIR
the first commercial digital camera without UV and IR filters